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Unfiltered Truth: Your Liver, and How to Keep It Healthy

By Martha Michael

Your Liver Health

The liver is the largest solid organ in the body and is located under your diaphragm in the upper right side of the abdomen. Sometimes compared to a football, the liver weighs about 3 pounds and it performs like a fullback, blocking out toxins before they gain access to the rest of your body.

Functions of the Liver

There are more than 500 functions of the liver, from mineral storage to blood filtration, according to an article on the Johns Hopkins Medicine website.

Production - The liver creates bile, a chemical used for digestion that transforms fats into energy. It also produces substances that help with blood clotting and the protein albumin, which carries hormones throughout your body.

Filtration - Bile contains bilirubin, a byproduct from the breakdown of red blood cells. Your liver filters bilirubin to prevent it from building up and causing jaundice, which is a condition responsible for yellowing of the eyes and skin.

Waste removal - From alcohol to medications, your liver acts as a filter to remove toxins from circulating in your body.

Immune response - Specialized cells in the liver detect bacteria, viruses, and other harmful organisms and destroy them before they circulate throughout your body.

Glucose regulation - Blood sugar levels are maintained by the liver, where glucose is removed and supplied to your blood as needed.

Liver Disease

Damage to the liver can occur as the result of genetics, viruses, or lifestyle choices, according to the Mayo Clinic. Some conditions, when detected early, have time to heal but complete liver failure is life-threatening.

Symptoms indicating liver damage include:

  • Jaundice
  • Swollen legs or ankles
  • Itchy skin
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Bruising easily
  • Pale colored stool
  • Dark colored urine

Infections of the Liver

Inflammation of the liver, or hepatitis A, B, and C, can result from damage caused by parasites or viruses. These conditions spread through blood, semen, food, or water, and are transmitted when you’re in close contact with an infected person.

Immune System Disorders

Autoimmune diseases cause your body’s immune system to attack its own organs. Examples of autoimmune liver disease include:

  • Autoimmune hepatitis - Inflammation of the liver
  • Primary biliary cholangitis - Disease of the bile duct
  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis - Less common, more serious bile duct disease

Genetic Liver Diseases

Abnormal genes can cause damage when substances build up in your liver. Examples of genetic liver disease are:

  • Wilson’s disease - Rare disorder characterized by copper buildup in organs
  • Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency - Disorder that can lead to lung or liver disease
  • Hemochromatosis – Harmful iron buildup

Growths of the Liver

Liver cancer, bile duct cancer, and liver adenoma are the result of growths that originate in the liver.

Prevention of Liver Disease

Because of its importance in your body’s digestive system, the health of your liver is impacted by what you eat and drink, says an article on WebMD. Making the choice to avoid unhealthful food and drinks is an effective method to maintain a healthy liver.

In addition to eating a balanced diet, adopting these habits can minimize your chance of developing an unhealthful liver condition.

  • Limit alcohol use - Liver cells are damaged by excessive alcohol consumption causing cirrhosis, a deadly condition in which scar tissue replaces healthy tissues in the liver.
  • Get exercise - A healthy weight reduces the stress on your liver.
  • Avoid certain medications - Some cholesterol medications and overuse of certain over-the-counter painkillers, such as acetaminophen, can damage your liver. Check the ingredients of cold medicines before taking the suggested dosage.
  • Avoid harmful cleaning products - Aerosols and insecticides have strong chemicals, so direct contact with them may cause liver damage.
  • Drink coffee - Studies show a link between coffee consumption and fewer cases of liver disease.
  • Avoid viral hepatitis - Getting vaccinated before travel can minimize the chance of contracting hepatitis A, which is transmitted through food and beverage. To avoid hepatitis B and C, you should use precautions such as limiting sex partners, using latex condoms, and refraining from sharing razors, needles, or items such as toothbrushes.
  • Get tested for hepatitis - Screenings of many kinds lead to early detection and, because most liver disease is asymptomatic, you need a blood test for detection.

A lot of organs play a part in protecting the body from unhealthy developments. Your liver is a key player in fending off life-threatening conditions; therefore, it needs to be in optimum condition. You can’t control your gene pool, nor can you always avoid contact with harmful viruses, but by maintaining a healthy weight and choosing less risky lifestyle options, you can extend the life of your liver. After all, protecting the football is key to winning the game.

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