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Filtering the Truth About Liver Disease

Have you ever heard that alcohol will give you liver disease? 

With Oktoberfest and Halloween coming, alcohol consumption is sure to be a staple at every gathering. Alcohol plays a rather large part in human life, with every culture having its own specialty drink. Often called a social lubricant, it brings life to social events from conversations to celebrations. However, anything that exceeds moderation has the potential to be dangerous.  
 
What is the liver and why should we care for it?  

The Liver

The liver is the largest solid organ in the human body. Holding 13% of the body’s blood supply, it is the second most complex organ in the body having hundreds of functions such as: 

  • Aiding digestion of food 
  • Filtering toxins from the blood 
  • Helping fight infection and disease 
  • Maintaining blood sugar and cholesterol levels 

The liver helps the body’s other organs and systems function. The liver, however, is a commonly damaged organ with culprits as ordinary as eating and drinking alcohol. Therefore, caring for the liver is as important as caring for the heart or the brain. 

Alcohol-Related Liver Disease (ARLD)

ARLD is caused by liver damage due to the intake of high amounts of alcohol. The liver is a resilient organ, capable of repairing itself. However, there is a portion of liver cells that die each time it filters alcohol.  

Symptoms of Alcohol-Related Liver Disease

  • Confusion or drowsiness 
  • Body weakness
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Swelling in the ankles and stomach 
  • Vomiting blood or passing of blood in your stool 
  • Weight loss 
  • Yellowing of the eyes and skin 

ARLD is often diagnosed during tests for other conditions, or at an advanced stage of liver damage. If you are a frequent consumer of alcohol, inform your general physician so they can screen for the presence of liver damage.

Causes of Alcohol-Related Liver Disease

As the name suggests, this condition is caused by prolonged alcohol misuse, more commonly referred to as excessive drinking. Over time, the liver’s ability to regenerate decreases. There are two ways alcohol misuse can lead to ARLD: 

  • Consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short amount of time (binge drinking) causes fatty liver disease, and less commonly, alcoholic hepatitis (Hard and Fast)
  • Drinking above moderate limits of alcohol over many years can lead to cirrhosis and hepatitis, the more severe types of ARLD (Long and Slow)

Therefore, the current recommendation is to drink less than 14 units a week to prevent liver damage with alcohol units computed as the product of Alcoholic Content (x%) x volume (ml) / 1000. 
 
As an example, here is the determined number of units for a can (330ml) of beer (5% ABV): 

5 (%) x 330 (ml) / 1,000 = 1.65 units 

Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)

NAFLD is caused by liver damage due to the build-up of fat in the liver. It is observed more in overweight or obese people.  
 
While the earlier stages of NAFLD is usually harmless but if left unchecked, may lead to serious damage, including scarring of the liver, known better as cirrhosis.  
 
High levels of fat in the liver are also linked to having an increased risk of serious health problems including diabetes, high blood pressure, and chronic kidney disease. Diabetes coupled with NAFLD increases the chance of developing heart problems. 

Symptoms of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

  • Discomfort or aching pain in the top right of the stomach (over the lower right side of the ribs) 
  • Fatigue 
  • Unexplained weight loss 

Causes of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

People are at higher risk to develop NAFLD if they:

  • Are obese or overweight 
  • Are over the age of 50 
  • Have type-2 diabetes 
  • Have an abnormal usage and resistance to insulin 
  • Have high blood pressure 
  • Have high cholesterol 
  • Have metabolic syndrome 
  • Smoke 

Stages of NAFLD

  1. Simple Fatty Liver (Steatosis)

Steatosis is the harmless build-up of fat in the liver cells. 

2. Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH)

The evolved and more aggressive form is marked by the inflammation of the liver.

3. Fibrosis

In the third stage, the liver can still function normally, but scar tissue begins to form in the liver and surrounding blood vessels due to persistent inflammation. 

4. Cirrhosis

The most severe stage, resulting from years of inflammation, shrinks, and scars the liver. Unlike fibrosis, cirrhosis inflicts permanent damage and can lead to liver failure or cancer.

Prevention

For either ARLD or NAFLD, moderation is key. Moderation in terms of alcohol and food intake will severely lessen the risk of damaging your liver. Additionally, managing a healthier lifestyle is advised through: 

  • Losing/Maintaining weight – aiming for a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9; losing more than 10% of your weight can remove fat from the liver and improve NASH conditions, this will also help in preventing a whole host of risks in the future. 
  • Healthy dieting – getting properly balanced meals will ensure nutrients while keeping fat, salt, and sugar levels moderated. 
  • Drinking water – in place of sweetened or alcoholic drinks, plain water will not only give a feeling of freshness but will also help the body in numerous ways. 
  • Exercising regularly – engaging in at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity such as cycling or walking will not only keep the blood flowing, but it can also improve NAFLD, even if no weight is shed. 
  • Stopping smoking – will reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other problems.

It always pays to be informed. 

If you want to learn more about liver disease, Medgate’s team of medical experts is only a ring away.   

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References

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/liver-problems/symptoms-causes/syc-20374502#:~:text=The%20liver-,The%20liver,the%20size%20of%20a%20football.
  2. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alcohol-related-liver-disease-arld/
  3. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/non-alcoholic-fatty-liver-disease/