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The Dangers of Alcohol on Your Liver

By Sandra M. Bond, RN BSN

 

The holidays are upon us.  This can mean parties and an abundance of alcohol.  If you drink, remember the guidelines from your bariatric program to limit or avoid alcohol. 

 

Let’s start by emphasizing the importance of your liver, the second largest organ in your body, and the very crucial functions it performs for each of us.  The liver processes everything we eat and drink.  It turns what we ingest into energy and nutrients our body can use.  It also acts like a very large filter and helps the body get rid of waste products. 

 

Maintaining your liver’s health is crucial in preventing long term, sometimes irreversible damage to the liver.  Drinking alcohol can increase your risk for developing liver disease.  The normal functioning liver breaks down alcohol and turns the glucose into fat.  It then sends the fat to other parts of the body where it can be stored until needed.  When consumed in excess amounts, alcohol can impair the liver’s ability to process the fat cells, so they end up being deposited in your liver. The liver often becomes enlarged as fat cells build up in it. This is known as “fatty liver disease”.  It is the earliest stage of alcohol-related liver disease. 

 

Alcoholic fatty liver disease may be reversible with abstinence from alcohol. In time, the liver will start to shed the excess fat, perhaps within a few weeks, if you stop drinking alcohol. This can help the liver return to its normal size. However, if you don’t change your alcohol consumption habits, fatty liver disease can progress to more severe liver disease such as alcoholic hepatitis and in some eventually alcoholic cirrhosis.

 

Cirrhosis is the most advanced type of liver disease which is alcohol-related. Keep in mind, cirrhosis is a liver disease that cannot be reversed once it has developed. However, if one does abstain from drinking alcohol it may lessen the severity of the symptoms and may prevent further liver damage.

It’s important to keep in mind that good nutrition, a healthy diet, limited alcohol consumption and conscientious weight management are positive measures we should all take to help support and maintain optimal liver function.