Eric Murray: Giving Your Liver a Long Life
Kremmling, CO Colorado
When your liver is doing its job, you never notice it, but it’s doing a lot to keep you alive.
Among other duties, the liver: filters your blood; stores sugar to be used later for energy; helps digest and process fats; makes important proteins, including those needed for blood clotting; stores iron, copper, vitamins A and D and many B vitamins, and metabolizes alcohol and other drugs.
When the liver becomes inflamed, infected or diseased, many of those duties are not performed, and problems develop, some minor and others serious enough to permanently damage this important organ.
Hepatitis involves swelling and inflammation of the liver caused primarily by certain viruses. Of the 4.4 million Americans living with hepatitis, most do not know they have it; yet viral hepatitis is the number one cause of liver cancer and the need for liver transplants.
You’re most likely to get hepatitis A by ingesting contaminated food or drink, including items containing even microscopic amounts of fecal matter. Hepatitis C is transmitted primarily through contact with an infected person’s blood, often through intravenous drug use and shared needles. And hepatitis B is passed from person-to-person through contact with bodily fluids, including blood and semen. Vaccines are available to protect against hepatitis A and B.
Hepatitis can also be induced by alcohol, medications, poisons or autoimmune disorders.
Hepatitis can be either short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). The latter can cause severe damage to the liver, including cirrhosis.
Corrhosis occurs when scar tissue forms, partially blocking the flow of blood through the liver and inhibiting the organ’s ability to make and process nutrients and to remove bacteria and toxins from the blood.
A healthy liver has an impressive ability to regenerate its own cells, but the extensive scarring that characterizes cirrhosis makes it impossible for the liver to replace damaged cells.
Cirrhosis can also cause a number of severe medical conditions such as gall stones, portal hypertension, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and liver cancer.
The most common causes of cirrhosis in this country are heavy alcohol consumption and chronic hepatitis C. Obesity, however, is an increasingly common cause – either on its own or in combination with the other two.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease occurs when the liver has trouble breaking down fats. It’s common for fat to accumulate in the liver, and this usually causes no problems. In some cases, however, inflammation occurs, impairing the organ’s ability to function. Fatty liver can also cause scarring that, over time, can become severe enough to lead to liver failure.
Risk factors include malnutrition, the metabolic syndrome, obesity, type 2 diabetes, certain medications, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, having had gastric bypass surgery, rapid weight loss and certain toxins and chemicals, including pesticides.
The name implies that there is an alcoholic fatty liver disease, and there is. It is an early effect of excessive alcohol use and more treatable than alcoholic hepatitis or cirrhosis.
There is a great deal of variation from person to person as to how much alcohol it takes to damage the liver. Most people who drink suffer no consequences; others may develop liver problems as a result of only three or four drinks a day over an extended period. In most cases, heavy alcohol use over several years is required to cause liver damage.
Most of the above disorders can be attributed, in whole or part, to risky behavior. For the most part, they can be avoided by practicing safe sex, proper hygiene, good weight control, prudent use of alcohol and avoidance of intravenous drugs. Liver damage can occur, however, as a result of gene mutations or inappropriate immune responses-factors that are generally outside our control.
Signs of liver disease include jaundice, dark urine, pale-colored stools, excessive facial blood vessels, itching, easy bruising or bleeding, distended abdomen and swelling under the right lower ribs. Other symptoms may reflect the wide-ranging roles of the liver, such as indigestion, intolerance to fatty foods or alcohol, nausea, vomiting, high LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
The most catastrophic consequence is end stage liver failure, a life-threatening condition requiring transplantation. Before that occurs, there are many steps that can be taken to restore the liver to good health and allow it to carry out its many important functions.
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