Filed Under:  Health & Wellness

Your liver, its function and why you must be good to it

28th May 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Shawntell Muhammad
Contributing Writer

(Special to the NNPA from The Final Call) – The liver is the second largest organ in the human body, and is located in the upper right-hand portion of the abdominal cavity, beneath the diaphragm and on top of the stomach, right kidney, and intestines. The liver, a dark reddish-brown organ that weighs about three pounds, has multiple functions.

The liver holds about 13 percent of the body’s blood supply at any given moment. The liver regulates most chemical levels in the blood and excretes a product called bile, which helps to break down fats, preparing them for further digestion and absorption. All of the blood leaving the stomach and intestines passes through the liver. The liver processes this blood and breaks down the nutrients and drugs in the blood into forms that are easier to use for the rest of the body.

More than 500 vital functions have been identified with the liver. Some of the more well-known functions include the following: production of bile, which helps carry away waste and break down fats in the small intestine during digestion, production of certain proteins for blood plasma, production of cholesterol and special proteins to help carry fats through the body, regulation of blood levels of amino acids, which form the building blocks of proteins, processing of hemoglobin for use of its iron content (the liver stores iron), conversion of poisonous ammonia to urea (urea is one of the end products of protein metabolism that is excreted in the urine), clearing the blood of drugs and other poisonous substances, regulating blood clotting, and resisting infections by producing immune factors and removing bacteria from the blood stream.

When the liver has broken down harmful substances, they are excreted into the bile or blood. Bile byproducts enter the intestine and ultimately leave the body in the feces. Blood byproducts are filtered out by the kidneys and leave the body in the form of urine.

Alcohol consumption can cause three types of liver disease: fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, and alcoholic cirrhosis.

Fatty liver disease

Fatty liver disease is the buildup of extra fat in liver cells. It is the earliest stage of alcohol-related liver disease. There are usually no symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they may include fatigue, weakness, and weight loss. Almost all heavy drinkers have fatty liver disease. However, if they stop drinking, fatty liver disease will usually go away.

Alcoholic hepatitis

Alcoholic hepatitis causes the liver to swell and become damaged. Symptoms may include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever and jaundice. Up to 35 percent of heavy drinkers develop alcoholic hepatitis. Alcoholic hepatitis can be mild or severe. If it is mild, liver damage may be reversed. If it is severe, it may occur suddenly and quickly lead to serious complications including liver failure and death.

Alcoholic cirrhosis

Alcoholic cirrhosis is the scarring of the liver—hard scar tissue replaces soft healthy tissue. It is the most serious type of alcohol-related liver disease.

Symptoms of cirrhosis are similar to those of alcoholic hepatitis. Between 10 and 20 percent of heavy drinkers develop cirrhosis. The damage from cirrhosis cannot be reversed and can cause liver failure. Not drinking alcohol can help prevent further damage.

Certain food can also contribute to liver disease. Sugar and salt should be consumed sparingly. The liver regulates and breaks down sugars introduced to the body, according to Christy Parkin, R.N., of the American Diabetes Association. Individuals with diabetes have an increased risk of liver disease. Type 2 diabetes generally occurs due to obesity and high degrees of sugary intake,mayoclinic.com says. Poorly controlled blood sugar leads to cirrhosis, which scars the liver.

Although essential amounts of sodium helps the body maintain the balance of fluids, transmits nerve impulses and influences contraction and relaxation of muscles, Michio Kushi and Alex Jack say in their book The Macrobiotic Path to Total Heal­th, an excess of dietary salt over time can contribute to high blood pressure, as well as tighten and overburden the liver. Cooking with high amounts of salt is also detrimental to the liver.

According to the American Liver Foundation, up to 25 percent of the American population is afflicted with non-alcohol fatty liver disease. Obesity and foods high in saturated fat contribute to this disease. Metabolizing fatty foods turns them into fatty acids, which attach to the liver. The acids can also cause the liver to generate more fat cells. If left untreated or if you continuously eat foods high in saturated fat, your chances of liver cancer increases. Fried food and hydrogenated oil should be avoided. Foods high in saturated fats include meat, whole milk, butter, cheese, and cream, according to MedlinePlus.

Sulfur-containing compounds are one of the primary types of molecules used to help the liver detoxify a wide range of prescription medications, pesticides, and other types of environmental toxins. Foods in this category would include organic onions, garlic, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. High-fiber foods such as fresh organic fruits and organic vegetables are especially helpful in keeping the liver healthy.

This article originally published in the May 27, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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