MENU

https://www.hemophilia.org

Liver Health & Hepatitis

Know the Liver and its functions:

The liver is one of the major organs found in the human body. It is located in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen below the diaphragm.

Many vital functions have been identified with the liver. Some of the more well-known functions include the following:

  • Production of bile, which helps carry away waste and break down fats in the small intestine during digestion
  • Production of certain proteins for blood plasma
  • Production of cholesterol and special proteins to help carry fats through the body
  • Store and release glucose as needed
  • Conversion of harmful ammonia to urea; urea is one of the end products of protein metabolism that is excreted in the urine
  • Clearing the blood of drugs and other harmful substances
  • Regulate the blood clotting process
  • Resisting infections by producing immune factors and removing bacteria from the bloodstream
  • Clearance of bilirubin; if there is a build-up of bilirubin, the skin and eyes turn yellow (jaundice)

When the liver has broken down harmful substances, they are excreted into the bile or blood. Bile by-products enter the intestine and ultimately leave the body in the faeces. Blood by-products are filtered out by the kidneys and leave the body in the form of urine.

Common liver diseases:

Listed below are some specific types of liver disease:

  • Alcohol-related liver disease– where the liver is damaged after years of alcohol misuse, this can lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease – a build-up of fat within liver cells, usually seen in overweight people or those who are obese
  • Hepatitis – which is inflammation (swelling) of the liver caused by a viral infection or exposure to harmful substances such as alcohol
  • Haemochromatosis – an inherited disorder where there’s a gradual build-up of iron in the body, usually around the liver
  • Primary biliary cirrhosis – a rare, long-term type of liver disease that damages the bile ducts in the liver

It is important to note that all types of liver disease can cause cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), not only alcohol-related liver disease.

What is Fatty liver?

Some fat in your liver is normal. But if it makes up more than 5%-10% of the organ’s weight, you may have fatty liver disease. Fatty liver is a reversible condition that can be resolved with changed behaviours.

Fatty liver typically has no associated symptoms and does not cause permanent damage. You may experience fatigue or vague abdominal discomfort. Your liver may become slightly enlarged, and your doctor can detect this during a physical exam. Excess fat can cause liver inflammation. If your liver becomes inflamed, you may have a poor appetite, weight loss, abdominal pain, weakness, and confusion.

Causes of fatty liver:

The most common cause of fatty liver is alcoholism and heavy drinking. In many cases, doctors don’t know what causes fatty liver in people who are not alcoholics. Fatty liver develops when the body creates too much fat or cannot metabolise fat fast enough. The excess fat is stored in liver cells where it accumulates to form fatty liver disease.

Besides alcoholism, other common causes of fatty liver include:

  • obesity
  • hyperlipidaemia, or high levels of fats in the blood
  • diabetes
  • genetic inheritance
  • rapid weight loss
  • a side effect of certain medications

 

Two common types of fatty liver:

  • Alcoholic fatty liver:

Alcoholic fatty liver is the earliest stage of an alcohol-related liver disease. Heavy drinking damages the liver, and the liver cannot break down fats as a result. Abstaining from alcohol will likely cause the fatty liver to subside. Within six weeks of not drinking alcohol, the fat will disappear. However, if excessive alcohol use continues, cirrhosis may develop.

  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFL):

Non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFL) develops when the liver has difficulty breaking down fats, which causes a build-up of the liver tissue. The cause is not related to alcohol. This type of fatty liver is diagnosed when more than 10 percent of the liver is fat.

Prevention of fatty liver:

  • Eat less carbohydrate

Poor diet is the leading cause of fatty liver disease.  The biggest offenders are sugar and foods made with white flour; they need to be avoided completely.  However, a high intake of carbohydrate rich foods, in general, can promote fatty liver, as the liver converts excess carbohydrate into fat.  Foods that need to be restricted include bread, pasta, rice, breakfast cereals, potatoes and any food made with flour.

  • Drink less alcohol

Excess alcohol consumption is the second biggest cause of fatty liver.  Alcohol can cause inflammation and damage to liver cells, resulting in fatty infiltration.  People with a fatty liver should limit alcohol consumption to one drink per day, with at least two alcohol-free days per week.

  • Eat more vegetables, protein and the right fats

Raw vegetables and fruits are the most powerful liver healing foods. These raw foods help to cleanse and repair the liver filter so that it can trap and remove more fat and toxins from the bloodstream. Eat an abundance of vegetables (cooked and raw salads).  Fruit is healthy for most people, but if you have high blood sugar or insulin resistance, it is best to limit fruit to 2 servings per day.

 

Protein is important because it helps to keep the blood sugar level stable, helps with weight loss from the abdomen and reduces hunger and cravings. Protein should be consumed with each meal. Most vegetable oil and margarine can worsen a fatty liver.  Healthy fats you can include in your diet are found in olive oil, oily fish, flaxseeds, coconut oil and raw nuts and seeds.

What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis refers to an inflammatory condition of the liver. It is commonly caused by a viral infection, but there are other possible causes of hepatitis. These include autoimmune hepatitis and hepatitis that occurs as a secondary result of medications, drugs, toxins, and alcohol. Autoimmune hepatitis is a disease that occurs when your body makes antibodies against your liver tissue.

Types of viral hepatitis:

Viral infections of the liver that are classified as hepatitis include hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. Different viruses are responsible for each type of virally transmitted hepatitis. Hepatitis A is always an acute, short-term disease, while hepatitis B, C, and D are most likely to become ongoing and chronic. Hepatitis E is usually acute but can be particularly dangerous in pregnant women.

  • Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is caused by an infection with the hepatitis A virus (HAV). This type of hepatitis is most commonly transmitted by consuming food or water contaminated by faeces from a person infected with hepatitis A.

  • Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is transmitted through contact with infectious body fluids, such as blood, vaginal secretions, or semen, containing the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Injection drug use, having sex with an infected partner or sharing razors with an infected person increases your risk of getting hepatitis B.

  • Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C comes from the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Hepatitis C is transmitted through direct contact with infected body fluids, typically through injection drug use and sexual contact. HCV is among the most common bloodborne viral infections.

  • Hepatitis D

Also, called delta hepatitis, hepatitis D is a serious liver disease caused by the hepatitis D virus (HDV). HDV is contracted through direct contact with infected blood. Hepatitis D is a rare form of hepatitis that only occurs in conjunction with hepatitis B infection. The hepatitis D virus can’t multiply without the presence of hepatitis B. This type of hepatitis is very uncommon.

  • Hepatitis E

Hepatitis E is a waterborne disease caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV). Hepatitis E is mainly found in areas with poor sanitation and typically results from ingesting faecal matter that contaminates the water supply. This disease is uncommon in the United States. However, cases of hepatitis E have been reported in the Middle East, Asia, Central America, and Africa.

Symptoms of Hepatitis

Tips to prevent hepatitis:

  • Get vaccinated.

Safe, effective vaccines are available for hepatitis A and B, though not yet for hepatitis C. Anyone who travels abroad frequently should be vaccinated. The hepatitis A vaccine is typically given in two doses six months apart. The hepatitis B vaccine is typically given to adults in three doses spread over six months, and to children in three or four doses spread over six to 18 months. Adults are also eligible to get a combined vaccine given in three doses over six months.

If you don’t have time for all of the injections before embarking on a trip, get the first injection. That way, you will have at least partial immunity. Another possibility is to ask the doctor about getting all the injections on an accelerated schedule.

  • Know your destination.

Your risk of contracting hepatitis is small if you are travelling to Canada, Japan, Western Europe, or another area where the disease is not prevalent and where sanitation is good. But travel to a developing country where hepatitis is prevalent calls for extra vigilance. Viral hepatitis is especially common in Sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, the Amazon basin, and Asia.

  • Keep your hands clean.

Frequent hand washing helps keep faecal matter from spreading from your hands to your mouth, where it can cause infection. Wash your hands with warm, soapy water or use a hand sanitizer after using the bathroom or changing a diaper and before eating. If you must use a dirty bathroom, consider using a napkin or paper towel to turn off the tap and to open the door.

  • Watch what you eat.

Uncooked food, including fruits, vegetables, salads, and raw meat or shellfish, can transmit hepatitis. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables only if you peel them yourself.

  • Avoid contaminated water.

In regions with poor sanitation, tap water can transmit hepatitis. To cut your risk, use bottled water for drinking as well as for washing fruits and vegetables. Steer clear of ice cubes unless you are sure they were made from pure water. Buy bottled water only from a source you trust. Street vendors have been known to refill water bottles with tap water and sell them to unsuspecting tourists.

  • Take precautions regarding sex.

Because all three of the main types of hepatitis can be spread by sexual contact, it is a good idea to learn something about a potential sex partner especially if he/she is from a region where hepatitis is endemic.

There is no easy way to tell whether a particular person has hepatitis. Many people look healthy even in the disease’s latter stages. But your risk may be higher with a partner who has used illegal drugs or has a history of sexual promiscuity. Using a latex condom can reduce your risk. Also, avoid oral-anal contact and rough sex, anal sex, and other activities likely to cause cuts or abrasions, which increase the risk of transmission.

  • Beware of ‘sharps’.

Dirty (reused) acupuncture needles, instruments used to make tattoos or piercings, or other needles can spread hepatitis. If there is any doubt that a needle isn’t sanitised such as in an area where adequate sterilisation techniques are unavailable, avoid it.

If you are in a developing country, don’t get a blood transfusion or any type of IV unless absolutely necessary. Invasive medical or dental treatment makes sense only if the benefits clearly outweigh the risks; for example, if you need emergency treatment for life-threatening injuries sustained in an accident.

Liver detox:

Even when we are being good to our liver, hidden dangers can damage its cells and interfere with toxin breakdown. Toxins are found in prescription medications, food additives, and air pollutants, and these may be impossible to avoid completely. Here is where “liver detoxification” or “liver tonic” might come in. When the liver is working overdrive to protect you from a bad lifestyle, it could benefit from a little extra help.

Phospholipids such as lecithin; antioxidant vitamins such as C, E and beta-carotene; minerals such as zinc and selenium; B-vitamins that aid alcohol metabolism; and herbs said to cleanse the liver such as milk thistle, and dandelion, might help protect liver cells while ridding our body of poisons.

  • Lecithin:

Lecithin (phosphatidylcholine) contains choline. Choline is an essential nutrient; in addition to its role in the liver, it acts as an antioxidant, supports metabolism and helps make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Lecithin regulates fat metabolism in the liver, where it binds to proteins that lower triglycerides (TG) and boost levels of good cholesterol (HDL) in the bloodstream. The liver needs phosphatidylcholine to produce VLDL, which carry fats from the liver. If levels of phosphatidylcholine are low, fats build up in the liver, eventually causing liver damage which then leads to liver cirrhosis. People tend to develop the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease if they don’t have enough choline.

  • Milk thistle/Dandelion:

Milk thistle, a plant with the scientific name of Silybum marianum have been used medicinally for several thousand years, traditionally recommended to protect the liver and treat liver disease. The plant contains a biologically active compound called silymarin, a phytochemical classified as a flavonoid. Silymarin is a natural antioxidant that also has anti-inflammatory activity. It also stimulates liver cells to divide, helping provide new cells to replace injured ones and potentially helping the liver recover from injury.

Dandelion roots and leaves have been part of traditional medicine for centuries. Practitioners recommend dandelion for many ailments, including liver problems, kidney disease, heartburn and stomach upset. Dandelion is rich in vitamins A, B, C, D and contains iron, potassium and zinc. It also provides a number of natural, biologically active compounds, including flavonoids and terpenoids. Dandelion also contains natural antioxidants, compounds that help your body get rid of free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules made in your body that can damage cell membranes and DNA, potentially speeding ageing and raising your risk of cancer and other diseases.

Sources:

  1. Health Line http://www.healthline.com
  2. Emedicine Health http://www.emedicinehealth.com
  3. Liver doctor https://www.liverdoctor.com
  4. Mayo Clinic http://www.mayoclinic.org
  5. MedicineNet http://www.medicinenet.com
  6. NHS http://www.nhs.uk
  7. Healthy and Natural World http://www.healthyandnaturalworld.com
  8. Continent hospitals http://www.continentalhospitals.com