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The most dramatic aspect of Dr. Catherine Lucero’s job as a hepatologist (liver specialist) is managing patients before and after a liver transplant with the well-respected Weill Cornell Medicine liver transplantation program. “Seeing a patient after the transplant,” she describes, “is incredibly rewarding. The entire transplantation process is long and complicated, so helping a patient get a second chance at life is very satisfying.”
Dr. Lucero is equally passionate, however, about the other aspects of her job: helping patients understand and improve their liver health, as well as expanding her clinical practice with Weill Cornell Medicine in Chinatown to reach out to Asian Americans, who are disproportionately affected by liver conditions.
Known for her warm approach to caring for patients, Dr. Lucero shares several ways that we can better understand and care for this important organ.
The liver performs hundreds of functions, including cleaning the blood of toxins and producing bile for digestion. It is essential for maintaining overall health and a high level of energy.
Liver disorders are more common than most people realize. “The prevalence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease could be as high as thirty percent,” explains Dr. Lucero. “The CDC recently published information about binge drinking in the US, and the rates are quite high.”
Once the liver has been damaged, there’s no machine to fix it (such as a dialysis machine for the kidneys). “Aside from certain conditions like viral and autoimmune hepatitis, there’s no magic pill that makes your liver better,” says Dr. Lucero. “It’s about engaging in a healthy lifestyle and avoiding potential toxins.”
Dr. Lucero advocates for a healthy lifestyle, which includes eating mostly unprocessed foods and exercising regularly. Obesity is one of the primary risk factors for fatty liver disease, so attaining and maintaining a healthy weight is crucial.
“Supplements are not mandated by the FDA,” warns Dr. Lucero, “so be sure to check with your primary care doctor to see if they cause liver damage.” Certain over-the-counter medications, including acetaminophen, can also cause liver damage if taken in excessive amounts.
“Lifestyle changes, including losing weight, are not easy to make,” says Dr. Lucero, “but there’s nothing quite as remarkable as seeing a patient take charge of their health. They often will take great pride in improving their condition on their own.”
Dr. Lucero stresses the importance of, first and foremost, meeting with your primary care doctor regularly. Next, it’s vital to be open with your primary care doctor about alcohol intake. “They won’t judge you,” she assures, “and it’s important information that should be accurate.”
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the Center for Disease Control defines moderate drinking as up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. If you drink more than this amount, be sure to tell your primary care doctor. If you are struggling with alcohol dependence, learn more about our addiction recovery services.
“When my patients are diagnosed with a liver disorder that was caused by alcohol use or an unhealthy lifestyle,” explains Dr. Lucero, “they share their worries about how it will change their lives. I encourage everyone to seek care sooner because I have seen how early detection can prevent a more serious condition from developing.”
Request a simple blood test to check for liver function when visiting their primary care doctor. This test offers several benefits:
Dr. Lucero also stresses the importance of being tested and vaccinated for Hepatitis A and B; if you were born between 1945 and 1965, request a test for Hepatitis C virus.
“Requesting the blood test for liver function is one of the best steps you can take to ensure your liver is healthy,” explains Dr. Lucero. “I hope that I can encourage everyone to get the blood test to learn their liver health.”
Dr. Lucero is devoted to working together with her patients to understand and potentially improve their health. Her and our entire team of gastroenterologists and hepatologists are available to help patients receive the best care possible.
Visit Weill Cornell Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology to learn about the conditions we treat. Make an appointment with a primary care physician today to have your liver function checked.