How does Alcohol affect the human liver?
I’ve read somewhere that the liver breaks down and filters out harmful substances in the body. It also converts vitamins, nutrients and medicines into substances that our bodies can use. The liver is also responsible for cleaning our blood, producing bile for digestion and storing glycogen for energy. Which essentially means without a liver, or with a damaged one, a person is bound to die. So how exactly does alcohol affect the liver, and how can it be treated (is possible)?
Great question Megan! We can have a doctor to explain the science behind, but there is information about my body that I never accept to leave with the doctor alone, I do my best to know how my body functions so that I can take good care of it and I’m sure that’s why you asked so you can also know. I’ll explain the way I know (from the deductions I learnt from my personal doctor and years of study and research).
As far as blood filtration is concerned, the liver is like a Sieve. When blood flows through it, it filters out any toxic substances which get into our bodies from what we consume, separates toxins and dumps them out for excretion, then allows the important nutrients to be utilized in the body, or let’s them back into the blood. Your liver works like an Air Filter in your Car. A car engine air filter was designed to prevent debris, dust, and other substances from making their way to the engine and damaging it. But guess what, if you drove your car through, say, a stormy sandy desert for long enough, the air filters would either clog (cutting off clean air supply to your engine thereby affecting the acceleration, and efficiency at which you travel) or it will allow in as much debris and dust as possible which can cause great havoc, causing deep scratches to the cylinder, and causing the engine to burn oil. This ultimately reduces the engine life and when continued, definitely causes the engine to fail completely, requiring you to buy a new engine.
Now how does this relate to the liver (filter) in your body? It is estimated that the first time you use alcohol, the liver will take approximately 1 hour to process that alcohol. This time frame increases with each drink. The higher someone’s blood alcohol content is, the longer the liver will take to process the alcohol.
The liver can only process a certain amount of alcohol at a time. When someone has too much to drink, the alcohol left unprocessed by the liver circulates through the bloodstream. The alcohol in the blood starts affecting the heart and brain, which is how people become intoxicated.
Chronic alcohol abuse causes destruction of liver cells, which results in scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), alcoholic hepatitis and cellular mutation that may lead to liver cancer. Survival rate for liver cancer is way below average. But before someone gets liver cancer, reduction in the efficiency of the liver means that other toxins we consume in our body especially medicines (drugs), toxins that come through food, etc will not be efficiently removed from the blood, thus allowing for several other body complications including Occasional fatigue, mental disorientation, loss of appetite for food, other forms of cancers and general poor health.
These guys here offer a scientific explanation: http://loveyourliver.com.au/alcohol/ in case you’re interested, but in brief, I believe this is how alcohol affects not just the liver but the body at large. I hope this is easier and less scientific to understand. Thanks!
Good question Megan, as Olivier said, we need a doctor to fill this one. I majored in Biotechnology and covered some bit of human biology but mostly on a molecular level, but I’ll give this chance to any medical doctor too, otherwise I will give my opinion, later. Thanks Megan!