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Alcohol: The Cause of Liver Damage and Cancer and How to protect your liver

It is well established that drinking alcohol causes liver damage, but the consequences have been mostly overlooked. Commonly, it is understood that a moderate drink is good for health, but it is not necessarily a contributing factor to good health. Recent studies indicate that even one drink a day has no health benefit.

What does the liver do?

The liver is a very vital organ with multiple functions, including regulating, synthesizing, storing, secreting, transforming, and breaking down many different substances. In cases of severe liver damage, one can feel the signs and symptoms such as swelling in legs and abdomen, jaundice, weight loss, weakness, nausea, vomiting, confusion, impotency and loss of interest in sex, bleeding hemorrhoids, indigestion, abdominal pain, and fever. These symptoms may develop gradually, or there may be no symptoms at all.

How does alcohol damage the liver?

The human body breaks down alcohol by using enzymes such as alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). First, the alcohol is converted by ADH into acetaldehyde, and then further metabolized to acetate. The acetate is broken down even further into water and carbon dioxide. Some alcohol metabolism also occurs in other organs, including the pancreas, brain, and intestine, causing damage to these organs.

A simple blood test for liver enzymes (ALT, AST, GGT) can determine the level of liver damage. The liver enzyme GGT is the most accurate test to confirm liver damage due to alcohol.

Most research on alcohol metabolism is focused on acetaldehyde. Although it is a short lived compound existing for a brief time before getting broken down into acetate, it has the potential to cause significant damage to the liver and is a well known carcinogen (cancer causing agent).

Alcohol and Cancer:

Alcohol consumption can increase the risk of developing different types of cancer, including cancers of the liver, upper respiratory tract, colon, rectum, and breast. Researchers believe that this could be due to the toxic effects of acetaldehyde. The International Agency for Research on Cancer asserts that acetaldehyde should be classified as a carcinogen.

The metabolism of alcohol through other pathways may lead to the formation of highly reactive oxygen containing molecules that can damage protein and DNA, or interact with other substances to form cancer causing compounds. Alcohol can also be a contributing factor in increasing the risk of arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, high or low-sugar, kidney disease, malnutrition, nervous disorders, and obesity.

Alcohol and Fatty Liver Disease:

The liver is the main organ for the breakdown of alcohol. More than 90% of heavy-drinkers develop fatty liver (a type of liver disease for which there is no cure, medicine, or treatment) and 20% of them develop more severe alcoholic liver disease (ALD) and Cirrhosis. Liver cells normally use fatty acids as a source of energy and store the excess fatty acids as triglycerides or packages and transports it to other organs. However, when alcohol is present, the liver cells are forced to first utilize the alcohol, letting the fatty acids accumulate, sometimes in huge amounts. This results in impaired liver functions and development of fatty liver disease (FLD). Researchers have observed that even a single night of heavy drinking can result in accumulation of fat in the liver.

Alcohol, Liver, and Nutrition:

Since the liver is a major contributor to the process of digestion and nutrient transportation and distribution, a damaged liver cannot efficiently process and deliver the nutrients that are absorbed from the intestine. The readily available alcoholic calories prevent the body from processing natural sources of storable energy such as fats, carbohydrates, and proteins and that is why most alcoholics remain dependent on alcohol as a quick source of caloric energy. Unfortunately, because the body has no metabolic requirement for alcohol, all of these calories are empty calories and these empty calories either prevent the body from burning fat, or will be turned into fat. It also induces hypoglycemia and excessive lactic acid buildup, both of which make it difficult if not impossible to exercise. There is no doubt that alcohol is one of the most fattening substances.

Why can some individuals drink more than others?:

The breakdown of alcohol varies from person to person, depending on the level of active enzymes necessary for the breakdown of alcohol. This could be linked to genetics, for there are different versions of alcohol dehydrogenase enzymes.

Who is at risk?

Scientists believe that acetaldehyde is the cause of the unpleasant aftertaste of drinking. For individuals who get drunk with less alcohol consumption are at a higher risk of ALD and cancer. Such individuals may convert alcohol into acetaldehyde, but their system is slower in breaking down acetaldehyde to acetate. The longer the acetaldehyde stays in the body, the higher the risk of liver damage and cancer is.

Control and Prevention:

Scientists beyond doubt have reached to the conclusion that even one drink a day is not beneficial (as was advocated previously).

Since Alcohol is metabolized at a very slow rate (half ounce per hour), drinking excess alcohol results in circulation of un-oxidized alcohol in the blood, increasing the risk of alcohol damage to other tissues. Rapid consumption of alcohol should be avoided at any cost. Individuals with established liver problems such as Hepatitis B and C are at an even higher risk and should take extra precautions.

Monitoring the liver enzymes (GGT) through blood tests would be of great help in determining the level of liver damage, because GGT is frequently elevated in alcoholic liver damage.

Alcohol and Aspirin:

For some reason (not known yet) aspirin appears to block the action of enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase. What this means is that if a person is taking aspirin before drinking, he or she becomes much more intoxicated with a smaller dose of alcohol than usual. People on aspirin should take precaution while drinking alcohol.

Alcohol and Cayenne pepper:

Cayenne pepper and hot red chili dilate the blood vessels and apparently increases the risk of brain exposure to alcohol toxicity.

Ray of Hope:

Even in case of damage, liver is able to filter toxins and repair its damage. The repairing capacity of the liver can be affected due to prolonged exposure to damaging factors such as alcohol, Tylenol and Hepatitis B and C viruses. If not repaired, repeated liver damage can cause scar tissue and Cirrhosis. Cirrhosis may not recover or heal but it is not a progressive disease. By stopping alcohol and eliminating liver damaging factors, one can prevent further liver scaring and Cirrhosis.

The good news is that Bio-Herb Remedies Inc.(Canada) has developed one of the most effective natural product (Liv-Herbal Formula) for liver problems. It has clinically proven to not only prevent liver damage and improve liver function but also significantly repair the existing damage. Since 2002, Liv-Herbal Formula has shown great success in recovering even the very last stage liver damage in cases of alcoholic and non-alcoholic liver patients.