HOW HEALTHY IS YOUR LIVER?

You probably knew alcohol can hurt your liver, but what else poses risk? Do liver cleanses really flush toxins? Get answers.


how-healthy-is-your-liverWhat does your liver do?
What doesn’t your liver do? Besides taking toxins out of your blood, your liver has about 500 jobs, including making bile — a liquid that helps you digest food. Your liver takes what you eat and drink and turns it into energy and nutrients; it helps your body use carbs, for example. It also plays a role in helping your blood clot.

Your liver is about the size of a football
A wedge-shaped organ, your liver is about the size of a football. Weighing in around 3 pounds, it’s your largest organ — other than your skin. It’s on the right side of your body, just under your rib cage.

How can you tell if your liver is healthy?
Liver function tests are blood tests that doctors use to check the liver for injury, disease, or infection. These are usually a series of blood tests done at the same time. Your doctor might call the tests a hepatic function panel or liver profile.

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Can your liver “grow back”?
The liver is the only organ that can grow back when part of it is damaged or removed. That’s why people are able to donate parts of their livers. You don’t have to be related to someone to give them part of your liver, although most donors are usually relatives or close friends.

Should you detox your liver monthly?
Some people go on “cleanses” — limiting their diets to certain juices or foods, hoping to wash away toxins from their livers. There’s no scientific proof that these detox diets work. Instead, a healthy diet will give your liver the nutrients it needs.

Why is alcohol bad for your liver?
Your liver breaks down the alcohol you drink to help get it out of your body. But drinking more alcohol than your liver can process may cause damage. There are several types of alcohol-related liver disease: fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, and alcoholic cirrhosis. If you find it hard to cut back on alcohol, ask a doctor or counselor for help.

Is taking acetaminophen safe for your liver?
Taking too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can cause serious liver damage. Don’t forget that it can be found in more than 600 medications, including prescription drugs and many over-the-counter pain, cold, and cough remedies, For adults, the daily limit of acetaminophen is equal to six extra-strength Tylenol tablets from all sources combined. Read the ingredients carefully, and follow the directions on the label and your doctor’s advice. If you’re taking that much Tylenol for more than 2 weeks, talk to your doctor.

Which condition makes you turn yellow?
Jaundice, Your skin and eyes can turn a yellow shade when there’s too much of something called bilirubin in your blood. Bilirubin is a yellow pigment your body makes when it breaks down red blood cells. Normally, the liver filters out bilirubin. But if you have too much of it or if you have liver damage, you can get jaundice. Hepatitis A is one example of an illness that results in jaundice. Also, newborns often have jaundice because their livers are still developing, and they have trouble filtering the bilirubin.

Do cirrhosis and heavy drinking always go together?
No. Cirrhosis, scarring of the liver with worse function, is the most serious type of liver disease. Though alcohol can contribute to cirrhosis – up to 1 in 5 heavy drinkers gets it – it can also result from hepatitis B or C, among many other causes. You can’t reverse liver damage from cirrhosis. The only way to prevent liver damage is to stop drinking.

Can drinking less alcohol help prevent liver problems?
If you have a drinking problem, seek help to quit. There are other things you can do for your liver, too. Get to a healthy weight with exercise and a well-balanced diet. Also, consider getting tested to see if you have hepatitis C. The CDC suggests you get tested if you’re a Baby Boomer, if you ever used IV drugs, or if you had a blood transfusion before 1992. Ask your doctor if you should get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, too. You’ll know right away if something is wrong with your liver.

Do liver disease problems show up immediately”
Liver disease can be silent for a very long time. As many as half of people who have it don’t have any symptoms at all. If you do have warning signs, they’re often vague, like being really tired and having achy muscles. You may also have itchy skin, swelling in your belly, dark urine, confusion, or yellowing of the eyes or skin. You’ll need to see a doctor for blood tests to find out for sure if your liver is the problemYou can get vaccinated against:

Is there are vaccine for Hepatitis B? What about Hepatitis C?
There is a vaccine for hepatitis B, but not for hepatitis C. In the U.S., the hepatitis B vaccine is given to all babies and children, as well as most adults. It’s given as a series of three shots over 6 months. Hepatitis C is most commonly spread through sex. Hepatitis C is usually spread by blood, either through a hospital needle-stick accident or sharing needles when injecting drugs. It can be spread from an infected mom to her baby during birth. It can sometimes be spread during sex. The rule of thumb is that if you’re at risk for an STD, you’re also at risk for hepatitis. If you’re with more than one partner – or someone who may have been infected – always use condoms.
Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MPH, MD
– WMD


How Not to Wreck Your Liver

Your liver is a key player in your body’s digestive system. Everything you eat or drink, including medicine, passes through your liver. “The liver is a vital organ and not something you can live without,” says Rohit Satoskar, MD, of the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute. “It’s an organ you could easily trash if you don’t take good care of it, and once you trash it, it’s gone.” The liver is the second-largest organ in your body (the skin is the largest). It’s about the size of a football and sits under your lower ribcage on the right side. It filters chemicals like drugs and alcohol from the blood; regulates your hormones and blood sugar levels; stores energy from the nutrients you take in; and makes blood proteins, bile, and several enzymes that the body needs. There’s nothing tricky about keeping your liver in good shape. It’s all about a healthy lifestyle, says Ray Chung, MD, of the Liver Center at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH

—Suz Redfearn

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