Know Your Liver And Learn How To Keep It Healthy
The liver is one of the most important organs of the human body that performs several essential functions related to metabolism, energy storage, and detoxification of waste. It performs tasks that are vital for our survival, but we often tend to be least bothered for the health of this organ and do things that may cause harm to it. The prevalence of liver diseases is increasing at an alarming rate in India, therefore, it is of utmost importance that we educate ourselves about the causes of liver diseases and work on preventing them. Here’s everything you need to know about your liver, threats to your liver, and how to prevent them.
Understanding The Liver
The liver is the second largest organ in the human body after the skin, and the largest gland in the body. It sits just under the rib cage on the right side. It is reddish-brown in color with a rubbery texture. It’s sized between 7-10 cm and is divided into two parts called lobes. Each of the two lobes is divided into sectors and these sectors are further divided into segments.
Unlike most of the organs, the liver has a unique dual source of blood supply. The portal vein, from the digestive system, brings in nutrition-rich blood, and the hepatic artery carries oxygenated blood from the heart.
Functions Of The Liver
The liver plays an important role in several essential functions such as:
- Digestive Function : The liver produces bile which is a fluid that plays an important role in digestion. This fluid helps the small intestine break down and absorb fats and cholesterol. It also aids in protein digestion in the body.
- Metabolic Function : The liver acts as a filter to remove toxins and other harmful substances from the body and produces essential chemicals for the body. It also produces glucose that is used as energy by the body, and stores excess glucose as glycogen for future use.
- Immune Function : The liver can be considered as the largest bank of immunity in the body. The innate immunity is predominantly present in the liver. Additionally, it also removes harmful bacteria and endotoxins coming from the gut which, in turn, increases immunity.
- Other Important Functions : The liver stores essential vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E, K, and B12 and minerals such as iron and copper that play valuable roles in sustaining life. It also regulated the production of important hormones like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), angiotensinogen, thrombopoietin, hepcidin, and betatrophin. Apart from that, the bile produced in the liver increases the absorption of vitamin K which is essential for blood clotting and which prevents excessive blood loss. The organ also helps in metabolizing bilirubin produced from blood cells.
Liver diseases can be classified into two types, genetic and acquired. Genetic liver diseases are caused due to defects in the genes that are inherited from the parents, therefore, in such cases, the liver functions are abnormal right from birth. Some of the most common inherited liver diseases include hemochromatosis, Wilson's disease, alpha 1-antiprotease (antitrypsin) deficiency, and cystic fibrosis. Acquired liver diseases, on the other hand, are diseases that are acquired after birth. These include alcohol-related liver disease, viral hepatitis, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), autoimmune liver disease, and more.
Causes Of Liver Disease Some of the most common causes of liver disease include:
- Infection: Viral infections can cause inflammation in the liver and reduce its functioning. The most common type of viral infection that causes damage to the liver includes the hepatitis virus.
- Alcohol: Excess consumption of alcohol can lead to the accumulation of fats in the liver that can cause serious damage to the liver and lead to a condition called alcoholic fatty liver.
- Immune System Abnormalities: Diseases in which the immune system attacks certain parts of your body may also attack your liver which may cause damage to the liver.
- Genetics: Genetic defects or abnormal genes inherited from parents can contribute to factors that may cause liver diseases.
- Other Factors: Vascular blocks in inflow or outflow of the liver, metabolic causes like Wilson’s disease, inborn errors of metabolism, etc can also lead to liver diseases.
Some of the common risk factors of liver diseases include:
- Alcohol abuse
- Using shared needles for injections/drug abuse
- Unsafe practice of tattooing or body piercings
- Infected blood transfusion
- Exposure to other people's blood and body fluids
- Unprotected sex
- Exposure to toxic chemicals
- Family history of liver disease
Preventing Liver Disease
- Moderating Intake Of Alcohol: Heavy consumption of alcohol (more than eight drinks a week for women and 15 drinks a week for men) can damage the liver. Therefore, drinking must be done in moderation.
- Avoiding Risky Lifestyles: Do not share or use used needles. Avoid drug abuse. Practice safe sex by using condoms and choose to have tattoos or body piercings where hygiene is maintained.
- Maintain A Healthy Weight: Excess weight is associated with liver diseases. Therefore, maintain a healthy weight by eating a well-balanced diet and doing physical activities.
- Be Mindful About Medications: Ensure that you give prevention shots to your kids. Hepatitis B vaccination is now compulsory for children as per the Universal Immunization Program by the Government of India. Adults should also get vaccinated if not received previously. Strictly avoid over-the-counter medications such as pain killers, etc. Do not mix medications and alcohol, or consume medicines with drinks.
Finding out the cause and the extent of liver damage is an important step before moving to lay treatment plans. Your doctor will most likely go through your medical history and then run certain physical examinations before starting your treatment.
- Lab tests such as liver function tests (LFTs), blood clotting indices such as INR, etc can define the extent of liver parenchymal dysfunction.
- Image testing such as an ultrasound, CT scan or MRI can be done to show the extent of the damage.
- An endoscopy can be done to predict the consequences of end-stage cirrhosis in the stomach.
Based on the causes and extent of liver damage, your doctor may either suggest medication or surgery to cure the diseases.
- Medication: If your liver disease is at an initial stage, your doctor may prescribe liver supportive medicines to treat the etiology of liver diseases. They may also optimize the medications for treating the complications of end-stage liver cirrhosis.
- Surgery: In complex cases, or in cases where the patient is unresponsive to medications, surgical interventions may be done. In the case of a tumor formation, resection may be done if it’s detected in the early stages. For the long term, definitive and curative option for end-stage liver cirrhosis with complications of liver failure, a liver transplant may be done.
- Lifestyle Changes: If you’ve been diagnosed with liver disease, changing certain lifestyle habits can be helpful in improving liver health. Simple changes such as reducing the amount of alcohol intake, exercising daily and maintaining a healthy diet can help you go a long way
Dr Chandan Kumar KN
Senior Consultant - Hepatology & Lead Transplant Physician
Gleneagles Global Hospital Lakdikapul
Disclaimer:The views and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author. They do not reflect the opinions or views of the organization.