Drinking excess alcohol and smoking harm the liver.
Posted on November 19th, 2012

Dr Hector Perera      London

The present generation is more knowledgeable on most subjects such as political, medical or even on different religions due to information available from so many resources. I am sure still some people are not too much worried about getting a periodic health check although the expert medical advice is to get it done for their own sake. We got used to the habit of going to a doctor only when something is wrong not otherwise. Unlike in the past most people are cared about the health and come to know more information about the problems with drinking, smoking and with cardiovascular diseases. Sometimes however much they come to know the problems associated with drinking and smoking would they stop smoking and drinking? What organs in the body get affected by the chemicals in alcohol and the chemicals in cigarette smoke? One of main organs in the body is liver and it has to deal with so many tasks in the body.

It is mentioned that the liver has some 500 different functions. Especially important among these are helping to process the food you eat by:

Aiding digestion, extracting nutrients, breaking down harmful drugs and poisons, including alcohol. The poisonous substances in cigarette smoke and alcohol, neutralisation have to be done by the liver. Would the other functions of the liver are affected by drinking and smoking?

Digestion and liver

Digestion requires a substance called bile which is a greenish-yellow liquid full of chemicals, made in the liver, transported in the bile ducts and stored in the gall bladder (a pear-shaped bag about 9cm long). When you eat, the gall bladder releases bile into the gut (the duodenum, part of the small intestine) to help with the absorption of food.

Bile plays a central role in helping the body digest fat. It acts as a detergent, breaking down the fat into very small droplets so it can be absorbed. It also makes it possible for the body to take up the vitamins A, D, E and K from the food passing through the gut.

Once food has been broken down in the small intestine (with the help of bile made in the liver), the nutrients are absorbed and transported back to the liver by the portal vein. The liver then filters the blood, neutralising poisons and processing the nutrients – for example, turning some of them into protein and others into fat.

Quick energy release

The body gets most of its energy from food rich in carbohydrate, such as bread, pasta and potatoes. The carbohydrates are broken down in the liver into glucose, a type of sugar that provides energy. If the glucose isn’t needed straight away, it’s stored as glycogen.

Some glucose is stored in the muscles, but most is stored in the liver. The liver has an active role in controlling glucose levels in the blood through feedback mechanisms.

When the body needs energy fast for example when you’re running, swimming the glycogen is turned back to glucose and used by the body. At first the muscles use their supplies, but they quickly run out and it’s then up to the liver to release more glucose into the bloodstream to fuel the muscles.

If the liver is damaged, by excess alcohol or by cigarette smoke chemicals then it can affect the ability to store and release glycogen, causing fatigue, muscle wasting and weakness.

Fighting infection

The liver plays an important role in fighting infections and filtering out bugs that enter the bloodstream from the gut. It contains cells known as macrophages, which form part of the body’s defence mechanism. The macrophages in the liver destroy bacteria or bacterial toxins coming from the gut.

In addition, the liver is a key organ involved in our natural immunity – releasing important chemicals that activate immune responses when infection is detected.

If the liver is damaged, the body’s ability to defend itself is reduced. The doctors say, the liver gets damaged by cigarette smoke and also by drinking excess alcohol. The cigarette smoke is supposed to contain nearly 4000 harmful substances but would the people stop smoking? This is a season to celebrate so many people eat and drink, go on holidays including to Sri Lanka then pick up foreign liquor bottles in the plane or in duty free shops. They give any excuse such as, just for the season to celebrate Christmas and New Year and many more excuses. They give any excuse for a drink but the point is when they started to drink, where is the limit, when the bottle is empty?

Other important functions of the liver include:

Storing sugars, vitamins and minerals, including iron, regulating fat metabolism and distribution in the bloodstream, producing and maintaining the balance of hormones, producing the chemicals – enzymes and other proteins – responsible for most of the chemical reactions in the body, such as blood clotting and repairing tissue, repairing damage and renewing itself. With so many key functions, your liver is essential for life. If it becomes severely damaged and starts to fail, almost every part of your body will be affected. That is why the doctors always advice not to smoke or drink but the simple question is how many of them listen?  Any comments please [email protected]

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