Drinking large amounts of alcohol damages your liver. If you’re a heavy drinker or you’ve been drinking for years, this can lead to a condition called alcohol-related liver disease.
Your liver breaks down toxins that enter your body. If you’re drinking excessively and frequently, your liver can’t take all the toxins from your bloodstream. Your liver works overtime, trying but failing to filter alcohol from your body.
You can look after your liver if you drink moderately or don’t drink at all. If you suspect you’ve damaged your liver, speak to your doctor. They can offer advice about your lifestyle and diet and suggest ways to look after your liver.
What Is The Role Of The Liver?
Your liver plays a vital role in your body. It filters out waste and toxins from your system and makes bile for the intestines to help with food digestion. If you drink alcohol, it filters out toxins but only one drink per hour. If you drink excessively, your liver can’t break down the alcohol, leaving a toxic build-up.
The liver plays an integral part in helping break down proteins, carbohydrates and fats. It stores vitamins and minerals and helps with your metabolism.
Safe Alcohol Levels – Recommended Guidelines
If you stick to a safe drinking limit, then it’s unlikely that you’ll get liver damage. UK guidelines recommend that men and women drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week. This means six pints of beer or lager or six medium glasses of wine. Guidelines also advise people to have alcohol-free days and avoid binge drinking, which can rapidly damage the liver.
If you’re trying for a baby or pregnant, it’s best to avoid alcohol altogether. Alcohol can cause low birth weight, miscarriage and early births.
What Are The Signs Of Early Liver Failure?
Quite often, in the early stages of liver damage from alcohol, you won’t have any symptoms, but some people can experience the following:
- Pain in the upper right side of your abdomen due to a swollen liver
- Constant feelings of tiredness
- Feeling run down and unwell in general
- Weight loss and loss of appetite
- Feeling sick and being sick
- Small red blood vessels appear on the surface of the skin
If you’re concerned about your drinking and how it’s impacting your health, visit your doctor. Make sure you tell your doctor how much and how often you drink. You’ll likely have to complete blood tests, which will reveal any signs of liver damage.
Your doctor will discuss ways to improve your liver and how to live a healthier lifestyle. Alternatively, if you suffer from alcohol addiction, residential treatment might be recommended to help you recover from alcohol abuse.
Symptoms of Liver Damage from Alcohol
- Bloating of your stomach
- Brain fog and confusion
- You’re bruising, bleeding and itching easily
- Oedema; swelling in your feet, ankles and legs
- Muscle wastage and weakness
- Weight loss
- Pain near the liver
- Your skin and the whites of your eyes are turning yellow (jaundice)
Symptoms of liver damage from alcohol are hard to ignore, and if you experience any, call your doctor immediately. They will prescribe medication such as steroids to help improve symptoms in the short term and refer you for further investigations to get a detailed picture of your liver damage. These include CT, MRI and ultrasound scans, biopsies and endoscopies.
What is Alcohol-Related Liver Disease?
If you continue drinking after discovering early symptoms, you could develop alcohol-related liver disease over time. There are three types: alcoholic fatty liver disease, alcohol-related hepatitis and alcohol-related cirrhosis.
Other factors can contribute to alcohol-related liver damage. You’ll be at greater risk of liver damage if you are female, overweight, or have type 2 diabetes.
Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Due to excess drinking, fat builds up in your liver and stops it from working. People can reverse fatty liver disease if they stop drinking alcohol for a few weeks and massively reduce their drinking levels in the future. Some will need to stop drinking for good, as the risk to their liver could be too high.
Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to mild and severe liver inflammation but is sometimes reversible. Sometimes a person will develop hepatitis after many years. Binge drinking can bring on sudden, severe cases of hepatitis. Patients should call a doctor immediately if they experience severe and sudden pain.
The third disease is cirrhosis. Excessive drinking can cause fibrosis, when scar tissue forms in the liver, taking over healthy liver tissue. The next stage of fibrosis is cirrhosis.
If getting cirrhosis isn’t bad enough, the condition can lead to people developing liver cancer, kidney failure, brain damage, bleeding from the veins, a build-up of fluid in the abdomen and portal hypertension, when there is high blood pressure in the liver.
Alcohol-related cirrhosis is irreversible and often leads to complete kidney failure and in severe cases, death.
Ways To Improve Your Liver If You Have Early Liver Damage
If you have a mild drinking problem, the most obvious answer is to cut out alcohol completely. If you can’t manage this, then reduce the amounts you drink. Some people are entirely alcohol-dependent and need supervised alcohol detox and further treatment to give up alcohol. Don’t attempt to detox independently, as the withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous.
Other ways to improve liver health include:
- Take up exercise. Exercise reduces fatty deposits building up in your liver.
- Eat a balanced diet. Cut out unhealthy, fatty and sugary foods.
- Eat foods that help increase your liver function, such as eggs, artichokes, oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, avocado, and garlic.
- If you decide to continue drinking, make sure you don’t drink every day and don’t drink more than 14 units per week.
- Review all medications you take and check if they damage your liver. Medicines such as statins can stop your liver from working well, so speak to your doctor for further advice.
- Drink lots of water to cleanse your body.
- Stop smoking.
- Consider taking natural supplements to aid liver function. Some include milk thistle, turmeric, probiotics (healthy bacteria), and cayenne pepper. Always speak to your doctor before starting any natural supplements.