If you place your right hand over the area under the ribs on the right side of your body, it will just about cover the area of your liver. The liver is the largest gland and the largest solid organ in the body, weighing some 1.8 kg in men and 1.3 kg in women. It holds approximately 13% (about one pint or 0.57 litres) of your total blood supply at any given time and has over 500 functions. Primarily, it helps you digest your food and removes toxins.
With the holiday season fast approaching, many of us are tempted to indulge in a few more drinks than usual while celebrating with family and friends. However, amidst the festivities, it’s advisable to remain mindful of how alcohol consumption may impact our liver health and general wellness.
Firstly, let’s take a quick look at the many responsibilities of the liver. As mentioned earlier, the liver performs hundreds of functions in the human body, and some of them include:
- Filtering toxins from the blood: the liver is responsible for filtering toxins out of our blood so that they can be excreted from our body.
- Producing bile: bile is a greenish-yellow fluid that helps to break down fats in our food so that they can be properly digested.
- Storing vitamins and minerals: the liver stores vitamins and minerals so that they can be released into the bloodstream when needed.
- Regulating hormones: the liver regulates hormones in our body so that they are present at balanced levels.
- Supporting immune system function: the liver produces immune cells that help to fight infection and disease.
- Manufacturing proteins: the liver manufactures proteins that are essential for blood clotting and cell growth.
The liver plays a vital role in keeping our bodies and other organs functioning properly, which is why being aware of your liver health is advisable.
Impacts of alcohol on liver health
The impact of alcohol is damaging to liver health because the process of breaking down alcohol causes liver inflammation that can destroy healthy liver cells. Over time, scars begin to replace functional liver tissue in the body, interfering with how the liver works. This builds toxins in your bloodstream that causes even more severe health problems.
The dangers of chronic heavy drinking
Heavy drinking leads to various liver-related health issues such as fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma.
Fatty liver disease
Long-term alcohol abuse can accumulate fat in the liver, which affects liver functions and weakens your body’s natural defences. If left untreated, the alcoholic fatty liver disease eventually progresses to more serious conditions such as alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis.
Typically seen in people who abuse alcohol frequently, alcoholic hepatitis is serious liver inflammation. It is a severe condition that is characterised by the rapid onset of symptoms such as yellowing skin (jaundice), fatigue, weight loss, enlarged liver (tender hepatomegaly), nausea and stomach pain.
Considered the last stage of liver disease, cirrhosis occurs when your liver is permanently damaged and scarred beyond repair. Due to excessive drinking over many years, thick layers of scar tissue replace healthy liver tissue, thereby hindering liver functions and causing liver failure. Currently, no specific treatments can cure cirrhosis, but the condition can be managed and controlled with medical help and advice.
In Singapore, the fourth most common cancer in men is hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer. Chronic heavy drinking damages the liver cells and causes them to mutate. Over time, these mutated cells can grow uncontrollably and form tumours.
Ultimately, it is most important to recognise that excessive alcohol consumption is harmful to your liver health. If you are worried about alcoholism and the effects that it may have on your liver health, please make an appointment to see one of our doctors. We are a safe and confidential place to talk.
How to protect liver health
Anyone can develop liver disease, but there are some things that make it more likely. Some causes of liver disease, such as genetic and autoimmune diseases, are totally outside our control. While with other risk factors, like alcohol, we have the chance to reduce our risk of liver disease and liver cancer. Though this doesn’t mean they are completely in our control, there are positive steps we can all take. Together, alcohol, excess body weight and viral hepatitis are behind 9 in 10 cases of liver disease.
If you are drinking during this festive period, please make sure you’re staying within the recommended guidelines. For men, that means no more than four standard drinks in a day, and for women, a daily maximum of two standard drinks.
Ways Osler Health can help
If you have any concerns about your health, please come in to get a health screening. Depending on your health history, symptoms and concerns, we may review your liver health.
At Osler Health International, we have experienced medical professionals to help you maintain liver health, detect abnormalities early and offer trusted health advice. By controlling your alcohol consumption and regularly checking in with your doctor, you’ll be doing your part to keep your liver healthy this holiday season!