You don’t have to be an alcoholic to experience the harsh effects alcohol has on your body. While short-term effects include intoxication and dehydration, the longer term effects are much more harmful, especially to your liver.
Of all the alcohol you consume, 90-98 percent is broken down directly by your liver. This creates a lot of extra work for your liver, taking it away from other jobs it could be performing. You might be thinking, “how does alcohol affect the liver if I only have a drink here or there?”.
What Is the Role of Your Liver?
Alcohol is the causes of 4 out of 5 deaths from liver disease. And once you begin consuming alcohol, the damage begins. The effects won’t be seen immediately as the liver is amazingly resilient and can repair itself.
Your liver is one of the most vital organs in your body. It is the largest organ of the body with over 500 functions, including helping rid the body of toxins and other harmful substances while also storing vitamins, iron, and glucose. Not only this, but it helps filter waste and regulates blood clotting.
When you consume alcohol, it’s as if a foreign toxin has been introduced to your body. Alcohol produces acetaldehyde, which damages the cells in your liver and causes liver scarring.
If you’ve ever had a hangover, you’ll know how dehydrated you feel the day after a long night of drinking. This is because alcohol dehydrates your body. This is particularly detrimental because water is essential to the function of your liver.
Alcoholic Hepatitis – Inflammation of the Liver
Alcoholic hepatitis is also known as the inflammation of the liver. Once diagnosed, you should stop drinking alcohol immediately. If you continue to drink, it can lead to permanent liver damage or even death.
You might be thinking that this type of illness only occurs in those who drink heavily over long periods of time. While that does play a role in acute alcoholic hepatitis, there isn’t a direct correlation between alcohol consumption and this disease. Even if you’re only a social drinker you can still develop alcoholic hepatitis.
When your body starts to tell you something’s wrong, it’s important to listen to your symptoms and respond accordingly. You might notice a yellowing of your skin and eyes, caused by jaundice. This is the most common sign of alcoholic hepatitis.
Other things you might notice is a loss of appetite. Anytime you consume a large amount of alcohol, you won’t feel hungry. So instead of eating your calories, you’ll be consuming them in the form of alcohol. You might also notice you’re more tired than usual, have a low-grade fever, or experience an upset stomach.
Fatty Liver – Steatosis
Fatty liver disease, or steatosis, means exactly what it sounds like, you have extra fat in your liver. This is one of the earliest stages of alcoholic liver disease.
This disease will rear its head in 90 percent of people who consume anywhere between one and a half to two ounces of alcohol each day. While this disease is brought on by drinking heavily, it can also occur with long-term drinking and can range in severity from patient to patient.
The difficulty with fatty liver disease is that the symptoms are usually understated. Sometimes you’ll simply feel more tired than normal, have some abdominal pain, or experience sudden weight loss. In order to determine if you have this condition, you’ll need to be diagnosed using a blood test at your doctor’s office.
Although fatty liver disease is brought on by constant drinking and consuming more than your liver can process, the effects can be reversed in 4-6 weeks by stopping alcohol consumption as soon as you’re diagnosed.
Cirrhosis is the final stage of long term liver disease. This can be brought on by a number of things, one of those including alcohol abuse. This means there is a loss of liver cells resulting in liver scarring which leads to poor liver function.
Depending on the state of your liver, you may experience a range of symptoms, including nausea, fatigue, yellowing of the eyes and skin, as well as fluid buildup in the legs. On the other hand, you may experience no symptoms at all.
Once diagnosed by your doctor, know that there are no known cures for cirrhosis at this time. Eventually, this disease could lead to liver failure even if you decide to give up alcohol altogether.
Reducing Your Risk of Liver Disease
In the United States, long term heavy alcohol consumption is the most common cause of illness and death when considering a liver disease. Since your liver is the sole organ that processes liquor, it is more inclined to experience the greatest effects of alcohol.
Cut out Alcohol
One of the best ways to make sure your body is in the best shape possible is to stop drinking alcohol altogether, especially if you find yourself drinking multiple glasses daily. Although this won’t reverse all the effects alcohol has had on your liver, it will help make the liver healthy again.
Live a Healthy Lifestyle
Whether it means signing up for that gym membership you’ve been putting off or throwing out that carton of cigarettes, now is the time to make a healthy change. Only second to alcohol consumption, obesity is the leading cause of liver disease. It’s also been found that a workout helps to reduce the urge to drink!
Along these same lines, start to be more mindful with what you put into your body. Eating out and drinking a soda every now and then isn’t detrimental to your body, but it’s important to know your limits. Also be sure to incorporate fruits, vegetables, and water into your daily diet.
It might not totally reverse the negative effects drinking has had on your liver, but living a healthy lifestyle is a step in the right direction.
Protect Your Body
Pay close attention to other things your body is coming in contact with. If you find that you’re around aerosol sprays or other types of chemicals on a frequent basis, come prepared with the right protection. Wearing a mask when working with these can help be a barrier between your body and a harmful substance.
Protecting your body comes in many forms, not just the things you physically come in contact with, but the things you ingest as well. For instance, many medications have harmful effects when not taken at the proper dosage. If you take too much, your liver will have to work overtime to process it, which makes it harmful and toxic to your body.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Liver Break down Process?
Your liver is key in processing any alcohol that enters your body. Through a process called oxidation, your liver takes the alcohol and removes it from the bloodstream. Keep in mind, when you drink, you’re giving your body more work to do which takes it away from its main job, filtering your blood.
Throughout this process, the alcohol will move from a toxin into water and carbon dioxide. In the grand scheme of things, it takes about 1 hour for your liver to break down 1 ounce of alcohol.
When you consume too much alcohol, your liver will have a difficult time breaking it all down. This means the toxins from the alcohol will remain in your system, having potentially deadly effects.
Your Health Is at Stake
If this isn’t evidence of how alcohol affects the liver, consider how it affects your wallet. The average American spends 1 percent of their annual income on alcohol, equating to about $565 each year. So not only are you doing damage to your body, you’re damaging your savings as well.Next time you order a cold beer, consider the vital role your liver plays in your overall health. Not convinced? Read more about the link between alcohol and anxiety.