The Unhealthy & Deadly Relationship Between Liver & Alcohol
Humans have enjoyed drinking alcohol since the early days of civilisation, often consuming it during celebratory occasions, such as banquets, anniversaries, and weddings. While drinking moderately can be delightful, drinking excessively can lead to severe and potentially fatal results.
In fact, alcohol is one of the fundamental causes of liver damage, often resulting in liver cancer, liver failure, and liver cirrhosis.
The relationship between alcohol and liver
The thing about alcohol is that it does not contribute to any nutritional value except empty calories for energy. It cannot be stored in our body and is oxidised in our liver. Our liver has a metabolising limit for alcohol, although someone who has been drinking for some time may develop a better metabolising capability.
Up to 85 per cent of alcohol oxidisation is the initial conversation to acetaldehyde by our Antidiuretic Hormone (ADH), which can cause cell damage if accumulated in our cells. Acetaldehyde is then further broken down by several pathways, one of which ends up being water and carbon dioxide, while another being biochemically vital compounds known as fatty acids. Triglyceride accumulation can result in fatty liver. Hence, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to the accumulation of excessive fat in the liver as well as oxidative damage in the liver, resulting in cell death and inflammation.
There are four pathological stages of alcoholic liver disease that one can develop from excessive drinking:
- Fatty liver disease due to accumulation of triglycerides: This can lead to steatohepatitis, eventually leading to liver cirrhosis.
- Acute hepatitis: This occurs after binge drinking and is caused by the acute toxic effect that comes with the sudden intake of huge amounts of alcohol.
- Chronic hepatitis: This is more severe and often progresses to liver cirrhosis.
- Liver cirrhosis: Permanent scarring of the liver, leading to loss of liver functions and, possibly, liver cancer.
The more alcohol is consumed, the higher the risk of developing alcohol dependency syndrome as well as liver disease. The thing about liver disease is that it is often a silent killer, displaying little to no signs, especially in the initial stages. It often is only detectable at a later stage.
Some associated liver damage and fatty liver symptoms are abnormal weight loss, abdominal discomfort, and fatigue. Individuals with more severe cases of liver damage might suffer from more severe signs, such as recurrent infection, mental confusion due to toxin accumulation in the blood, leg and abdominal swelling, and bloody vomiting symptoms.
How much is too much?
Daily alcohol consumption is more harmful than binge drinking. The risk of liver cirrhosis increases drastically with daily alcohol intake. For individuals drinking up to 60g of alcohol daily, the risk of developing liver cirrhosis is about 1%. However, that statistic increases exponentially to approximately 5.7% for individuals drinking up to 120g of alcohol daily. In layman’s terms, a can of beer has about 15g of alcohol, which is equivalent to a glass of white or red wine or one shot of hard liquor.
With that being said, it does not mean that binge drinking is perfectly fine. In fact, binge drinking is equally as harmful, especially if the body is not accustomed to metabolising large alcohol amounts at a single go. Binge drinking can send the liver to overload mode, forcing it to work harder than usual.
Treating alcohol-related liver damage
There is no specific treatment for alcohol-related liver damage. The best way is to abstain from drinking, preferably permanently. This lowers the risk of causing further damage to your liver, allowing it to recover. However, if the individual develops alcohol dependency syndrome, abstinence can be difficult. Hence, social and family support is vital.
Adequate nutrition is another vital aspect of managing alcohol-related liver damage. Alcohol-dependent individuals tend to be lacking in nutrients due to their higher metabolic rate. As such, incorporating nutritional supplements and having a healthier, well-balanced diet can help to manage the condition.
In severe cases where an individual’s liver is significantly damaged, and its functions begin to deteriorate, a liver transplant is necessary. A liver transplant is only considered if complications of cirrhosis develop despite alcohol abstinence.
Drinking can be an enjoyable affair, but only within moderation. If you have been drinking regularly and are concerned about its effect on your liver health, do not hesitate to make a gastroenterology visit. Reducing or even stopping your alcohol consumption can go a long way, providing vital benefits for your liver and overall well-being. Visit GUTCARE to get started on a healthy liver.
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