In this age of superheroes, there is one silent hero that people often take for granted.
Located in the upper ribcage on the right side of the abdomen, the liver is the largest internal organ in the body, weighing 1.5 kg or 2.5 percent of the adult body weight. It processes everything we take in—food, drink, medicine, the air we breathe, and even vitamin D from sun exposure.
The liver aids in purifying the blood by eliminating toxic chemicals from metals, drugs, alcohol and food. It secretes bile, a fluid that helps in digestion by separating the fats from foods.
This hardworking organ also stocks up on sugar called glucose which provides energy, and on vitamins A, B, D and iron. It also creates immune factors to prevent infections.
“The liver is responsible for 500 bodily functions,” said Dr. Allan Jay C. Domingo, country medical head of the consumer health care division of Sanofi-Aventis, a global pharmaceutical company.
Domingo spoke at a lecture on the importance of liver health, an advocacy of Essentiale Forte, a liver supplement. He underscored the importance of taking care of this vital organ by avoiding what’s bad for it.
“The liver regenerates its own tissues. If the liver gets damaged, it can return to its original size in a few weeks,” said the doctor. Hepatocyte cells perform most of the liver’s tasks. Its membrane is composed of phospholipids, organic substances that are essential to cell function.
Yet, for all its multifunctions, liver health can be neglected.
Liver disease comprises some 2 million deaths globally in a year.
According to World Health Organization statistics, the Philippines reported 8,401 liver-related deaths in 2017. The most common causes are cirrhosis or liver damaged by alcohol, hepatitis, nonalcoholic liver disease (NALD), viral hepatitis due to contamination, and hepatocellular carcinoma, a common form of liver cancer.
Fatty liver, the build-up of fats in this organ, impinges on 25 percent of the world’s population. Although it is commonly associated with heavy drinking, it is also caused by NALD, a metabolic disorder.
Statistics of the occurrence of NALD have doubled in the past 20 years. Persons with high blood pressure, extreme levels of bad cholesterol, insulin resistance or diabetic-prone and enormous amounts of belly fat are prone to nonfatty liver disease.
Domingo cited that loss of appetite, extreme fatigue, osteoporosis, jaundice and pain in the upper right side of the abdomen can be early symptoms of liver disease.
Taken in excess, certain antibiotics, paracetamol, statins and drugs for chemotherapy, tuberculosis or HIV can harm the liver.
“These are too heavy for the liver to metabolize,” said Domingo. “If the liver works too hard, it will malfunction. The cells die due to stress, multiple medications or too much drugs and alcohol.”
Lifestyle modifications such as a balanced diet rich in plant-based foods, controlled alcohol intake, medically supervised medication and avoiding the inhalation of environmental pollutants are recommended.
A study showed that overweight children with fatty liver disease lowered their liver inflammation by removing soft drinks, fruit juices and sugary foods from their diets. —CONTRIBUTED