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Why is alcohol bad news for your liver?

Alcohol: Not all of us begin our day with a can of beer but, if you have not eaten for a long time, and then gulp some beers, it is more likely to intoxicate you quickly. Also, its effects on stomach acid levels cannot be ignored.

That extra glass of whiskey or wine can do much more damage to your body than you thought, and liver damage can be fatal.

Written by Editorial Team |Updated : April 19, 2016 10:46 AM IST

We all know alcohol causes liver damage, and that often becomes the butt of jokes during a long night of drinking. But that extra glass of whiskey or wine can do much more damage to your body than you thought, and liver is the first organ to take the hit. Damage to the liver can be extremely dangerous to your health, not to mention fatal under some circumstances. To help you understand the alcohol liver connection, here is how it affects the liver.

Why your liver is important:

Liver is a one and a half kg organ that sits behind your right rib cage and plays a vital role in maintaining your body s metabolic balance. Without a liver, you won't be able to process nutrients like carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals from the food you eat, your body would not get rid of all the toxins and microbes and your blood would probably never clot!

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Because it performs so many essential functions of the body, the liver is extremely vulnerable to a variety of metabolic, toxic, microbial, circulatory and cancerous insults. Awareness of the liver s functions and what can cause liver disease can help you preserve this extremely essential organ.

What does alcohol do to your liver?

When you drink alcohol made primarily of ethanol your liver works overtime to convert the ethanol into acetic acid. This is then converted into a less toxic form called acetate, which is eventually removed from the body as urine.

Sounds simple enough, doesn t it? Well, all this converting and watering down of large amounts of toxins, diverts the liver from its primary functions like providing glucose. Glucose is extremely important for your brain to function. The lack of glucose or hypoglycaemia is one of the main reasons you suffer from a hangover, feel lethargic, have lowered cognitive functions and suffer from nausea, vomiting, headaches and fatigue. Thankfully, these are short term effects. (Read: What alcohol does to your liver)

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

Long term effects

The long term effects are far worse. It takes a toll on all liver functions. Apart from fatty foods, excessive alcohol consumption the primary causes for all liver diseases. The fat deposited due to absorption of alcohol leads to fatty liver disease and causes inflammation of the liver which leads to alcoholic hepatitis (one of the first stages of alcoholic liver disease), this can then 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, is a death knell for the liver. It leads to its complete shutdown by preventing the free flow of blood, leading to accumulation of waste and toxins in the body. The symptoms of cirrhosis are usually only visible when it has progressed to an advanced stage and may occur either simultaneously or gradually. By that time very little can be done for the patient. (Read: Alcohol abuse what you need to know)

What to expect if you have liver disease

In case of acute liver damage (due to drugs, toxins, viral hepatitis A, B or E), there may be fever with yellowish discoloration of sclera (the white of the eye), skin and urine. In most cases this may be self-limiting. In a small percentage, this may progress to fulminant liver failure leading to coma, altered blood clotting, kidney failure, secondary infections and may even necessitate a liver transplant.

In case of chronic liver damage (due to hepatitis B, C or alcohol), the symptoms show up more gradually. A person suffering from liver disease will most likely experience symptoms of liver damage such as jaundice (or yellowish discoloration of the skin and the white of the eye), swelling especially in the legs and feet due to low protein levels, enlargement of breasts known as gynecomastia (in a males), reddish spider like discolorations (spider nevi) beneath the skin especially over the chest, accumulation of fluid (ascites) in the abdomen giving it a protruded appearance, problems with clotting of blood, vomiting of blood or blood in stools, altered senses with change in behavior, confusion, forgetfulness, other symptoms related to the brain also known as hepatic encephalopathy and gradual worsening of kidney function.

Now that you know about what alcohol does to your liver, here are tips on keeping the organ healthy.

First things first; your diet and alcohol consumption

A balanced diet with low fat content is the best thing you can do for your liver s health. Alcohol is best avoided. If you do want to drink, try red or white wine. It helps in regulating your blood pressure, enhances blood flow and reduces inflammation. That being said, you must drink in moderation. Too much of a good thing is also bad.

Give exercise a go

Exercise not only makes you stronger, it also helps your body control the amount of cholesterol and makes you lose weight thus indirectly protecting the liver.

Get vaccinated

Hepatitis B, a condition that affects the liver, is preventable by vaccination. Three shots of the hepatitis B vaccine taken over three months can provide long term protection against the dreaded disease.

Eat healthy and clean

Hepatitis A and E are known to spread by the consumption of unclean food. Both these diseases affect the liver adversely and can lead to several complications. Therefore, it is best you think twice before having road-side food or unfiltered water. Another method to avoid infections is to boil the water you drink or use a good filter

Don tself medicate

Having an over the counter drug like cough syrup may suit you, but taking medicines without the advice of a doctor or for a long period of time can be extremely detrimental to your liver s health. So ditch those drugs and go to a doctor now!

Keep a tab on your health

Getting regular health checkups is the best way to prevent the onset of any disease. Moreover, the practice helps diagnose any disease at an early stage, making treatment much easier. If you do get diagnosed with a liver disease, regular follow-ups are that much more important as this is the best way to keep your liver safe from further damage. Reversible damage can become irreversible if neglected.

Apart from all this, there are some home remedies that help your liver stay healthy and function better. Every day foods like amla or gooseberry, jethimad or licorice, amrith or guduchi, haldi or turmeric, flaxseeds and some vegetables, when used appropriately can do a great deal of good for your liver. Here are the top 6 natural remedies to keep your liver healthy.

For more information on alcoholism read this.

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