How damaging is alcohol to my liver?
If you place your right hand over your abdomen, just below your right ribs it will cover the area of your liver. The liver is the largest gland and the largest solid organ in the body and that is because it is such an active, busy organ. The liver holds approx one pint of your total blood volume and carries out over 500 different functions. Some of its most important functions are:
- processing digested food from the intestine
- controlling levels of fats, amino acids and glucose in the blood
- combating infections
- clearing the blood of particles and infections, including bacteria
- neutralising and destroying all drugs and toxins, including alcohol
- manufacturing bile
- storing iron, vitamins and other essential chemicals
- breaking down food and turning it into energy
- manufacturing, breaking down and regulating numerous hormones including sex hormones
- making enzymes and proteins which are responsible for most chemical reactions in the body, for example those involved in blood clotting and repair of damaged tissues.
Makes you feel dizzy just thinking about all the different processes the liver has to do, but what happens when the liver isn’t as healthy as it should be. What happens if some of the liver cells are inflamed (hepatitis), or have scar tissue instead of healthy liver cells (fibrosis) due to drinking too much alcohol. You may find that you feel:
- tired all the time due to the liver’s inability to properly process nutrients
- have bad skin because the liver can’t break down ‘toxins’ effectively, and these spill into the blood circulation, pushing through the skin and causing skin irritations – spots, boils, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea
- prone to infections. The liver contains half of the body’s supply of macrophages. These cells destroy any disease-causing bacteria that they come into contact with. If the liver is damaged in any way, its ability to fight infections is impaired
Symptoms of liver damage are not always easy to spot as they are not always obvious, but if you have any of the above symptoms and you regularly drink alcohol, it may be time to look at your drinking habits. Here’s what you can do to love your liver a little bit more:
- eat a well balanced diet, with plenty of vegetables, fruits and wholefoods. These contain anti-oxidants and will help protect your liver against inflammation
- drink at least 2 litres of water daily
- exercise to help maintain a healthy weight, reducing your risk of developing a fatty liver
- consume only the recommended amount of alcohol. To reduce your risk of developing alcohol-related liver disease, it is recommended to drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week. For example, one unit of alcohol is 76mls of a standard 13% white wine or or 250mls of a 4% standard beer. Complicated isn’t it. Here’s some information about different strengths of wine, beers and spirits from drinkaware
- when drinking, have a glass of water between alcoholic drinks
- drink spritzers (half wine and half tonic)
- always have something to eat before drinking alcohol so the alcohol takes longer to get into your bloodstream
Many of my Just For Tummies customers who like a tipple or two take my Milk Thistle tablets to help keep their liver in tip top condition. They also notice fewer hangovers when taking Milk Thistle and that’s because Milk Thistle breaks down the alcohol quickly, eliminating it from the body before it’s had time to cause any damage.
Milk Thistle contains the active ingredient ‘silymarin’, proven in studies to protect the liver from inflammation and scarring. Take one tablet before drinking alcohol, one before bed and one with breakfast the following morning.