The liver performs many important functions in the body, so it’s essential that you take good care of yours.
HOW much do you know about your liver?
This may come as a surprise to many – the liver is the largest gland in the body, weighing approximately 1.8 kgs in men and 1.3 kgs in women (on average).
At any one time, it holds about 13% (0.57 litres) of total blood supply, and can be described as one of the hardest working organs in the body, with a multitude of different functions.
Some of these functions include:
·Getting rid of waste products, especially those that are not excreted by the kidneys.
·Neutralising and destroying drugs and toxins – the liver acts like a filter, and is responsible for removing alcohol, chemicals and other toxins from the body.
·Controlling the levels of fats, amino acids and glucose in the blood.
·Fighting infections in the body – the liver contains over half of the body’s supply of macrophages, known as Kuppfer cells, which destroy any bacteria that they come into contact with.
·Processing digested food from the intestine.
·As a storage depot for iron, vitamins and other essential chemicals.
·Breaking down food and turning it into energy – carbohydrates are broken down to glucose and stored mainly in the liver and muscles as glycogen. Glycogen in the liver can be rapidly converted into glucose in times of need.
·Manufacturing, breaking down and regulating numerous hormones, including the sex hormones.
·Making the enzymes and proteins responsible for many chemical reactions in the body.
As you can see, the liver is a crucial organ that performs many functions that are vital to life.
Despite its importance, awareness of liver health is rather limited, and compared to organs such as the heart, brain or kidneys, liver-related issues are not as comprehensively explored or understood.
At the very least, what we do need to know is that certain lifestyle practices can place undue stress on the liver, such as excessive consumption of alcohol, eating fatty and sugary foods, and even long-term consumption of certain types of medications.
One possible consequence of an overworked liver is fatty liver disease.
Fatty liver disease is a result of abnormal retention of lipids within a cell. There are a few causes for this, but put simply, the disease can be classified as alcoholic fatty liver disease (due to alcohol consumption), and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which has a few causes, including obesity.
This abnormal accumulation of fat in the liver can be accompanied by progressive inflammation of the liver in some people, leading to serious liver disease.
Fatty liver disease is not easily detected in the early stages and can go undetected for years. As the condition progresses, symptoms such as fatigue, abdominal distension after meals, bloatedness, discomfort after alcohol consumption, mild diarrhoea after meals, etc, begin to surface.
So how do you look after your liver in order to avoid future problems? Here are a few simple steps you can take. They are essentially measures that you would normally take for good general health:
·Watch your weight. As overweight and obesity are linked to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, the steps you take to keep to a healthy weight can help prevent problems. If you are overweight, seek help for safe weight loss.
·Eat the recommended portions of fruits and vegetables daily.
·Cut down on fatty food and watch your sugar intake.
·Get enough exercise daily.
·Cut down on the alcohol. The occasional glass or two is unlikely to result in adverse consequences. However, heavy drinkers should beware: drinking heavily affects liver function and can damage the liver.
Experts have advised that women should drink no more than two or three units of alcohol in a day, while men should drink no more than three to four units in a day. For reference, a bottle of wine (12%) represents nine units; a large glass of wine (250ml) is equivalent to three units; a pint of beer (5%) - three units; and a double gin and tonic – two units.
And you can’t “save up” for a few days and drink all the “saved” portions at one go!
·Quit smoking as it is harmful to virtually every organ in the body. If you smoke, quit now.
1. The British Liver Foundation