Liver is one of the vital organs in the human body. Weighing just over a kilogram, liver is the largest internal organ. Liver is the only internal organ in the body that can regenerate. It is also one of the major glands as it produces some of the most important chemicals needed by the body. Bile, produced by the liver is essential in the synthesis of fat. A healthy liver performs many important functions in the body. An unhealthy liver portends trouble for the entire body as many functions will get affected. Among these, the more important are the synthesis of proteins; production of bile which helps in digestion and absorption of fats and the general detoxification of the blood stream. Liver keeps the toxins out.
Liver problems cause millions of deaths worldwide. India ranks 9th in the world for deaths caused due to liver diseases. According to the WHO data published in April 2011 Liver Disease Deaths in India reached 208,185 or 2.31% of total deaths. Most liver conditions stem from improper diet and digestion. Sedentary lifestyle and rich diet are two main causes leading to a host of health problems including liver diseases. Active lifestyle or regular exercise is a must to keep the liver healthy. Proper hygiene and sanitation are other precaution that keeps diseases like Hepatitis caused by virus infections at bay. Alcoholism creates havoc for liver leading to Cirrhosis of the liver. The condition may lead to dialysis when the kidneys fail in due course.
Common Liver Diseases
Some of the common liver problems are:
- Cirrhosis: Cirrhosis is an advanced degenerative disease where the healthy liver cells are replaced by fibrosis (scar tissue) and regenerative nodules (lumps that occur due to attempted repair of damaged tissue) severely hampering the functioning of the liver. It may be caused by High alcohol intake, fatty liver, Non alcoholic Fatty Liver Diseases and Hepatitis B or C.
- Fatty Liver: The liver which has a fat content more that 10% is termed as fatty liver. Alcoholism and strains of Hepatitis virus can also cause the condition.
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD): An outcome of rich food and sedentary lifestyle, Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a condition which precedes further impairment of the liver. Trends in India show that this is rising alarmingly in the country. Obesity is also a reason for this condition.
- Liver Cancer: Viral infections like Hepatitis B & C often lead to secondary cirrhosis and sometimes to liver cancer. Abdominal mass, abdominal pain, yellow skin, nausea or liver dysfunction are some of the symptoms.
- Hepatitis: Inflammation of liver is caused by three types of Virus infections. Hepatitis A, B & C have similar symptoms but the severity of each is different. Hepatitis A is the common jaundice where the patient may have yellow iris and skin colour. Hepatitis B is largely asymptomatic. Hepatitis B and C are spread through human secretions, consumption of contaminated water or ice, unsafe tattooing etc.
- Gall stones: With the liver not functioning properly the amount of bilirubin increases resulting in gall stones. A gall bladder burst can prove fatal for a person.
- Liver Failure: A life threatening condition, Liver failure occurs when most of the liver becomes damaged beyond repair and the liver is no longer able to function.
- Haemochromatosis: A genetic disorder, it is too much iron build up in the liver. However, alcoholism can also cause it. Pain in joints and weakness are early symptoms followed by darkening of skin.
- Ascites: The condition occurs when too much fluid is trapped in peritoneal cavity (the space between abdominal wall and abdomen). The veins show in some cases on the bloated surface.
Tips for a healthy liver
- Maintain a normal BMI: A high BMI means you are overweight and a low BMI means you are below average weight. Overweight and obese persons are more at risk to develop liver problems.
- Eat a healthy diet: a balanced diet keeps the body healthy. Have ample amount of fibre and nutrients with water to have a good digestion and health. A regular diet on fast food puts you at risk. Switch to organic diet, if possible.
- Limit your fat intake: Steer clear of saturated fats as much as possible. They push you to high cholesterol and fatty liver. Try to include unsaturated fats in the diet. Some fish with high omega 3 fatty acids are a good option to try.
- Don’t abuse alcohol: Alcohol abuse is one of the main reasons for liver problems. Men are advised only two drinks per day and women 1 drink per day. Sensible consumption of alcohol is critical to your health.
- Get regular health checks: After the age of 40, it is advisable to get regular health checks. Blood tests can reveal a lot about what is going on inside the body. Conditions like untreated Diabetes and High cholesterol are also responsible for liver damage.
- Get vaccinated: Why run the risk of infection? It is good to be vaccinated the Hepatitis virus. Vaccines are available for the different strains.
- Say no to Smoking and Drugs: Smoking has been found to cause liver cancer. Smoking increases the toxicity of certain chemicals like Paracetamol in medicines. Drugs also overwork the liver and at some point cause liver failure.
- Too many medicines: Intake of multiple types of medicines for different ailment may also hamper the functioning of liver which is over stressed to detoxify the body. People who have to multiple medicines daily must get regular Liver Function Tests done.
- Safe tattoo and piercing: Get tattoo and piercing done at safe place which maintain hygiene. Sharing of the instruments without sterilization can put you at risk of infections harming the liver.
- Practice safe sex: Use condoms to rule out the infections via body secretions.
- Practice Yoga or meditation: Liver can regenerate and yoga and meditation can help you regain health. Consistent practice is necessary to get desired results.