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World Liver Day: Discovering the Complications and Risk of Liver Diseases | Max Hospital

World Liver Day 2024: Promoting Liver Health and Awareness

By Dr. (Col.) Manjit Singh Paul in Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Endoscopy

Apr 18 , 2024 | 7 min read

World Liver Day is observed every year on April 19th, with an aim to raise awareness about liver health. But why should liver health be a priority? The truth is, your liver acts as the body's powerhouse, performing over 500 functions to keep you functioning at your best. From filtering toxins to processing nutrients, a healthy liver is essential for overall well-being. So, let's use World Liver Day as an opportunity to start conversations, raise awareness, and encourage healthy habits. By prioritising liver health, we're investing in a brighter, healthier future for ourselves and generations to come.

Understanding the Liver

The liver, the largest and most intricate internal organ, resides in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen. Often overshadowed by its more visible counterparts, the liver plays a critical role in human physiology, acting as the body's primary metabolic and detoxification centre. Understanding its diverse functions is important to appreciate its vital contribution to overall health.

Location and Significance

Strategically positioned beneath the diaphragm, the liver receives blood rich in nutrients from the digestive system via the hepatic portal vein. This constant influx allows the liver to perform its multifaceted tasks, ensuring the body's efficient utilisation of nutrients and the removal of potentially harmful substances.

Essential Functions

  • Nutrient Processing: The liver acts as a biochemical maestro, orchestrating the transformation of ingested nutrients into readily usable forms. Complex carbohydrates are converted into glucose, the body's primary energy source. Excess glucose is stored as glycogen for later use, while fats are metabolised for energy production or storage. Additionally, the liver processes the amino acids, the building blocks for protein synthesis throughout the body.
  • Detoxification: Functioning as the body's natural filtration system, the liver relentlessly removes toxins and by-products of metabolism from the bloodstream. These potentially harmful substances can originate from medications, environmental pollutants, and even the body's own natural processes. The liver efficiently neutralises these toxins, converting them into harmless compounds that are subsequently eliminated through the urine or faeces.
  • Production of Essential Substances: The liver is a prolific manufacturer of vital biomolecules. It synthesises proteins essential for blood clotting, ensuring proper wound healing and preventing excessive bleeding. Furthermore, the liver produces proteins especially albumin that bolster the immune system, aiding in the fight against infections. Additionally, the liver produces bile, a yellowish fluid crucial for fat digestion and absorption in the small intestine.

By delving into the liver's intricate functions, we gain a profound appreciation for its indispensable role in maintaining health and well-being.

Read more: An Introductory Guide to Liver Disease

Risk Factors for Liver Disorders

Just like any other organ in our body, the liver is susceptible to damage from a variety of factors. Let's explore some of the key culprits that can contribute to liver disorders:

Alcohol Consumption

Excessive alcohol consumption is a leading cause of liver damage. The liver metabolises alcohol, but chronic alcohol abuse can lead to inflammation, fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, and ultimately, cirrhosis. Limiting alcohol intake is crucial for maintaining liver health.

Unhealthy diet and obesity

A diet high in processed foods, saturated fats, and refined sugars can contribute to obesity and metabolic syndrome, increasing the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Alcoholic liver disease occurs when excess fat accumulates in the liver, leading to inflammation and potential liver damage.

Medications and Toxin

Some medications and toxins can be hepatotoxic, meaning they have the potential to cause liver damage. Common examples include certain prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, herbal supplements, and exposure to environmental toxins such as industrial chemicals and pesticides. It's essential to use medications cautiously and avoid unnecessary exposure to toxins.

Genetic Predisposition

Genetic factors play a significant role in determining an individual's susceptibility to liver disorders. Certain genetic mutations or inherited conditions, such as haemochromatosis, Wilson's disease, and alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, can predispose individuals to liver diseases.

Chronic Conditions 

  • Diabetes: Individuals with diabetes are at an increased risk of developing liver disorders, including NAFLD and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). Insulin resistance and elevated blood sugar levels can promote liver fat accumulation and inflammation, contributing to liver damage over time.
Read more:Myths & Facts About Liver Disease

Common Liver Disorders

Being a vital organ responsible for numerous metabolic functions, the Liver is susceptible to a range of disorders that can significantly impact health and well-being. Understanding these common liver disorders is crucial for early detection, effective management, and prevention. 

Fatty Liver

  • Alcoholic Fatty Liver (AFLD)- As the name suggests, AFLD results from excessive alcohol consumption. Alcohol disrupts the liver's ability to process fats, leading to their build-up within the liver cells. This accumulation can trigger inflammation and eventually lead to cell damage and scarring.

    Symptoms in early stages of AFLD may be absent, but as the condition progresses, fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) can occur.

  • Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver-This is the most common form of fatty liver disease, affecting individuals who consume minimal to no alcohol. The factors like obesity, insulin resistance, high cholesterol, and genetics all play a role.

Symptoms of NAFLD often present no issues in its early stages. However, advanced cases of NASH might cause fatigue, upper right abdominal pain, and unexplained weight loss, and can lead to cirrhosis & liver cancer. It is the second leading cause of liver transplantation in developed countries. 

Hepatitis

This refers to inflammation of the liver, often caused by viruses. The most common types are Hepatitis B and C. Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are spread through bodily fluids and can become chronic, leading to serious complications if left untreated. Symptoms of hepatitis can include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), dark urine, and abdominal pain.

Liver Failure

This life-threatening condition occurs when the liver loses its ability to function properly. It can be caused by various factors, including advanced stages of hepatitis, cirrhosis, excessive alcohol consumption, drug toxicity, and autoimmune diseases. Symptoms of acute liver failure can include severe fatigue, confusion, disorientation, easy bleeding or bruising, swelling in the abdomen (ascites), and yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice). Early diagnosis and treatment of the underlying cause are crucial for improving the chances of survival.

Liver Cancer

Also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, this is a type of cancer that originates in the primary liver cells. Risk factors include NAFLD/alcohol, chronic hepatitis B or C infection, cirrhosis, and certain genetic conditions. Symptoms of liver cancer can be vague in the early stages but may include fatigue, weight loss, loss of appetite, abdominal pain or swelling, and jaundice. Regular screenings are recommended for individuals with risk factors.

Liver Cirrhosis

This is a severe condition characterised by irreversible scarring of the liver tissue. Over time, healthy liver tissue is replaced by scar tissue, hindering its ability to function properly. Liver Cirrhosis often develops from chronic liver diseases like hepatitis or alcoholism. Symptoms of cirrhosis can include fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite, weight loss, fluid retention (edema), and jaundice. Treatment aims to manage symptoms, prevent complications, and slow the progression of the disease.

Tips for Maintaining Liver Health

Taking proactive steps to maintain liver health is essential for reducing the risk of liver diseases and ensuring overall well-being. By incorporating these tips into your lifestyle, you can support optimal liver function and reduce the likelihood of developing liver-related conditions.

  1. Regular Exercise Routine

    Incorporating a regular exercise routine into your lifestyle is not only beneficial for overall health but also plays a crucial role in maintaining liver health. Exercise helps improve blood circulation, promote weight management, and reduce inflammation, all of which contribute to a healthy liver. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week, such as brisk walking, cycling, swimming, or aerobics. Additionally, incorporating strength training exercises can help build muscle mass and further support metabolic function. 

  2. Limiting Alcohol Intake

    Excessive alcohol consumption is a significant risk factor for liver damage and can lead to various liver diseases, including fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis. To promote liver health, it's essential to limit alcohol intake or abstain from alcohol altogether. The recommended limits for alcohol consumption are generally up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.

  3. Maintaining a Healthy Weight

    Maintaining a healthy weight is key to supporting liver health and reducing the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and other obesity-related liver conditions. Focus on adopting a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, while limiting intake of processed foods, added sugars, and unhealthy fats. Incorporate portion control and mindful eating habits to help manage calorie intake and promote weight loss or weight maintenance. Regular physical activity, combined with healthy eating, can help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight, supporting optimal liver function.

  4. Avoiding Exposure to Toxins

    Avoiding exposure to toxins and harmful substances is essential for protecting liver health. Toxins found in certain chemicals, pollutants, and environmental contaminants can contribute to liver damage and increase the risk of liver diseases. Take precautions to minimise exposure to toxins in your home, workplace, and surroundings. Use protective equipment when handling chemicals or pollutants, and follow safety guidelines and regulations to reduce the risk of exposure. Additionally, be cautious with medications, supplements, and herbal remedies, as some can be hepatotoxic (toxic to the liver).

Conclusion

The liver is not just an organ but a lifeline to our well-being. Understanding its functions, recognising common disorders, and adopting liver-friendly habits, helps us be proactive about our health. As advocates for our own well-being, let's take proactive steps towards liver health. For comprehensive liver care and support, consider reaching out to Max Hospitals, where our expert healthcare professionals stand ready to assist you on your journey towards optimal liver health. Your liver, your life—let's ensure it thrives.