When we as humans think about or are trying to look out for our health and well-being, we often only address what we feel are the most important organs, such as the heart, the lungs, or the digestive tract. What about the liver?
The average healthy individual does not think about their liver. The liver is actually very important and you should get to know it. If you have any health conditions, any history of problems with your liver, or any family history of liver-related disease, it is even more important to educate yourself about this organ and what you can do to keep it healthy.
The liver is actually one of the most important organs in our bodies. It is also the second largest organ in the body, one of the hardest working organs in our bodies, and functions in performing a number of different essential tasks. It is located just below your ribs in the upper right abdomen. It sits above the pancreas and the small intestine.
The liver is responsible for processing everything we consume; it decides what nutrients will be distributed throughout the body, which it must get rid of, and what isn’t allowed in. Everything we drink and eat must pass through the liver so that it can take the essential nutrients that our bodies can use. The rest is transported elsewhere within the body, or is stored somewhere as fat. Blood flows to our small intestine, which then flows to the liver. Most of the nutrients that are processed from what we consume must pass through the liver before making their way to the heart to be distributed throughout the body. The other little bit of nutrients are absorbed when the food or drink enters your mouth.
The liver has bile ducts which produce bile. Bile helps break down fat and removes bilirubin from the blood. It’s important for bilirubin to be removed from the blood because an increased amount of bilirubin can cause jaundice, which causes the skin and eyes to turn a yellowish color. Jaundice is a sign of many liver diseases.
Keeping your liver healthy is important because there are a number of illnesses that can affect the liver otherwise. The most common liver illnesses include:
• Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by a virus that causes inflammation. It is contagious and people get it when it is passed on when an infected person’s blood enters their body. This usually happens when people share needles when using illegal drugs like heroin. Most people don’t have any signs or symptoms, and therefore are unaware they even have it until it causes liver damage. The infection can progress for many years and cause life-threatening complications like cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure.
• Fatty liver disease
Fatty liver disease is common and occurs when fat accumulates in the liver. The disease does not always cause signs, symptoms, or complications. But when it does, signs and symptoms include weight loss, upper right abdominal pain, and fatigue. These may indicate that scar tissue to form and inflammation are present within the liver. When the liver has inflammation and scar tissue, the disease can become severe and develop into liver failure.
This happens when the liver is damaged enough that the healthyliver cells are actually replaced by scar tissue as a result of chronic liver disease. This type of liver damage cannot be reversed, but if diagnosed early, it may be possible to halt further damage. Cirrhosis is most often caused by constant alcohol abuse or hepatitis. When cirrhosis becomes advanced, it can cause life-threatening complications including infections, bleeding, enlargement of the spleen, leg and abdominal swelling, high blood pressure in the veins that supply the liver, increased risk of liver cancer, and a buildup of toxins in the brain.
How can you keep an eye on your liver?
If you experience any of the following symptoms, your liver may not be working properly: fatigue, nausea, vomiting, brown urine, decreased appetite, and jaundice. If this happens, you should see a doctor who can perform certain tests to check out your liver. Your doctor will do a liver function test, which may also be known as a liver enzyme test. This is a group of blood tests that check how well the liver is functioning and detect inflammation or liver damage. Normal test results from this group of blood tests include the following:
• ALT (Alanine aminotransferase) - 7 to 55 units per liter (U/L)
• AST (Aspartate aminotransferase) - 8 to 48 U/L
• ALP (Alkaline phosphatase) - 45 to 115 U/L
• Albumin - 3.5 to 5.0 grams per deciliter (g/dL)
• Total protein - 6.3 to 7.9 g/dL
• Bilirubin - 0.1 to 1.0 mg/dL
• GGT (Gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase) - 9 to 48 U/L
• LD (L-lactate dehydrogenase) - 122 to 222 U/L
• PT (Prothrombin time) - 9.5 to 13.8 seconds
However, normal results do not always mean you are in the clear, especially if you have a medical history that increases your risk of liver illness or disease.
How can you keep your liver healthy and ensure optimal function? Here are some tips:
• Maintain a healthy diet. Eat plant-based foods like beans and legumes to get lots of protein, eat mostly organic or natural foods, and limit or reduce foods high in fat. Avoid trans-fats, they provide no benefit to your health. Aim for monounsaturated fats like nuts and avocados.
• Maintain a healthy weight and be physically active. Obesity is linked to fatty liver disease, which can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure.
• Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol abuse can cause cirrhosis. Men should drink no more than two drinks a day while women should drink no more than one drink a day.
• Beware of over-the-counter medicine.Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if abused.
• Avoid risky behavior. This includes activities such asusing illegal drugs, having multiple sex partners, and getting body piercings and tattoos from places where unsterile needles may be used.