Alcohol and your liver

Two things prompted us to shed more light on liver health;

  1. it was world hepatitis day yesterday.
  2. A neighbour died of liver cirrhosis today.

Now, alcohol isn’t poison. Here is what is written in the scripture:

‘Take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent cases of sickness’. Paul made this statement in his letter to Timothy. Alcohol is not bad in itself, but the overuse and abuse of it is what is bad.

Most people don’t know the adverse effect overuse of alcohol can cause them. About my neighbour that died this morning, We know her as Madam Joy aka ‘Madam kai kai’. She sells second hand clothing (okirika) in a kiosk close to my house. You’ll always see her drinking directly from her kai kai bottle anytime you pass by her kiosk. Hardly, did she know what damage she was causing herself. She probably died of either fatty liver, hepatitis, or the worse – liver cirrhosis.

How alcohol affects your liver

One of the function of the liver is to detoxify toxins. It is the site for alcohol metabolism.

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 (urea and water).

Sounds simple, 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 hypoglycemia 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. Mind you these are the short term effects.

Long term effects

The long term effects are far worse. It takes a toll on all liver functions. Large doses of alcohol leads to the accumulation of fat droplets in the liver which causes fatty liver disease. The 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). 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.

Genetic Factors

It is important to note that alcohol does not affect every person the same way. Some people’s livers may have a higher filtration rate than others. Genetics may be a factor. If you have a family history of alcoholism, hepatitis or cirrhosis in your family, you may be at greater risk for compromised liver function. Regardless of family history, however, you should stick to the recommended guidelines of one to two drinks no more than once or twice per week.

Medications and Alcohol

In addition to excess alcohol, alcohol and medications can be a harmful combination. Drinking alcohol and taking medications – even over-the-counter options like acetaminophen and herbal medications – can have damaging effects on the body. When the liver is filtering both alcohol and medications, it releases a toxic enzyme called transaminase, which can lead to acute liver damage or liver failure. Before taking any medication, read medication labels carefully to ensure you can take them and drink alcohol.

Preventing alcohol-related liver disease

The most effective way to prevent an Alcohol Related Liver Disease is to stop drinking alcohol, or stick to the recommended daily limits and have at least two alcohol-free days a week.

The recommended limits of alcohol consumption are:

Men should not regularly drink more than 3-4 units of alcohol a day.
Women should not regularly drink more than 2-3 units a day.
A unit of alcohol is equal to about half a pint of normal strength lager or (25ml) of spirits.

See previous article on what foods to avoid. If you have been a heavy drinker for many years, reducing or stopping your alcohol intake will have important short- and long-term benefits for your liver and your overall health.

One Response

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.