Why Does Alcohol Damage the Liver?

Written by barbara aufiero
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Why Does Alcohol Damage the Liver?

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The liver is the largest organ in the body. It is located in the centre of the abdomen and holds approximately 13% of the body's blood supply. All of the blood leaving the stomach and intestines passes through the liver. The liver aids in the digestion of food, absorption of nutrients and elimination of toxic substances from the body. When blood leaves the stomach and intestines, it goes to the liver for processing. While the blood is processed, nutrients are broken down into usable forms to be distributed throughout the body by the bloodstream. The liver also stores sugar in its most pure form, glucose, which is used by the body for energy. Toxic substances are excreted into the bile or blood, transferred to the intestines and expelled from the body in the form of faeces.

Alcohol is one of the toxic substances filtered by the liver. The liver breaks it down to a form that can be eliminated by the body. Excessive alcohol intake causes the liver to become fatty and blocks the delivery of oxygen enriched blood to the liver. When there is too much alcohol for the liver to process, a chemical imbalance occurs. Balance can be restored when the drinking stops. Usually the liver is able to repair itself when mildly or moderately damaged.

Excessive drinking is drinking that occurs daily over the course of several years. Although the amount and type of beverage vary, it is estimated that 5 to 6 alcoholic beverages per day is excessive. Also, the longer this frequency of drinking lasts, the more likely it is that a disease of the liver will result. The severity of the disease is also affected by how many years it occurred regularly. It is estimated that significant damage occurs after five or more years of such drinking.

A serious condition among heavy drinkers is alcoholic hepatitis. Alcoholic hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver that may or may not be reversible and can be fatal. In addition to abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, fever and jaundice are present.

A more serious disease that alcoholics are at risk for is alcoholic cirrhosis. This condition results when liver tissue replaces scar tissue. Although the symptoms are similar to alcoholic hepatitis, unlike alcoholic hepatitis, the damage to the liver caused by alcoholic cirrhosis is permanent. Since the liver involved in a multitude of bodily functions, the body cannot survive without one.

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