Many Ways to Love Your Liver

Deborah L. Hopla, Guest Writer

Spring is around the corner and with it comes Spring Break, beach parties, dances, proms and for many an increase in alcohol consumption.

The liver is the largest solid organ in the body and is extremely important. It plays a role in protein production, metabolizing glucose for energy, iron (blood building), good and bad cholesterol storage for fat transportation, manufacturing of bile and the production of clotting factors. The liver functions as a filter to detoxify alcohol and certain medications like Tylenol (acetaminophen), niacin, statins, Macrodantin, Augmentin, Sumycin, INH, Methotrexate and Anabuse. Some herbal medications that are filtered in the liver include: kava kava, ma-huang, black cohosh, and comfrey. Foods that can affect the liver include grapefruit and some species of wild mushrooms.

When the liver is not functioning appropriately people experience weakness, fatigue, weight loss, nausea and vomiting. Scar tissue and obstruction can produce a yellowing of the skin called jaundice. The liver can become inflamed from infections resulting in hepatitis and loss of functioning liver cells. It can also become fatty due to obesity and /or high cholesterol and/or triglycerides. This fat can compromise blood flow to the liver.

Viruses like infectious mononucleosis, Epstein-Barr and cytomegalovirus can also affect the liver. Non-viral infections like Rocky Mountain spotted fever (caused by ticks) and toxoplasmosis (often transmitted by cat feces) can also be a factor in liver problems.

Unusual diseases like Hemochromatosis (too much iron), Wilson’s disease (too much copper in the blood), Gilbert’s Disease (abnormal amounts of bilirubin) and cancers can also be a problem for liver disease.

Obstructive causes can be Budd Chiari (blood clots in the hepatic vein), Congestive Heart Failure, taking birth control pills while smoking and obstructive gallstones.

Alcohol is very toxic to the liver. It is the most common cause of liver disease in North America, resulting in over 100,000 deaths annually. Legal intoxication is measured at 0.08 percent in the blood stream. At .10 percent a person will have slurred speech and at .40 percent coma and death can occur. Women will register higher faster due to the increase in fat cells per body type. Alcohol can be detected within five minutes after it is consumed. American Indians lack an enzyme to process alcohol and alcoholism can be devastating to this population. Alcohol ingestion also stimulates the appetite which is bad news to those trying to lose weight.

Liver disease can be detected by blood testing. An AST, ALT, GGT, alkaline phosphatase, bilirubin, protein and albumin levels are taken and monitored. If indicated, drawing a blood test called a Hepatitis Profile may be helpful if Hepatitis is suspected. An abdominal CT scan or even an MRI may be ordered and, occasionally, a liver biopsy will be done in this assessment.

How can the liver stay happy? Eliminate or greatly reduce toxic substances. Don’t take Tylenol in excess and definitely not after ingestion of alcohol. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, but maybe consider eliminating grapefruit from the diet. Get lots of rest. Wash your hands frequently. Do not share needles or have unprotected sex. With all these many ways to love your liver you can avoid the most common problems encountered and live a long and healthy life.