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How Does Alcohol Damage The Liver?

Date:15-02-2016

There are many potential causes of liver disease. However, the most well known of these is alcohol. Failure of the liver is one of the major causes of premature death in alcoholics, and (despite alcohol’s deleterious effects upon many bodily functions and organs) it’s about their liver that the loved ones of heavy drinkers will express concern. Indeed, prolonged and heavy alcohol abuse is the main cause of death by liver failure in the alcohol-drinking world. But how, precisely, does alcohol damage the liver?

Booze By-Products

When a person drinks, the alcohol they consume is broken down by the body into several component parts. Among these are the toxic chemical acetaldehyde, and various damaging free-radicals. It is these (rather than the ethanol itself, as many people assume) which cause the most damage. Free-radicals are oxidized particles which react with body tissues to cause degradation. The operation is much like that of rust on metal - and contributes over time to a great many degenerative conditions. Perhaps more worrying is the chemical acetaldehyde. Even in small doses, this alcoholic by-product is incredibly toxic to the body. Understanding this, the body usually converts acetaldehyde swiftly into its less-harmful acetate form. However, when too much alcohol is consumed, the body is naturally unable (due to the sheer volume of the task) to convert this chemical as quickly as it otherwise might. This can lead to damage to the liver, as this toxic chemical sits within and corrodes it. It is thought to be acetaldehyde which causes many of the symptoms of hangovers, as the poison works its way through the body. Should your face become flushed and hot while drinking, it is likely that this is due to the action of acetaldehyde within the blood. Acetaldehyde’s effects can be mitigated slightly by ‘ballasting’ the alcohol with food - but too many alcoholics do not eat nearly as much as they should, choosing to consume their calories in liquid form.

Don’t Leave It Too Late

It is worth nothing that, being a large organ, the liver will continue to hide symptoms of the damage it is experiencing until it’s too late. The symptoms of alcoholic liver disease (of which there are many varieties - not all caused by acetaldehyde) may not manifest until the liver is damaged beyond repair. Should this be the case, your only chance of survival will be a liver transplant. All in all, it is best to be sensible when drinking, and not to leave it too late!




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Liver Talk By Dr. Soin
Dr. A. S. Soin, Chairman

Medanta Institute of Liver Transplantation and Regenerative Medicine, Medanta The Medicity,
Sector 38, Gurgaon,
Haryana 122001, India.


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