The liver is an amazing organ, it alone fulfills more than 300 essential vital functions. It is the vitamin reservoir at our body’s disposal. The liver is a bona fide filter, recuperating and eliminating numerous toxins. It’s even capable of regenerating itself. However, after abusive and recurring alcohol consumption for example, the liver may be irreversibly transformed.
Aside from the general malaise after a night of excessive drinking, the liver works behind scenes to eliminate the accumulated alcohol-produced toxins. Despite its efficacy, the liver cannot always process the excess toxins, which lends to severe damage. Long-term damage is characterized by an inflammation of the liver, and the demise of hepatic cells, in addition to the development of scar tissue (replaced damaged tissue), leading to the hardening of the liver and liver cirrhosis.
The liver and the skin are very sensitive in their auto-regenerative roles although the liver has very few nerve endings. If you burn yourself, the nerve endings beneath your skin ensure you feel the pain. The liver doesn’t work in the same way. If the liver is damaged, it is very unlikely that any severe pain will be felt. It is therefore essential to understand the effects of alcohol on one of the most vital organs of the human body.
Various illnesses can damage the liver. We distinguish 2 specific types of conditions: Fibrosis (scarring of the organ) followed by Steatosis (accumulation of fat in the liver and cirrhosis. These conditions are, most often, prompted by abusive consumption of alcohol.
Steatosis and Fibrosis
Hepatic Steatosis is an abnormal accumulation of fatty matter inside the hepatic cells. The symptoms often translate to a sensation of fatigue, slight abdominal discomfort and an enlarged liver. Excessive alcohol consumption is the primary cause of this issue. The inflammation that results may evolve into scarring (Fibrosis). Fibrosis is the development of scar tissue on the liver. It manifests when the liver tries to repair itself and replace the cells repeatedly damaged by alcohol. These new cells do not succeed in accomplishing their vital functions such as processing the toxins in the body.
After months or years of ongoing lesions, Fibrosis becomes permanent and is impossible to control. In this case, the lesions are the types described when we hear about liver cirrhosis.
Cirrhosis is defined as a structural deformation of the liver which survives after an advanced stage of Fibrosis. The internal structure of the liver becomes completely modified by this condition. The processing of toxins no longer works and the scarring can block blood flow. The more the lesions progress, the more the liver shrinks! The symptoms of liver cirrhosis are a loss of appetite, weight loss, general discomfort and asthenia (weakening of the body, physical fatigue). In addition, the finger extremities can swell, the skin and the white of the eyes become yellowish.
It is often difficult to predict the speed at which cirrhosis will progress, but it is permanent.
What is moderate alcohol consumption?
The risk of hepatic illness is easier to understand if we know the amount of alcohol we consume (volume, frequency, length).
In men, the risk of contracting the hepatic illnesses increases considerably if they consume more than 3 alcoholic drinks per day, or 15 per week. We consider that with this level consumption over a period of 10 years, the risk of developing liver cirrhosis is multiplied by a factor of 2.
Consequently, women are more susceptible to alcohol hepatic illnesses. This represents the same risk of developing liver illnesses if they were to drink 2 alcoholic drinks per day or 10 per week. Women’s digestive systems are less capable of processing alcohol, which increases the amount of toxins that affect the liver. In conclusion, it is recommended to men and women to abstain from consuming alcohol 1 day per week in the least to avoid physical and psychological habituation (read: 28 Benefits of Going Alcohol-Free for 28 Days).