Alcohol and Liver – Alcoholic Hepatitis
Hepatitis refers to inflammation or damage to tissues of liver due to different harmful agents. Liver is richly supplied with blood (receiving almost quarter of entire cardiac output) because of the important functions that it has to perform in human body.
Liver is the major detoxification center of the body and is responsible for cleaning the blood from all the harmful agents. During this process, liver cells might get affected too leading to inflammation or infection of liver.
Detoxification of Alcohol by Liver:
Alcohol is perhaps the most commonly abused legal beverage that poses a huge health risk in chronic consumers. Like all other drugs, chemicals and waste products, alcohol is also detoxified and cleared from body by liver. Liver can very well-tolerate alcohol in small dosages but if it surpasses capacity of liver, excess may accumulate in the body and also damages liver.
Acute Alcohol intoxication:
If alcohol is taken acutely in a large amount, liver cells may get damaged leading to fatty liver change. Fatty liver change (also called fatty liver for the purpose of simplicity) is a temporary change in the architecture of liver that occurs when the amount of chemical in the body is greater than the detoxification capacity of liver cells.
There is no clear cut amount that can lead to acute damage to liver cells. It is because the capacity of every individual’s liver is different to neutralize the chemicals in the body. Acute intoxication caused by excessive alcohol consumption is far more dangerous than regular chronic alcohol consumption in modetation.
Chronic Alcohol intoxication:
Chronic alcohol consumers are those who consume alcohol on regular basis and this make their liver cells more prepared to fight high chemical doses. Although, acute alcohol intoxication causes severe and sudden liver damage but chronic alcohol consumptions slowly destroy liver cells starting from initial fatty liver change to alcoholic hepatitis and if the ongoing damaging process is not stopped, it may lead to chronic liver diseases in which the ongoing process of infection continues leading to permanent damage to liver cells leading to cirrhosis (end stage of liver damage that abolish any chances of recovery or regeneration).
Due to permanent damage to liver cells, all the functions that are necessary for disease free survival of the person gets affected. For example, decreased ability to fight infections due to less protein production by liver cells, pooling of water within the abdomen leading to distended abdomen (also called ascites) for similar reasons and bleeding disorders.
How to minimize liver damage?
In order to prevent liver damage, it is important to quit drinking after the first attack of fatty liver or better still not start drinking alcohol at all.
- Drinking socially and in moderation does not cause liver damage; however it is better not to drink at all.
- Avoid prolonged use of drugs and medications that are also excreted by liver and may also harm liver. Most importantly avoid prolonged use of acetaminophen (one of the most widely used medication for alleviation of pain) and a variety of other pain-killers. Also popular cholesterol lowering drugs such as statins which are typically taken over the years, could also have damaging effects on the liver. It is therefore important that those taking cholesterol medication for a very long time check the health of their liver periodically.
- Avoid unhealthy foods and lifestyle that may lead to viral infections of liver (Hepatitis virus family). In the presence of Hepatitis viral infections, damage to liver cells occur at a more aggressive pace.