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Alcohol has been found to be the seventh most common contributor to premature death, amounting to 2.8 million deaths worldwide. Compared to non-drinkers, people who take even one alcoholic beverage daily have a 0.5% higher risk of developing alcohol-related problems. You may rub your eyes in disbelief but women absorb more alcohol from each drink as compared to men, so they are at higher risk of liver damage.
Liver, the largest gland in our body, is known for its two foremost functions that are secretory and metabolic. While at one end, its most important job is to break down and kick off harmful substances from the blood; on the other hand, it produces proteins, enzymes, and hormones, which are used by the body to ward off infections.
As for alcohol and liver, factually speaking, liver can take up to an hour to process upto 90% of consumed alcohol or one alcoholic beverage. However, this time frame increases with each drink. Hence, higher the alcohol content, the longer it takes to process it, which is the reason why when you consume excessive alcohol, the alcohol that’s left unprocessed circulates in the body, and starts affecting your brain and heart. That is why pounding shots or playing drinking games can result in high blood alcohol concentrations that last for several hours.
Also, it is important to know here that chronic alcohol abuse can certainly cause destruction of liver cells, which results in scarring of the liver. Alcoholic liver disease progresses from hepatitis to fibrosis to cirrhosis.
Well, let’s take this up one by one.
Heavy drinking is all about consuming eight drinks or more per week for women and 15 or more for men. However, the effects of this and the timeline of these effects vary from person to person.
In the early stages of alcohol-related liver disease, there are no associated symptoms, and one might not know about the disease. If symptoms are present, they normally start as upper abdominal discomfort, fatigue, weight loss, loss of appetite and nausea, and vomiting. Patients who have advanced liver disease normally present as jaundice, sleeplessness, abdominal distension, swelling in feet, easy bruisability and altered sensorium.
As per research-based evidence, the safe amount of alcohol depends on person’s body weight, size and sex. Women absorb more alcohol from each drink as compared to men, so they are at higher risk of liver damage. But in general terms, anyone who takes more than one drink on a daily basis is prone to develop chronic liver disease. If someone has underlying comorbidity such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes etc, they have higher propensity to develop liver diseases and progression of liver disease is also faster in them.
People who regularly abuse alcohol have compounded risk of developing liver disease. In the initial period, fatty liver and hepatitis develop signs which are reversible, when one stops consuming alcohol. People who stop at this stage can avoid developing irreversible changes. Once a patient develops chronic changes in their liver, even then stopping alcohol can help with progression of disease, however it cannot be reversed. However, patients with chronic liver disease and symptoms of decompensation must go for liver transplant as the only curative option.
All in all, life is just too precious and beautiful, to be wasted on a pursuit like drinking!
So, stay beautiful, mindful, and healthy.