Love your liver

Sussex Life Health Column, May issue Too many of us take our livers for granted, but are we taking our lives for granted too? Dr Jeremy Tibble, a gastroenterology consultant, writes about the link between alcohol consumption and liver disease. The liver is the largest solid organ in the body and carries out many vital functions. It plays a key role in eliminating harmful biochemical waste, detoxifying certain drugs and environmental toxins, as well as being the only organ in the body that is able to metabolise alcohol. Of all the organs in the body the liver has the greatest capacity for regeneration, which can mean that damage to it can go undetected only to be discovered when blood tests are done to investigate other conditions. By the time symptoms become apparent, patients often have advanced liver damage known as cirrhosis. This is caused by ongoing inflammation to the liver that results in scarring and may be caused by a variety of conditions including viral hepatitis (hepatitis B and C), autoimmune inflammatory conditions and genetic metabolic disorders. However, all too commonly the cause of cirrhosis is prolonged excessive consumption of alcohol, a condition that is on the increase. A study conducted by the National End of Life Care Intelligence Network in March 2012 concluded that liver disease is responsible for 2% of deaths in the UK and that alcoholic liver disease accounted for well over a third of these cases. More than 1 in 10 deaths of people in their 40s are from liver disease, the majority of which are alcohol related. This high number of deaths caused by alcohol is part of an upward trend, with a 25% rise since 2001. The increase can