7 Facts About How Alcohol Affects Your Liver

Do you know that one friend, family member, or colleague who seems to effortlessly do it all? They somehow meet all their deadlines, eat healthy, have a happening social life, and even get time to exercise. Their productivity is so intimidating that it makes you question everything YOU are doing with your life.

Well…your body has one organ that does it all like that you should definitely be grateful for — the liver.

Your liver is much more important than you think. It is involved in hundreds of tasks that keep your body going. Some of these functions include controlling fat and sugar levels in the blood, processing digested food, fighting infections, converting glycogen to glucose for energy, and getting rid of toxins and waste from your body.

But there’s one liquid poison that even the most productive people can fall prey to — alcohol.

In any conversation about the dangers of excess alcohol intake, our multi-tasking organ, the liver, always comes into the picture. You may all know that alcohol damages the liver. But you may not know how excess alcohol consumption harms the liver. Here are 7 facts that will help you understand this better:

  1. Your liver is responsible for processing about 90% of the alcohol you consume. So, you can bank on your liver’s productivity during those drinking sessions!
  2. The processing of alcohol by your liver involves complex biochemical reactions. Alcohol is first converted to acetaldehyde and then to acetate. Acetate then enters your bloodstream and takes part in other metabolic processes.
  3. Your liver can successfully metabolize mild levels of alcohol. It can process an alcoholic beverage in one hour. But this comes at a cost — everytime your liver filters alcohol, some cells die. Fortunately, your liver has the ability to regenerate itself.
  4. When you drink more than your liver can handle, that’s when this productive friend starts to crumble. When your liver metabolizes alcohol, one of the by-products promotes the formation of triglycerides, a type of fat. This fat collects in the liver cells and can lead to fatty liver disease.
  5. If you consume abnormally high levels of alcohol, fatty liver disease is one of the earliest warning signs. It develops in about 90% of those who have more than 4–5 drinks a day. Even binge-drinking for several days in a row can fuel the deposition of fat in your liver cells. The good news is that fatty liver disease can be reversed if you stop drinking alcohol for a few weeks.
  6. But if you don’t heed the warning signs, you can develop alcoholic hepatitis. This is a more serious liver condition in which your liver cells become swollen and start to die, and your liver becomes inflamed. Mild alcoholic hepatitis can be reversed if you stop drinking for good. But severe alcoholic hepatitis can be life-threatening.
  7. When your excess alcohol consumption continues for a long time, your productive friend, the liver, reaches its breaking point. Normal liver tissue gets replaced by scar tissue. This compromises the network of blood vessels that supply the liver. This end-stage liver disease is called cirrhosis, which can ultimately lead to liver failure and even liver cancer.

Your liver is a wondrous organ — it can withstand the poor decisions you make during one night, such as having that extra shot of spirit. But this tolerance has its limits. Drinking excess levels of alcohol on a long-term basis can be detrimental to your liver. And given how essential your liver is for various body functions, it’s best not to put your liver under too much pressure by drinking more than you can handle!

If you have liver cirrhosis and don’t stop drinking, your chances of surviving for the next 5 year slash by 50%. Thus, excess alcohol consumption can eventually be life-threatening. The CDC recommends having no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men. Here’s an infographic of a standard drink:

Adapted from Alcoholic Liver Disease: Pathogenesis and Current Management

Remember, the only person who can keep YOU the healthiest is YOU!

DISCLAIMER: Dr. YOU aims to bring you the latest evidence-based science, and our content is for informational purposes only. The content is not medical advice or guarantee of an outcome. You should always consult a doctor or qualified healthcare professional if you need further clarification and before making any changes to your treatment plans and lifestyle, or that of others.

Dr. YOU is a one-stop platform to address the health information needs of health consumers. Our goal is to arm people with the information necessary to make meaningful decisions regarding their health and nudge behavior change.

With our combined experience of two decades in research and healthcare, we built the Dr. YOU platform around the WHO-endorsed “Best Buy” intervention design for preventing and managing chronic diseases.

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