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What alcohol does to your liver

Written by Nirmalya Dutta |Updated : May 21, 2014 3:44 PM IST


Rajesh Khanna, India's first superstar passed away recently. A close friend of his said that he died of liver infection. Kaka's battle with alcohol is well documented. Though no one wants to say it out loud, it was his drinking habit that probably hastened his early demise. So why is alcohol dangerous to the liver? For that we need to understand how important an organ the liver is - click here to read more about the importance of the liver.

What does the liver do?

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The liver serves so many different functions that till now no single artificial organ or device that can perform all its functions. The liver processes nutrients from your food, gets rid of toxins and even helps your blood clot. The liver is also responsible for providing glucose so that all your bodily functions can take place properly.

What happens when you drink alcohol?

When you drink booze, the liver works overtime to convert ethanol into acetic acid which is then converted into a less toxic form like acetate which we eventually release as urine. However, this means that the liver is diverted from its primary functions like providing glucose. The effects of hangovers like nausea, vomiting, headaches and fatigue is due to this the lack of glucose or hypoglycaemia. Glucose is also very important for our brain functions and this explains why we are lethargic and have slower cognitive function during hangovers. And these are only the short term effects.

Read more about causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of liver disease.

Long term effects of alcohol consumption on liver

The long term effects are far worse. It takes a toll on all liver functions. Along with fatty foods excessive alcohol consumption is one of the primary causes of all liver diseases. The fat deposited due to absorption of alcohol leads to fatty liver disease. It also causes inflammation of the liver which leads to alcoholic hepatitis. Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver and alcoholic hepatitis is one of the first stages of alcohol liver disease and may progress to fibrosis (thickening of connecting tissues) or cirrhosis (a chronic liver disease marked by cell degeneration, inflammation and advanced fibrosis). Though the liver is a remarkably resilient organ (it can function normally even after losing 70% of its mass), cirrhosis of liver leads to its complete shutdown. It prevents the free flow of blood leading to accumulation of waste and toxins in the body. The symptoms of cirrhosis (jaundice, fluid build-up, itching, nosebleeds, red spots, lowered immunity) may occur either simultaneously or gradually. The symptoms of liver cirrhosis are only visible when it has progressed to an advanced stage. By that time very little can be done for the patient.

So think what the alcohol is going to do to your body before you have your next drink.

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