How does alcohol affect the liver? How much alcohol is safe to drink? What diseases can excessive alcohol drinking cause?
These are all important questions to consider and learn about.
Drinking alcohol can damage the liver, so it is critical to understand how alcohol affects the liver, and how excessive different amounts of alcohol can negatively impact the liver.
In this article, the effect that alcohol has on the liver is analyzed and explained, so if you want to learn more about the liver and alcohol, keep reading.
How Does The Liver Process Alcohol?
The liver is responsible for processing over 90% of alcohol within the body.
The small percentage of alcohol that isn’t processed by the liver, exits the body via sweat, breathing and urine.
The liver is a very important organ because it breaks down and filters harmful substances that are circulating in the blood.
It also creates the proteins, enzymes and hormones needed to fight off any infections.
The liver can process one alcoholic beverage an hour, but the time increases with each alcoholic drink consumed.
This means the more alcohol in someone’s blood, the longer it will take for the liver to process the alcohol.
This is the reason that intoxication occurs.
As the liver cannot process the alcohol quickly enough, the alcohol circulates through the bloodstream.
The alcohol then affects the brain and the heart, resulting in intoxication. Alcoholic beverages contain ethanol (also known as ethyl alcohol).
When people consume alcohol, they ingest ethanol along with water.
Water dilutes the ethanol so that it doesn’t reach toxic levels, which is why drinking water is recommended when consuming alcohol.
When the liver processes alcohol, it converts the alcohol into acetaldehyde.
Acetaldehyde is a highly reactive substance that causes damage to cells. In fact, acetaldehyde has been linked to cancer and other diseases.
Once the alcohol is broken down, it is no longer an issue.
However, if the alcohol reaches toxic levels before being broken down, it can cause serious health problems.
What Impact Does Alcohol Have On The Liver?
Factors To Consider
If you’re wondering what effect alcohol has on your liver, there are many factors that contribute to its effects.
One factor is the amount of alcohol you consume. If you have a large intake of alcohol, it will be more difficult for your liver to break down all the alcohol.
This is especially true if you’ve had several drinks already. Another factor is the type of alcohol you consume.
Some types of alcohol are harder to break down than others, for example, spirits are typically stronger than an ale.
A third factor is the length of time you’ve been drinking. The longer you’ve been drinking, the more likely it is that your liver will become damaged.
Drinking once every couple of months has a different impact on the liver, compared to drinking excessive amounts of alcohol multiple times a week.
Can Alcohol Damage The Liver?
Alcohol is known to have an extremely negative effect on the liver, but the above factors are critical in determining whether the liver will be impacted, and the extent of the impact.
The good news is that the liver is a very strong and resilient organ.
When someone drinks alcohol, some cells in the liver die, after the liver filters the alcohol, but — as the liver is extremely resilient, the liver actually creates new liver cells.
However, if the liver has been abused by prolonged alcohol misuse, which generally means excessive alcoholic drinking, this can reduce the liver’s ability to regenerate and create new cells.
This means alcohol can cause permanent and serious damage to the liver.
Types Of Diseases Caused By Alcohol Misuse
Below are examples of common diseases that form due to the misuse of alcohol.
Fatty Liver is one of the earliest stages of Liver Disease.
It is argued that almost all heavy drinkers will develop a fatty liver, and most people do not have any symptoms of fatty liver disease.
There are some noticeable signs, however.
Many patients have mild discomfort located in the upper right side of their abdomen, and other patients exhibit an enlarged liver.
The good news is that if fatty liver disease is discovered early, then it can be reversed.
The best treatment is generally a lifestyle change, where the patient is advised to stop drinking.
Alcoholic hepatitis is experienced by one-third of heavy drinkers.
Alcoholic hepatitis causes the liver to become swollen and inflamed, and it destroys liver cells.
This form of hepatitis can range from mild to severe. Patients will generally experience fever, vomiting, nausea, and jaundice.
Mild hepatitis can last for years, and unless the patient stops drinking, it can lead to severe liver damage.
Severe hepatitis often occurs suddenly and can be life-threatening.
The patient will need medical treatment, and the patient will need to stop drinking.
It is estimated that around 10-20% of heavy drinkers will develop cirrhosis. This condition usually occurs after 10 years of heavy drinking.
This is an irreversible condition, where scar tissue builds up and replaces the majority of the liver cells.
Patients may not immediately know they have cirrhosis, as at the start, there may be no symptoms.
However, the condition is known to progress and can cause an extreme amount of damage to the liver before it is detected.
Lifestyle Changes For A Healthy Liver
If you want to avoid developing a liver problem, then you should drink alcohol in moderation.
As the liver is a strong and regenerative organ, drinking alcohol in small amounts should not impact the liver.
The liver is generally negatively impacted when alcohol is consumed in excess.
Drinking can be split into moderate drinking, high-risk drinking, and binge drinking.
The amount a person can drink depends on whether they are biologically male or female.
- Moderate drinking for men is considered two alcoholic drinks a day.
- Moderate drinking for women is considered one alcoholic drink a day.
- High-risk drinking for men is considered three alcoholic drinks a day, and for women, it is two or more alcoholic drinks a day.
- Binge-drinking is considered five alcoholic drinks, or more, consumed within two hours for men, whereas for women, binge-drinking is four alcoholic drinks within two hours.
Another factor in keeping the liver healthy is keeping a healthy diet and exercising regularly.
Eating healthy food is essential for a healthy lifestyle and well functioning organs, and exercising is part of a healthy lifestyle.
It’s important to remember that eating healthy and exercising cannot replace healthy drinking habits.
Those who eat healthily and exercise, but still actively drink high risk, or binge-drinking, amounts of alcohol, can still impact their liver.
The best way to avoid liver damage is to drink in moderation.
The liver is responsible for many functions in the body, including breaking down toxins, producing bile, storing vitamins and minerals, and removing waste products.
Alcoholic beverages contain harmful substances which can harm the liver.
Alcohol also has negative effects on the liver, leading to inflammation, swelling, and scarring.
If your liver is damaged, it can lead to serious health problems such as cirrhosis and liver disease.
The best way to maintain a healthy liver is to drink moderately or to avoid drinking completely.
Drinking in moderation should not greatly affect the liver, providing the individual continues a healthy lifestyle.
However, it is important to remember an otherwise healthy lifestyle cannot fix excessive high risk and binge drinking.
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