Alcohol and Your Liver
The excessive consumption of alcohol can cause many problems in the human body, with liver disease being a major issue. The liver weighs about three pounds and is located on the right side just under the rib cage. It is the second largest organ in the human body and it performs many tasks to keep the body running smoothly. One of the tasks that the liver performs is to process whatever we eat or drink and turn it into usable energy and nutrients. It also works to purify the blood by removing any harmful substances from the bloodstream.
When a person consumes alcohol, the liver will begin to break the alcohol down so that it can be removed from the body. When a person drinks more alcohol than the liver can process, the alcohol will begin to destroy and break down the cells of the liver. The alcohol releases dangerous by-products such as acetaldehyde and free radicals that will begin to harm the liver. As this process takes place, the liver will become seriously damaged.
The first stage of liver disease is alcoholic fatty liver disease, where there is a deposition of fat in the liver. There are usually no symptoms at this initial stage of liver disease other than fatigue, weakness and discomfort in the right upper abdomen. Most heavy drinkers have fatty liver disease, and in many cases the disease can be reversible if the person stops drinking alcohol.
A more serious form of liver disease is alcoholic hepatitis. This condition causes inflammation and fatty deposits in the liver and also a mild scarring of the liver. Tests usually reveal that liver enzymes are elevated and liver function may be abnormal. About one-third of heavy drinkers have developed alcoholic hepatitis, and of these, more than half have also developed cirrhosis of the liver. Cases of alcoholic hepatitis can range from mild to severe and a mild case may be reversed with abstinence. More severe cases can cause serious complications leading to liver failure and death.
Cirrhosis of the liver is the most advanced and devastating alcohol-induced liver disease. Cirrhosis causes structural deformity of the liver and the healthy, soft tissue of the liver is replaced with hard scar tissue. About twenty percent of heavy drinkers will develop cirrhosis of the liver. The symptoms that accompany cirrhosis are usually the same as advanced alcoholic hepatitis. Abstinence will not reverse the disease but it may prevent further damage to the liver. The symptoms of cirrhosis of the liver may improve with abstinence.
Alcohol-related liver disease can progress in different ways, with the most common progression going from alcoholic fatty liver disease to hepatitis to cirrhosis. Some heavy drinkers have developed cirrhosis without ever having alcoholic hepatitis. Consuming alcohol may also increase the damage of non-alcohol related liver disease such as hepatitis C.
There are serious complications associated with alcohol-related liver disease, some of which include:
- An enlarged spleen.
- Liver cancer.
- A build-up of fluid in the abdomen.
- Brain disorders.
- Kidney failure.
- Bleeding from the veins of the stomach or esophagus.
These complications usually begin after years of heavy drinking and may be accompanied with non-liver multi-organ disorders. A small biopsy of the liver may be necessary, along with other testing to determine if a person has liver disease. Treatment for liver disease means total abstinence from alcohol, along with a healthy, holistic approach to nourish and strengthen the body, mind and spirit. Dietary changes may be necessary to help heal the damage that was done to the liver. Participation in an alcohol recovery program is also a part of treatment, to help the individual stay on the right path. Medications may also be necessary to treat complications caused by the liver damage. Individuals with advanced liver disease who do not respond well to the treatment can be put on a liver transplant list. If you or someone you know drinks heavily or is in the early stages of liver disease, it is imperative to get help quickly before the situation escalates and health is seriously impacted. Speak to your doctor or reach out to an alcohol rehabilitation center today.