One of the most common and potentially severe side effects of alcoholism is liver damage, which, in severe cases, may lead to death.
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Can You Repair Liver Damage From Alcohol Use?
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “An association between liver disease and heavy alcohol consumption was recognized more than 200 years ago. Long-term heavy alcohol use is the most prevalent single cause of illness and death from liver disease in the United States. The liver is particularly susceptible to alcohol-related injury because it is the primary site of alcohol metabolism.”
The sooner a person stops drinking, the better off their body will be in the long run.
Once the liver undergoes fibrotic changes, it cannot be fully repaired. Although ceasing alcohol use alone won’t always repair the damage, there are other courses of action one may take when attempting to make the liver healthy again. But first, it’s important to understand how alcohol affects the functionality of the liver.
How Exactly Does Alcohol Affect the Liver?
The liver, which is considered a gland, performs many roles within the body. One of the most important functions is ridding the body of toxins and harmful substances. Additionally, the liver stores vitamins, iron and glucose; converts stored sugar to functional sugar when the body’s sugar levels fall; breaks down hemoglobin and destroys old blood cells.
Alcohol dehydrates the body, and the liver requires water to function correctly. When the body lacks water, the liver is forced to pull in water from other sources.
Too much alcohol can lead to a variety of liver problems, including a fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver.
A fatty liver occurs when fat builds up in the liver as a result of drinking more than the liver can handle. Fat buildup can lead to inflammation and scarring, and can result in alcoholic hepatitis.
Alcoholic hepatitis is a condition caused by an inflamed liver as a result of long-term alcohol abuse. With this condition, the liver becomes swollen and tender. This interferes with the liver’s ability to perform essential functions, and with time may develop into a more serious condition known as cirrhosis of the liver.
Cirrhosis is the name for the condition when the liver cells become so damaged that they are replaced by scar tissue. This scar tissue affects blood flow and the flow of other fluids through the liver, interfering with its ability to rid the body of toxins. This can progress to hepatocellular carcinoma, or liver cancer.
6 Ways to Help Repair Liver Damage
There are several things you can do to help reverse the effects of alcohol on your liver, such as:
1. Stop Drinking
If you have been told you have an unhealthy liver, the first and most important thing you can do is stop drinking alcohol. Cutting down alcohol intake alone is not enough, as even a small amount of alcohol still requires the liver to work and may add to scarring. The best thing you can do for your liver is to stop drinking immediately after finding out you have any stage of liver disease.
2. Make Other Healthy Lifestyle Changes
This means no more smoking if you are a smoker, and losing weight if you are overweight or obese. Next to excessive alcohol use, obesity is a leading cause of liver disease, while cigarettes contain toxins that add to the decaying state of the liver. Improving these areas of your life in addition to stopping alcohol use will give your liver a better chance at improving.
3. Watch What You Put Into Your Body
A healthy diet can lead to a healthier liver. When you are not eating many processed foods, sugars and saturated fat, the liver does not have to work as hard to filter what comes through it. Additionally, eating fruits and vegetables leads to a healthier body overall.
4. Get Your Workout In
Apart from helping to avoid obesity, exercising can aid the liver in other ways. Regular exercise improves the immune system and reduces the risk of liver cancer.
5. Pay Attention to Medications You Are Taking
Even some over-the-counter medications can be bad for the liver when taken in excess. One such medication is acetaminophen, which is often taken alongside cough suppressants such as Nyquil. Acetaminophen overdose can easily occur because it is in many products. Taking too much can damage the liver.
6. Don’t Let Unnecessary Toxins In
The fewer toxins coming through your body, the better for your liver. Avoiding other substances like illicit or abused prescription drugs can help keep the liver healthy. This also means taking extra precautions, such as using a mask when dealing with aerosol sprays, spray paints, spray insecticides, spray fungicides and any other form of sprayed chemical. Also be aware of what chemicals could come into contact with your skin, and wear gloves if need be.
When it comes to caring for your body post-alcohol abuse, the liver is a vital organ to pay attention to. Following these guidelines can increase the likelihood that your liver can recover from the abuse it has endured.
Maher, Jacquelyn. “Exploring Alcohol’s Effects on Liver Function.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Accessed December 27, 2019.
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