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Liver and health

The liver is the second biggest organ in the body. It weighs between 1.4 and 1.6 kg in adults. It performs a number of functions (more than 500) in the body. 

Below are the major functions of the liver

  • Producing bile: It helps in the digestion of fats from the diet and also has anti microbial properties.
  • Detoxification: The liver helps to remove the toxins that enter through the intestines.
  • Production of proteins: It forms a number of proteins. One of the most important one is albumin.
  • Metabolism: It is a storage site for energy (in form of carbohydrate) and helps form new glucose during starvation.
  • Storage: It is a storage site for vitamins and minerals.
  • Immunity: The liver acts as a filter and removes a number of pathogens that enter via the gut. It plays an active role in our immune systems.
  • Supporting blood clotting system: It forms proteins that regulate the blood clotting mechanism – both the proteins that favour clotting and those that favour clot dissolution.

Diseases of the liver:

  • Hepatitis is inflammation within the liver from an insult resulting in damage. It maybe reversible if the cause is detected and treated.
  • Cirrhosis of the liver is due to long standing insult to the liver resulting in numerous scars throughout the liver which results in significant lowering of its functioning. This may lead to complications and even death. This is generally irreversible.

Below are listed the reasons that cause injury to the liver:

  • Alcohol: Drinking too much alcohol over long periods of time can cause liver damage. It is the most common cause of cirrhosis in the world.
  • Fatty liver disease (Non alcoholic steatohepatitis – NASH): It results from fat deposition within the liver. The risk factors include obesity, sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, hypertension, thyroid problems, genetics etc. 
  • Viral infections: Infections like hepatitis B (more common) and hepatitis C can also cause cirrhosis
  • Others: Metabolic liver diseases, autoimmune diseases, Wilson’s etc are other causes.

How to keep the liver healthy?

  • Diet:
    • Avoid alcohol. Despite previous beliefs, there is no safe limit for its consumption.
    • Avoid high fructose corn syrup. It is present in colas, processed foods, canned foods, ketchup etc
    • Take green leafy vegetables
    • Decrease use of high refined sugars
    • Avoid fatty foods as it is a risk factor for NASH
  • Vaccinations: Vaccinations are available for hepatitis A and B viruses. Also, vaccinate for yellow fever if traveling to a country where it is present.
  • Avoiding high risk behaviour: 
    • Safe sexual practices: Hepatitis B and rarely hepatitis C maybe transmitted by sexual route.
    • Avoid illegal drug use: shared needles and syringes can also spread infection.
    • Wear protective gear when handling pesticide, paints, industrial solvents etc as these lead occupational liver diseases.
  • Probiotics: Bacteria that are good for the intestine also help the liver by regulating the toxins coming through. Eat plenty of curd, which is a natural probiotic.
  • Exercise: Regular exercise reduces fat from the body which can harm the liver and to maintain a healthy weight. To know more about exercise, visit the March section at www.DrAbhinavJain.com/March/

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