Every alcoholic person knows that alcohol causes damage to the Liver. Very few people would have gone ahead in trying to understand the exact causes of this damage. When a person consumes alcohol, it is absorbed into the blood through the tongue, stomach and intestine. The alcohol is absorbed by water also. Through the water and the blood, the alcohol goes into every cell of the body. Some organs which have higher water content and higher blood supply, like brain would be affected more by alcohol consumption. As soon as the alcohol goes into the body, the liver starts the process of excreting it from the body. More than 95% of the alcohol in the body is excreted through the liver and the remaining through sweat and urine.
There are three types of damages which are caused by alcohol to the Liver - Fatty Liver, Alcoholic Hepatitis and Liver Cirrhosis.
Fatty Liver - Almost every person who consumes alcohol regularly above the safe limit would have some kind of Fatty Liver. In this condition, excess fat builds into the cells of the liver which reduces the functioning of the liver. Fatty liver can be diagnosed on a simple ultrasound test in which the size of the liver appears increased. Fatty Liver of Grade - 1, 2 or 3 would be found on every person who is drinking heavily on a regular basis.
Alcoholic Hepatitis - is a condition in which inflammation of the Liver cells takes place alongwith their destruction. Symptoms may include fever, jaundice, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and tenderness. In its mild form, alcoholic hepatitis can last for years and will cause progressive liver damage, although the damage may be reversible over time if you stop drinking.
Liver Cirrhosis - is a condition in which the healthy liver tissue is replaced by non-living scar tissue. Liver Cirrhosis may occur in people who have been drinking heavily for over 10 years. Fibrosis is the first stage of liver scarring. Cirrhosis is the condition in which this scar tissue builds up and takes over most of the liver.
Liver damage is not only caused by alcohol but there are other reasons also. Some children also develop fatty liver and liver cirrhosis. This does not mean that adults can continue to indulge in binge drinking without bothering about the consequences. Women have lesser capacity when it comes to alcohol consumption and therefore the safe limit for women is one peg of whisky per day while men can safely consume 2 pegs of 30 ml each. Drinking on empty stomach causes more damage to the liver as alcohol absorption is high on empty stomach. One must eat lots of salads and raw vegetables with alcohol. Avoid fried stuff like tandoori chicken, chips, peanuts, namkeens etc while consuming alcohol.
The safe limit is only for those who do not have alcohol related liver disease. It is therefore extremely important to get your liver checked regularly. Ultrasound of the abdomen alongwith Liver Function Tests would not cost more than 2 bottles of whiskey and should be done atleast once a year to check the health of your liver. If you have any alcohol related condition like fatty liver then abstaining from alcohol alteast 5 days in a week would help you recover.
Not every person who drinks heavily would have a liver condition which is caused by alcohol consumption. Other factors which work in tandem with alcohol consumption in causing damage to the liver are obesity, malnutrition, genetics, race, ethnicity, gender and hepatitis. Regular exercise plays a very important role in mitigating the effects of alcohol on the liver. People who drink heavily are less likely to be doing regular exercises and the vice versa. People who stop eating cooked food and go on a complete raw diet of vegetables, fruits, seeds and dry fruits would be able to reduce the impact of alcohol on liver.
If you have been diagnosed with Fatty Liver, Alcoholic Hepatitis or Liver Cirrhosis, you should immediately consult a Liver Specialist and start the treatment. If the treatment is done at an early stage then medication and lifestyle changes would do the job. If the treatment is delayed then surgery might be the only option.
Diagnosis - Damage to the Liver can be easily diagnosed through an Ultrasound Scan of the abdomen and Liver Function Test which is done through blood. Advanced tests would include Triple Phase CT Scan of the Liver, Fibroscan, Liver Biopsy or MRI Abdomen.
Treatment Options - Most of the people who drink regularly eat medicines like Liv-52 on their own without consulting a Liver Specialist which should never be done for any kind of medicine.
Abstinence: Many regular drinkers keep avoiding the symptoms and do not get tested or consult a doctor for the fear of being asked to quit drinking. This is the worst thing which they are doing for their body. If a liver disease is diagnosed early then simple treatment can help the liver in curing itself. If you have been diagnosed with any alcohol related disease, then abstaining from alcohol for 5 days in a week and drinking moderately for the remaining 2 days would also be of great help.
Lifestyle Modification - Changing your dietery habits by eating more and more raw food instead of cooked food will help your liver in curing itself. A diet of raw vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds all chopped into small pieces and mixed together can be eaten all through the day. This will help not only the liver but also help in reducing obesity, hypertension, diabetes and many more lifestyle diseases.
Medications: Steroid treatment with prednisolone is usually the first-line medication. If steroid therapy does not work then your doctor might like to try pentoxifylline.
Liver transplant: - This might be the only option left for you if the disease has progress into an advanced stage of Cirrhosis. The condition is that you can get Liver Transplant done only 6 months after you have quit alcohol and are determined never to consume it again. The second challange is to find a donor within the family who would be willing to give a part of their liver for someone who has been highly irresponsible towards their own health.
The pertinent message is to drink responsibly, exercise regularly, eat healthy and live happily.
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Dr. Ankur Garg
Liver Transplant & HPB Surgeon
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