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DOC QUESTION TIME Is my liver healthy?


Alcohol related deaths among women in their 30s and 40s are rising, researchers said today

The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health looked at patterns in alcohol related deaths and found a rise in women born in the 1970s dying despite rates falling in other age groups.

The researchers from the University of Glasgow referred to the trend as ‘an early warning sign that had to be acted upon.’

Dr Vinood Patel - University of Westminster 1Healthista asked Dr Vinood Patel, Senior Lecturer in Clinical Biochemistry and liver specialst at the University of Westminster how to know know if our livers are healthy.  It’s not meant to scare the bejaysus out of you we promise, but it’s good to know the facts non?


Q I am 37 and have about two glasses most nights and then at the weekend drink about a bottle on one night.  Could there be any chance that I might develop liver problems?  

The recommended weekly alcohol consumption for women is 14 units, which is approximately one small glass of wine per night. However, you can easily exceed this depending on your wine portion sizes. You seem to be consuming about four units per night (24 units a week) plus a bottle at the weekend (12 units), making it a total of 36 units. This figure would classify you as a ‘heavy alcohol consumer’, and indicate potential chances of developing liver problems.  In the first instance you could develop fatty liver, which is a reversible condition, but can quite easily lead onto the second stage of hepatitis (liver inflammation) and then with continued heavy drinking for a number of years become fibrosis (liver scarring) and eventually cirrhosis (severe liver injury).  There are several apps for calculating your weekly alcohol unit which could help monitor your intake and help you consume less alcohol.  (Healthista likes the Alcohol Units Calculator £1.49 from the App store)

Q What is the biggest liver health risk for women my age?

The main risk for women is still drinking too much alcohol, especially if it’s all drunk in short periods since alcohol can reach toxic damaging levels very easily. This can lead to alcoholic liver disease (ALD) within ten years of heavy drinking.  Another relatively unknown form of liver disease which is similar to ALD is called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This is now the most common form of liver disease and is mainly linked to a diet high in fats and carbohydrates.   Both of these conditions, whilst silent diseases, are readily reversible and treatable by lifestyle changes.  Pregnant women could also be affected by a condition called obstetric cholestasis, or intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy, which frequently occurs in pregnancies and is due to bile salts not flowing correctly in the liver, leading to the sensation of itchiness.  Although this is manageable and can be monitored by regular blood tests, the condition has been associated with still births.

Q What signs should I look for of liver disease?  

With acute or chronic viral hepatitis A, B or C for example, you may have non-specific signs such as feeling tired, have flu-like symptoms, pale stools, orange urine, itching, nausea and may appear jaundiced, which means yellowing of the skin and eyes.  However, because the liver can function normally, regenerate and repair the damage when a disease is present, many signs and symptoms are not obvious until the disease has reached a chronic/severe stage.  At this stage jaundice, weight loss, easy bruising, fatigue, reduced interest in sex, swelling in the stomach and legs, are common features, for example in cirrhosis or cancer of the liver.

Q My dad had liver disease – is it hereditary?

It is important to state that the most common liver diseases such as alcoholic liver disease (ALD) and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) are not hereditary, although if your parent was an alcoholic then you may have an increased risk.  T

Q Is there a test that can assess the health of my liver?  

Yes, there are a panel of standard tests called ‘liver function tests’ which are readily obtainable from your GP. These tests comprise of enzymes, the protein albumin, total serum protein and bilirubin which can assist in the diagnostic process and help your doctor work out whether you need to see a specialist.

Q What are five ways I can keep my liver healthy?

You can keep your liver healthy by (1) reducing the amount of alcohol consumed to within the recommended limits and to try  (2) avoid having a diet that is high in fats and carbohydrates to prevent the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and related conditions, such as obesity and type II diabetes, (3) avoid drug usage (4) avoid unprotected sex with different partners which could lead to contracting viral hepatitis B and C and (5) reduce smoking, since harmful nicotine products are metabolised by the liver.  All of these liver conditions are preventable by following a healthy diet and physical lifestyle.

Q Is there anything proven to help detoxify alcohol from your liver faster – say the morning after a big night out?

There are no magic pills or solutions to take that can assist in the metabolism of alcohol.  Ethically it would be very difficult to market a product that allows someone to drink alcohol and which prevents or reduces any liver damage or a hangover. It could also lead to irresponsible drinking.  Having said that, it is quite possible that individuals or private companies are studying this due to the potential financial rewards.  Eating food before drinking is still very important to prevent your blood alcohol levels rising too rapidly and you should always rehydrate with fluids following alcohol consumption.

Click here for 5 easy tips on cutting back on alcohol


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