Overview on functions of the liver:

For those who are not in the know, you may be surprised to learn that the largest organ inside our body is the liver.

The main function of this hardworking organ is to take in and filter blood from the digestive tract and distributing the blood to the rest of the body. While doing so, the liver also detoxifies and metabolizes, i.e., breaks down, chemicals and drugs. The liver secretes bile to aid digestion and eliminate waste products from the body through feces. The liver also manufactures a protein which is important for blood clotting.

With the ability to carry out all these functions simultaneously, this reddish-brown rubbery mass that normally weighs around 1.5 kg, is indeed an important organ which should be well maintained in order not to malfunction or ever break down during the span of one’s life.

Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease:

You may think you are taking good care of your liver by abstaining from alcohol, as alcohol is normally the main culprit associated with liver disease. However, today’s article focuses on Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, or NAFLD in short.

NAFLD covers a host of liver conditions that affects, believe it or not, people who consume little or no alcohol. The main characteristic of NAFLD is excessive fat stored in liver cells.

Patients with NAFLD can develop Non-alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH) which is a destructive form of liver disease marked by inflammation. An advanced form of NASH would be Cirrhosis where the liver becomes scarred.

When the liver is scarred, it cannot carry out its functions to manufacture protein, filter the blood, and produce bile to aid digestion and eliminate waste products. The final part would be end-stage liver failure which means the liver completely stops functioning.

Symptoms of NAFLD:

Two common symptoms of NAFLD to look out for:

  • pain or discomfort in the upper right side of the abdomen
  • fatigue

 

NASH and Cirrhosis have more symptoms to look out for. You can spot two of them:

  • signs of yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)
  • red palms.

whereas other NASH and Cirrhosis symptoms below need proper medical evaluation to determine the diseases:

  • enlarged blood vessels just beneath the skin
  • enlarged spleen
  • abdominal swelling (ascites) – abnormal buildup of abdominal fluid

Do consult a doctor if you feel you may have the above symptoms, to ascertain if you do indeed have NAFLD, NASH and Cirrhosis, as early intervention could probably avert a major irreversible setback later on.

Causes of NAFLD and NASH:

Medical research carried out to date have not been able to determine why some people have fatty liver and some do not. However, NAFLD and NASH both have been shown to have links to:

  • insulin resistance
  • pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes
  • high levels of triglycerides
  • obesity

A combination of the above issues promotes the depositing of fat in the liver.

Medical researchers have found further risk factors for NAFLD which include:

  • high levels of LDL (bad cholesterol)
  • polycystic ovary syndrome in women
  • sleep apnea
  • underactive thyroid
  • underactive pituitary gland

NAFLD Target Groups:

  • diabetics
  • elderly people
  • people with excessive abdominal fat

Complications arising from NAFLD, NASH and Cirrhosis:

Scarring of the liver happens when the liver tries to stop the inflammation caused by injury. The scarred areas are called fibrosis, and with continued inflammation, the fibrosis takes up more and more healthy liver tissue. If left unchecked, Cirrhosis will lead to:

  • abdominal swelling (ascites)
  • swollen veins in the esophagus (esophageal varices) which can burst and cause bleeding
  • slurred speech, disorientation and drowsiness
  • liver cancer
  • end-stage liver failure

About 5 – 12 per cent of people who have NASH will eventually progress to Cirrhosis.

Steps to reduce your risk of getting NAFLD, NASH and Cirrhosis:

  • If you are obese or overweight, take steps to reduce your weight in a healthy manner with the next two steps.
  • Maintain a healthy diet with good portions of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat products and lean meat.
  • Exercise regularly. Do get your doctor’s clearance before engaging in exercise, especially if you have not been doing it on a regular basis.

As with all our health articles, the above are general views and guidelines on living a healthy lifestyle. Should you be concerned about the wellbeing of your liver, the correct thing to do is to consult your medical practitioner for proper medical advice and related test procedures.

By Aaron
29th May 20:30

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