The liver is appropriately named. You simply could not live without it. Weighing about three pounds and roughly the size of a football, the liver is the largest organ in your body and performs many functions essential to life, including:
- Converting food into chemicals necessary for life and growth;
- Manufacturing new body proteins;
- Neutralizing and destroying poisonous substances;
- Cleansing the blood and discharging waste products;
- Preventing shortages of body fuel by storing certain vitamins, minerals and sugars;
- Metabolizing alcohol.
Even though the liver is a tough organ built for a lifetime of hard use, it can easily be damaged by alcohol, drugs, and, surprisingly, by prescription medicines and vitamins.
Many people don't realize that prescription and over-the-counter medications can be damaging to the liver, especially if they are taken together, taken in doses larger than prescribed, or taken for a longer period than required. Even excessive doses of vitamin A can harm the liver.
Alcohol is one of the most commonly-used drugs that can do liver damage. It's widely believed that you don't have to worry about alcohol's effects on the liver unless you're an alcoholic or drink excessively. Not true. You may be a heavy social drinker and still run a risk of damaging your liver.
There are many types of liver diseases, but among the most important are:
- Viral hepatitis;
- Alcohol-related liver disorders;
- Cancer of the liver.
Three distinct liver disorders are related to alcohol: fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and alcoholic cirrhosis.
This is the most common alcohol-related liver disorder, causing enlargement of the liver, abdominal discomfort and sometimes temporary jaundice and liver malfunction. Abstinence from alcohol can bring about complete reversal and cure without leaving residual cirrhosis.
An acute illness often characterized by nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever, jaundice, enlarged and tender liver, and an elevation of the white blood cell count. Sometimes alcoholic hepatitis may be present without symptoms. Once it develops, it progresses to cirrhosis if alcohol consumption continues.
Permanent scar tissue, called cirrhosis, forms when liver cells are damaged by alcohol or drugs. Continued use of alcohol will cause additional scarring and serious health problems. Some people are more vulnerable than others to this disease, which occurs in 10% to 15% of people who consume large amounts of alcohol over a long period of time.
Liver disease caused by alcohol is preventable - and prevention is vital because there are no cures for most serious liver diseases and few effective treatments other than transplants. To protect your liver, simply limit your use of alcohol, or don't drink at all. If you want to stay alert and alive, be kind to your liver. Don't overload it with alcohol and drugs.