Love your liver

Alcohol abuse is the most common cause of liver disease in North America. The liver is responsible for many critical functions in your body and when liver disease strikes it impacts your overall health.

The liver has two sources of blood flow. One supplies the liver with oxygen and nutrients and the other brings in food to be detoxified from your digestive tract. The other name for liver disease is hepatic disease. Some of the classic signs of liver damage and disease are nausea, upper right abdominal pain and jaundice (a yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes due to elevated levels of bilirubin, a pigment formed by the breakdown of heme, which the liver helps breakdown). A healthy liver produces blood clotting factors and amino acids (the building blocks of protein formation) — including those used in antibody formation — processes and stores iron necessary for normal red blood cell formation, manufactures cholesterol for fat transport in the blood system, and converts metabolic waste products into urea. The liver makes bile, which aids in the digestion of fats and helps regulate blood sugar by storing extra glucose in the liver cells to be released when needed for energy.

The liver is adept at repairing and replacing its cells (this is a good thing considering the abuse most of us subject it to). However, when the abuse is long term and massive, the liver cannot cope and liver disease ensues.

 The liver is the chief detoxifying organ in your body. Everything that goes into your mouth passes by the liver before it goes into your general circulation. Alcohol is directly toxic to liver cells and leads to liver inflammation, progressing to fat accumulation in the liver and finally to cirrhosis.

Cirrhosis describes permanent liver scarring whereby healthy liver cells (hepatocytes) are replaced by non-functioning scar tissue.

Some liver diseases are preventable and are associated with lifestyle choices such as alcohol-related liver disease. Hepatitis B and C are viral infections that are most often spread through exchanging bodily fluids such as during unprotected sex, sharing unsterilized needles to inject drugs or getting tattoos or piercings using unsterilized equipment. Other liver diseases are hereditary, such as hemochromatosis (metabolic iron overload), or may be caused by exposure to chemicals or drugs. Anabolic steroids are a known liver carcinogen and even something as common as acetaminophen overdose can cause liver failure. Some birth control pills may cause hepatic vein thrombosis, especially in those who smoke too. Some herbal remedies that are known to cause liver damage are Excess amounts of Vitamin A, kava kava, Ma-huang and comfrey.

Hepatitis A is a viral infection that is primarily spread through the inadvertent ingestion of infected fecal matter. It causes an acute (quick and usually short lasting) episode of liver inflammation, which generally resolves on its own. Hepatitis A can be deadly, however, and the best way to prevent it is to take the Hep A vaccine and only eat in places where you know the staff washes their hands after using the toilet. Hepatitis B, C, and D are spread through lifestyle choices. There is a vaccine for Hep B. Hepatitis E is spread through contaminated food and water. There are no vaccines for Hep C, D or E. Other viruses that damage your liver are infectious mononucleosis (Epstein Barr virus) and adenovirus.

Fatty liver disease is also a preventable illness simply by living a healthy lifestyle. Eat a well-balanced diet, avoid overweightedness, avoid excess alcohol consumption, exercise regularly and, of course, avoid dangerous and dubious lifestyle choices.

My dad was a heavy drinker and smoker all his life. He died miserably at 75 (way too young) from lung cancer and liver disease. Actually, with the amount of abuse he put his body through, I’m surprised he lasted as long as he did. It was not pretty at the end. Think of your body struggling to be healthy and clean and the amount of help that you give it. Most people treat their lawn or their car better than they do their own body. I know my dad did.


• Jane Riley, M.S., B.A., C.P.T., C.N.A., can be reached at, 808-212-1451 or


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