What is your Liver?
The liver is the largest internal organ in the human body, and it is also one of the most important. It is necessary for survival; a human can only last up to 24 hours without liver function. The liver has many jobs, such as changing food into energy and cleaning alcohol and poisons from the blood and it also makes bile, a yellowish-green liquid that helps with digestion.
The liver plays a major role in metabolism and has a number of other functions in the body, including glycogen storage, decomposition of red blood cells, plasma protein synthesis, and detoxification. The liver is also the largest gland in the human body. It lies below the diaphragm in the thoracic region of the abdomen to the right of the stomach and overlies the gallbladder. The adult human liver normally weighs between 1.4 – 1.6 kilograms and it is a soft, pinkish-brown, triangular organ.
What can go wrong with your Liver?
There are many kinds of liver diseases. Viruses cause some of them, like hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Others can be the result of drugs, poisons or drinking too much alcohol. If the liver forms scar tissue because of an illness, it’s called cirrhosis. Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin, can be one sign of liver disease. Like other parts of your body, cancer can affect the liver. You could also inherit a liver disease such as hemochromatosis.
Our liver is very resilient in the face of liver problems. It can remain functional after losing most of its cells to disease. It can regenerate in a few weeks — even after much of it has been removed during surgery. But our liver isn’t indestructible. Excessive alcohol consumption over many years is a leading cause of liver disease. Too much alcohol can make a normal liver swell with fat, causing a condition called fatty liver. If the fat becomes inflamed, it can lead to either alcoholic hepatitis, a liver problem that causes serious but often reversible liver damage, or cirrhosis, which causes irreversible liver damage. Because of extensive scarring, a cirrhotic liver shrinks to a fraction of its normal size.
Viral hepatitis can lead to serious liver problems and is the most common type of liver disease. Hepatitis causes inflammation of the liver. The three types of hepatitis viruses — hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C — can all be prevented.
The Mayo Clinic has identified the signs and symptoms below of liver problems: These include:
- Discolored skin and eyes that appear yellowish
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Itchy skin that doesn’t seem to go away
- Dark urine color
- Pale stool color
- Bloody or tar-colored stool
- Chronic fatigue
- Loss of appetite
Alcohol and your Liver:
The liver is where the body finishes breaking down alcohol. Working at full speed, a healthy young man’s liver takes about an hour to process one drink. A healthy young woman’s liver will generally take longer. This is one reason why women often become intoxicated more quickly than men and why there are different recommended upper limits for women. If you drink faster than your liver can process alcohol you will start to feel drunk.
The liver is the main organ that gets rid of alcohol by breaking it down. It metabolises about 90% of the alcohol in our body while only about 10% is excreted through either our urine or breath. The liver needs water to get rid of toxins from the body but, as alcohol acts as a diuretic, there will not be sufficient amounts in the body, so the liver is forced to divert water from other organs including the brain.
The liver also produces more toxins in the body as a by-product of breaking down alcohol. When the liver is metabolising alcohol it produces acetaldehyde, a substance which has toxic effects on our liver, brain and stomach lining, resulting in headache, nausea, vomiting and heartburn – commonly known as a hangover.
Everything we eat, drink, breathe and absorb through our skin eventually reaches our liver. It controls a process called metabolism, in which our liver breaks down nutrients into usable byproducts. These by-products are delivered to the rest of our body by our bloodstream. The liver also breaks down toxins into by-products that can be safely eliminated.
Our liver serves as a storage depot for sugar (glucose), which it releases when we need energy. The liver also works as a chemical factory, producing many substances that perform vital tasks in our body. Examples include bile, a fluid that carries away waste and helps digest fat in the small intestine, and cholesterol, a substance needed by every cell in our body.
Protecting the Liver:
Here are the most important things we can do to protect the liver:
• Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. Over many years, more than one drink a day for women and more than two drinks a day for men may be enough to lead to cirrhosis. Use of certain drugs, including some illegal drugs, also can cause liver disease.
• Don’t mix other drugs with alcohol. Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) can be toxic to the liver even if you drink in moderation.
• Get vaccinated. If you’re at increased risk of contracting hepatitis or if you’ve already been infected with any form of the hepatitis virus, talk to your doctor about getting the hepatitis B vaccine. A vaccine is also available for hepatitis A.
• Use medications wisely. Only use prescription and nonprescription drugs when you need them and take only the recommended doses.
• Beware of certain supplements. Herbal supplements that can be toxic to the liver include kava, comfrey, chaparral, kombucha tea, pennyroyal and skullcap. Also avoid high doses of vitamins A, D, E and K.
• Avoid contact with other people’s blood and body fluids. Hepatitis viruses can be spread by accidental needle sticks, improper cleanup of blood or body fluids, and sharing intravenous needles. It’s also possible to become infected by sharing razor blades or toothbrushes or by having unsafe sex.
• Be careful with aerosol sprays. When you use an aerosol cleaner, make sure the room is ventilated, or wear a mask. Take similar protective measures when spraying insecticides or fungicides, painting and using other toxic chemicals.
• Watch what gets on your skin. When using insecticides and other toxic chemicals, cover your skin with gloves, long sleeves, a hat and a mask.
• Don’t eat too many fatty foods. Your liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs. Eating a well-balanced, nourishing diet will help your liver do its job properly. A regular exercise program will help keep your liver healthy, too.
• Watch your weight. Even if you don’t drink alcohol, obesity can cause a condition called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which may include fatty liver, hepatitis and cirrhosis.
Noni and the Liver:
There have been many reports on Noni and the liver – some suggesting that people with renal problems need to consult their GP before taking Noni as a supplement. A complete nutritional analysis of Noni juice reveals that it is a good source of antioxidants, and is relatively high in the mineral potassium (K), which, although associated with many health benefits, also needs to be taken with care by people with renal problems.
Potassium promotes healthy heart rhythm, muscular contraction, nerve function, energy production and fluid balance. Insufficient potassium is associated with fatigue, muscle weakness and spasm, and insomnia.
A healthy body needs a healthy liver, so taking care of our liver will give us energy, vitality and help us on our path to wellbeing.