Protecting your liver
The month of October is dedicated to discussions on liver diseases. For this reason, I want us to revisit the subject, with emphasis on how to ensure that your liver is in a healthy condition.
One cannot live without a properly functioning liver, which is one of the largest organs in the human body. It is also the most exposed to toxins as it works to keep us healthy.
The liver converts food into substances needed for life and growth. It stores glycogen and amino acids, just as it performs protein, fat and carbohydrate metabolism.
It also produces enzymes and bile that help to digest food and neutralise toxins in the body. Some of the drugs we take are eliminated in the liver, especially the ones that are not capsules.
Both Liver Cirrhosis and Liver Cancer are on the rise all over the world. Both diseases are on the increase in Africa due to westernised lifestyle, diet and presence of environmental toxins.
Although we do not have the exact statistics to show the rates of the prevalence of the diseases in Nigeria, Nwokediuko et al, reported in the Nigerian Journal of Clinical Practice that liver diseases accounted for 7.9 per cent of medical admissions, with primary liver cancer and liver cirrhosis accounting for 44.3 per cent and 20.4 per cent, respectively. The main risk factors for both diseases were alcohol consumption (52.1 per cent), hepatitis B virus infection (49.4 per cent), ingestion of herbs and roots (45.5 per cent) and cigarette smoking (30.1 per cent).
About 26,000 Americans die each year of cirrhosis of the liver and 21,000 others are diagnosed with primary liver cancer each year. These conditions affect men slightly more than women.
Liver cirrhosis is a medical condition resulting from a long-term injury to the liver that causes it to deteriorate and begin to malfunction. These injuries could occur from different sources, but, as noted, excessive alcohol consumption and Hepatitis B infection appear to be the most common.
Cirrhosis is a late stage of scarring (fibrosis) of the liver caused by many forms of liver diseases and conditions, such as hepatitis and chronic alcoholism. The liver carries out several necessary functions, including detoxifying harmful substances in your body, cleaning your blood and making vital nutrients.
Cirrhosis occurs in response to damage to your liver. Each time your liver is injured, it tries to repair itself. In the process, scar tissue forms. As cirrhosis progresses, more and more scar tissue forms, making it difficult for the liver to function.
Decompensated cirrhosis is the term used to describe the development of specific complications resulting from the changes brought on by cirrhosis. Decompensated cirrhosis is life-threatening.
The injury eventually results in the formation of scar tissues within the liver, which gradually replace healthy liver tissues and cause the organ to become hardened. This scar tissue formation is largely irreversible and impedes normal blood flow through the liver, preventing it from functioning properly.
Liver cirrhosis can lead to liver cancer, which is the growth and spread of abnormal cells in the liver. When cancer originates from the liver before spreading to other organs of the body, it is referred to as primary liver cancer. If cancer starts from some other organ and later spreads to the liver, it is referred to as secondary liver cancer.
The chronic liver injury that results in liver cirrhosis, which results in liver cancer, often arises from the following:
Excessive alcohol consumption, which results in alcoholic liver disease
Chronic Hepatitis B & C infections
Obstruction of bile ducts within the gall bladder
Exposure to toxins from consumption of unregulated ‘medicinal’ herbs and roots improperly treated infections and side effects of certain drugs
Inherited illnesses, such as alpha-1-antrypsin deficiency and hemochromatosis Wilson’s disease (excessive copper in the blood), galactosemia and glycogen storage disease, as well as prolonged exposure to environmental toxins, such as heavy metals like arsenic and lead
How much Alcohol consumption is too much?
This is a very tricky subject. How much alcohol is too much? It could mean drinking too much at one time, drinking too often or both. It’s important to be aware of how much you are drinking, whether your drinking pattern is risky, the harm that some drinking patterns can cause, and ways to reduce your risks.
It also has to do a lot with genetic adaptability. They say the food of a fisherman is poison to a Taylor. So the fact that your neighbour drinks a high amount of alcohol without any medical issue does not mean if you do the same you will not have issues.
According to extensive research by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, less than two percent of drinkers who fall within the following guidelines ever develop alcohol use disorders.
Men: Four or fewer drinks per day:
For men, low-risk alcohol consumption is considered drinking four or fewer standard drinks on any single day and less than 14 drinks in a given week. According to the NIAAA, to remain low-risk, both the daily and weekly guidelines must be met. In other words, if you are a man and you drink only four standard drinks per day, but you drink four every day, you are drinking 28 drinks per week. That is twice the recommended level for low-risk alcohol consumption. Likewise, drinking four drinks a day four times a week would also exceed the guidelines.
Women: Three or fewer drinks per day
Research has shown that women develop alcohol problems at lower levels of consumption than men. Therefore, the guidelines for low-risk drinking are lower for women. The NIAAA guidelines are three or fewer standard drinks a day and no more than seven drinks per week. Again, both the daily and weekly standards must be met to remain in the low-risk category. If you drink only two drinks a day but drink them every day, which is 14 drinks a week or twice the recommended amount for low-risk consumption.
As a general guide, the body tells you when you are punishing your Liver and when to stop. There are usually tell-tale signs. So watch out. Too much of anything is dangerous.