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Caring for Your Liver

The Medical Reporter,”
January 1995

Most people know that the liver acts as a filter and can be badly damaged by too much drinking of alcohol. Other than that, they have little knowledge of the complexities and importance of the many thousands of vital functions it performs 24 hours each day.

The liver, the largest organ in your body, plays a vital role in regulating life processes. Its primary functions are to refine and detoxify everything you eat, breathe, and absorb through your skin.

It is the body’s internal chemical power plant, converting nutrients in the food you eat into muscles, energy, hormones, clotting factors and immune factors. It stores certain vitamins, minerals and sugars, regulates fat stores and controls the production and excretion of cholesterol. The bile, produced by liver cells, helps you to digest your food and absorb important nutrients. It neutralizes and destroys poisonous substances and metabolizes alcohol. Before you were born, it served as the main organ of blood formation. It helps you resist infection and removes bacteria from the blood stream, helping you to stay healthy. Storing iron is another important task it performs.

In essence, your liver serves as your engine, pantry, refinery, food processor, garbage disposal and “guardian angel.”

One of the most remarkable accomplishments of this miraculous organ is its ability to regenerate. Three quarters of the liver can be removed and it will grow back in the same shape and form within a few weeks. However, overworking your liver can cause liver cells, the employees in your power plant, to become permanently damaged or scarred. This is called cirrhosis. Alcohol, drugs and even some prescribed and over-the-counter drugs such as acetaminophen, as well as viruses, environmental pollutants and some metabolic disorders can cause liver cell damage.

Your liver is your silent partner, your internal chemical power plant, and a non-complaining organ. Unfortunately, it doesn’t usually let you know it is in trouble until the damage is far advanced. It needs your help to keep it healthy.

Recently, the media have reported that drinking wine each day is good for your heart. However, liver specialists suggest that more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women may even be too much for some people. Medicine should never be taken with alcoholic beverages. Remember…they are all made up of chemicals and could be potentially hazardous to your precious liver cells.

Fumes from paint thinners, bug sprays, and other aerosol sprays are picked up by the tiny blood vessels in your lungs and carried to your liver where they are detoxified and discharged in your bile.

The amount and concentration of those chemicals should be controlled to prevent liver damage. Make certain you have good ventilation, use a mask, cover your skin and wash off any chemicals you get on your skin with soap and water as soon as possible.

A vaccine for hepatitis A, a common viral liver infection, has recently been approved by the FDA. If you eat raw shellfish frequently you may want to discuss being vaccinated with your physician. If you work in a health care facility or day-care center you are at risk. Children who attend day-care centers are also at risk. Food handlers, travelers to developing countries and young people living in dorms or in close contact with others should consider being vaccinated. There is a risk of contracting hepatitis A through anal contact. Good hygiene, washing hands after using the toilet and good common sense are essential.

Hepatitis B can cause severe liver damage and even death. It can be prevented by safe and effective vaccines. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend that all newborns, infants and sexually active adolescents be vaccinated. If you have more than one sex partner within a six-month period, you should consider vaccination. Of course, everyone who handles blood or blood products in their daily activities should be vaccinated.

Hepatitis C (HCV) poses a more difficult problem. There is no vaccine available, so precautionary measures are very important. HCV is transmitted through blood and possibly other body fluids. Sharing razor blades, nail files, scissors, clippers, or toothbrushes with an infected person can result in the transmission of HCV. However, the mode of transmission is uncertain in about 40% of cases. Much more needs to be known about this virus.

Hepatitis D (HDV) can be prevented by having the hepatitis B vaccine and avoiding contact with carriers of HBV.

Caring for your liver means eating a good healthy diet, exercising and getting plenty of fresh air, and avoid things that can cause liver damage.

Your liver can’t tell you when it is struggling with all of the toxins and pollutants you ingest, breathe, or absorb through your skin., The only sign you may have of trouble is fatigue, indicating your power plant is gradually shutting down.

Your liver has to depend on you to take care of it…so it can take care of you. (Source: Hepatitis Foundation International)

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