The human liver is a cone-shaped organ that’s about the size of a football. It’s located just beneath the ribcage on the right side of the abdomen. A healthy liver is vital to overall health and wellbeing.
Chronic alcohol abuse is one thing that can seriously damage the liver. Excessive alcohol use can cause inflammation that destroys liver cells (alcoholic hepatitis), causes liver scarring (cirrhosis), and triggers cellular mutations that may lead to liver cancer.
The Liver’s Vital Functions
More than 500 vital functions have been identified with the liver. For instance, the liver:
* Regulates blood clotting.
* Plays an essential role in the digestive system by processing nutrients absorbed from the small intestine.
* Regulates blood levels of amino acids, which form the building blocks of proteins.
* Cleanses the blood of drugs and other poisonous substances by transforming them into forms that are nontoxic or easier for the body to use.
* Helps resist infections by making immune factors and removing bacteria from the bloodstream.
What Is Liver Disease?
Each year in the United States, around 24,500 men and 10,000 women get liver cancer; and around 18,600 men and 9,000 women die from the disease.
And liver cancer is just one of many types of liver diseases, which also include:
• Liver diseases are caused by viruses, such as hepatitis A, B, or C.
• Liver diseases are caused by alcohol or drug abuse or accidental ingestion of poisons, such as fatty liver disease and cirrhosis.
• Inherited liver diseases, such as Wilson disease and hemochromatosis.
Early Signs of Liver Disease
Liver disease doesn’t always cause visible signs and symptoms. When there are signs of liver disease, jaundice is usually the first and sometimes the only one.
What Is Jaundice?
Jaundice happens when a diseased liver doesn’t remove enough bilirubin (a blood waste product) from the blood. Jaundice causes a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes and a darkening of the urine.
Other Symptoms of Liver Disease
Along with jaundice, other signs and symptoms of liver disease may include:
• Loss of appetite
• Nausea or vomiting
• Dark urine color
• Pale stool color
• Abdominal swelling and pain
• Swelling in the legs and ankles
• Tendency to bruise easily
• Chronic fatigue
• Itchy skin
How Liver Disease Is Diagnosed
Since liver disease doesn’t always come with visible signs and symptoms, how is it diagnosed? There are three main tools that physicians use:
• Imaging tests—such as ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI—can show liver damage.
• Doing a biopsy—i.e., removing a tissue sample from the liver—is another way to look for signs of liver damage and diagnose liver disease.
• Liver function blood tests—that measure the levels of specific proteins and enzymes and proteins in the blood—can also be used to diagnose liver damage or disease.
What Causes Liver Disease?
According to the CDC, behaviors, and conditions that increase the risk of getting liver cancer include:
• Drinking alcohol.
• Smoking cigarettes.
• Being overweight or obese.
• Having a long-term hepatitis B or hepatitis C viral infection.
• Having cirrhosis: scarring of the liver.
• Having nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
• Having diabetes.
• Hemochromatosis—where the body takes up and stores more iron than it needs.
• Eating foods that have aflatoxin—a fungus that can grow on foods that haven’t been properly stored.
Other factors that might contribute to contracting a liver disease include:
• Having tattoos or body piercings.
• Receiving a blood transfusion before 1992.
• Being exposed to other people’s blood and body fluids.
• Sharing needles when injecting drugs.
• Having unprotected sex.
• Exposure to toxic chemicals.
• Family history of liver disease.
Liver Disease and Alcohol Abuse
Heavy alcohol use is one of the most common risk factors for liver disease.
Excessive alcohol consumption can cause fat to build up in the liver. According to the U.S. Liver Foundation, fatty liver is present in 90-100% of heavy drinkers. Also:
“Alcohol remains the second most common cause of liver cirrhosis after hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in the United States, contributing to approximately 20% to 25% cases of liver cirrhosis.”
According to the National Institute of Health, people who misuse alcohol have a greater risk of contracting liver disease—and of that disease being fatal:
“In 2019, of the 85,688 liver disease deaths among individuals ages 12 and older, 43.1 percent involved alcohol.”
Alcohol abuse also plays a significant role in the need for liver transplants:
“From 2010 to 2016, alcohol-related liver disease was the primary cause of almost 1 in 3 liver transplants in the United States.”
The bottom line is that consuming large quantities of alcohol over a long period of time puts an individual at a significantly increased risk of liver disease.
How to Prevent Liver Disease
Tips for reducing the risk of contracting liver disease and for improving the health of the liver include:
• Abstain from alcohol or drink in moderation.
• Maintain a healthy weight.
• Get vaccinated for Hepatitis A and B, and tested for Hepatitis C.
• Don’t smoke cigarettes.
• Practice safe sex.
• Get regular exercise—to reduce excess fat in the body including in the liver.
• Enjoy a healthy diet—by limiting refined sugars and carbohydrates; and including plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats/oils (coconut, extra virgin olive, avocado, butter/ghee).
• Protect your skin with long sleeves, gloves, hats, and masks—when applying insecticides or other toxic chemicals.
• Use medications wisely—some of which may stress the liver.
• Have regular medical checkups—and consult with your doctor before mixing herbal supplements with prescription or nonprescription drugs.
Treatment for Alcohol Abuse
To recover from an alcohol use disorder, it’s wise to enter a drug and alcohol detox and rehab program.
• Medically assisted detox
• Individual and group therapy
• 12-step meetings
• Skill development counseling
• Support for cultivating healthy habits and self-care routines
Begin Your Healing Journey
It’s possible to prevent or reverse liver disease and to recover from an alcohol use disorder. To begin this healing journey—or ask any questions you may have—feel free to contact us today.
The compassionate staff and skilled medical professionals at New Method Wellness can provide all the support that is needed to regain physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.