The Liver


I cannot believe that as you read this we are into March.  I have just recently returned from an amazing conference on the liver and thought I would share a few gems.

Liver facts

The liver is the largest organ in the body and weighs about 1.2-1.5kg. It is divided into a left and right lobe. The liver is supplied with blood from two sources, the hepatic artery and the hepatic portal vein. It has around 500 functions including:

  • filters and cleans blood
  • fights infections and disease
  • destroys and deals with poisons and drugs
  • makes vital proteins for blood clotting if we cut ourselves
  • produces bile to assist in digestion of fats and removes waste products
  • stores glucose in the form of glycogen which can be used when the body needs it most
  • stores sugars, vitamins and minerals including iron
  • gets rid of waste substances from the body
  • produces and maintains the balance of hormones
  • produces enzymes/proteins needed for chemical reactions in the body such as tissue repair
  • repairs damage and renews itself

Liver damage develops over time. Any inflammation of the liver is known as hepatitis whatever its cause. Sudden inflammation is known as acute hepatitis. Inflammation longer than six months is known as chronic hepatitis. In chronic liver disease, liver function declines due to cell damage and inflammation. Treating the cause of the inflammation may prevent the formation of further damage. Cirrhosis is when healthy liver tissue is replaced by scare tissue eventually preventing the liver functioning properly. It is often called the `silent killer’ because even at this stage people have no signs or symptoms of disease. Fatty liver disease is divided into Alcoholic liver disease (ALD) and Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). ALD is associated with excess alcohol an NAFLD is associated with impaired glucose tolerance and high cholesterol. Both will show the same disease symptoms. A healthy liver develops fatty deposits known as steatosis leading to inflammation, fibrosis and cirrhosis (scarring).

UK and Finland are the only countries in Europe where liver disease as a major cause of death is still increasing year on year.

Good nutrition and reducing alcohol intake can help support our liver to function well. By eating a balanced diet and taking regular exercise, sensible drinking should not cause liver problems. There has been a lot in the `press’ recently about what is sensible drinking? (see December issue). To eat healthily means getting the right balance between different foods. For most people a well-balanced diet means is low in fat, sugar and salt and high in fibre. It also means watching portion sizes. It is important that our diets meet our personal nutritional needs and circumstances. It we are unwell and losing weight the rules change. In this case it is important to eat foods that are high in calories, protein and fats to maintain a healthy weight and avoid muscle wasting. If we are told to lose weight then it is important to do so slowly and safely. It is important to enjoy our food and to discuss any problems with your doctor or dietitian.

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