The Liver and Its Responsibility For Eliminating Alcohol

liver and alcohol

Alcoholic drinks are those which contain ethanol, a form of alcohol that can be attained from fermenting fruits or grains. Consuming alcohol has become an important part of the social setting of many cultures; the drinks themselves are considered legal in most nations.

However, we should remember that alcohol is still a drug, albeit recreational, and a depressant. Low doses lead to feelings of elation, reduced inhibition, and increased sociability. High levels cause unconsciousness, lethargy, ‘blackouts’, or even death.

As it is a substance toxic to humans, our bodies have developed certain parts to combat and remove it altogether. In this case, the liver has the primary responsibility for eliminating alcohol from the bloodstream.

A large organ protected by the ribcage found in the abdomen just below the diaphragm, the liver is in charge of filtering the blood that comes from the gastrointestinal tract, detoxifying toxic substances, and metabolizing drugs. After all these processes, bile (a bodily fluid comprising of bile acids, cholesterol, and alkaline that aids in digestion through fat breakdown) is yielded. The liver also produces proteins necessary for blood clotting.

If we existed without livers, our bloodstreams would be full of contaminants (or toxins), a situation that would be harmful to us. In relation to that, if great amounts of alcoholic beverages are consumed in a short time period, the liver would be overwhelmed. This may lead to death by alcohol poisoning.

The Liver

The liver is categorized as an accessory digestive organ, alongside the gallbladder and pancreas. It is also the second-largest organ in the human body, coming in next to the skin. It consists of hepatocytes, the principal functional cells of the liver that accounts for up to 65% of the organ’s mass.

liver and alcohol
Liver and Alcohol

The liver offers a vast range of functions when it comes to metabolism and digestion, such as the following: detoxifying an assortment of metabolites (small molecules that are the intermediate end product of metabolism); synthesizing proteins and generating biochemicals to be used for digestion; decomposing red blood cells; regulating the storage of glycogen; and producing hormones (e.g. insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), thrombopoietin, hepcidin, angiotensinogen, betatrophin).

Given its list of purposes, it is safe to say that we cannot live without a liver. If we went on with our lives devoid of a liver, food would not be digested properly and poisonous substances would not be dealt with, thus, leading to our death.

What Happens After You Drink Alcohol?

Approximately 25% of the alcohol you have ingested gets absorbed straight into your bloodstream directly from your stomach. The small intestine typically absorbs the rest. The rate of alcohol absorption is determined by various factors, such as the drink’s alcohol concentration percentage (higher levels get absorbed faster), if the drink is carbonated or not (carbonated drinks are absorbed more quickly), and if you drink on a full or empty stomach (food impedes alcohol absorption).

Once it is in your bloodstream, alcohol stays in your body until it has been processed. Most of the blood alcohol levels — around 90% to 98% — are broken down by the liver cells. The rest are removed through the urine, respiration, or perspiration.

For the standard amount of 10 grams of alcohol, the average human could take about an hour to process it. Therefore, the human body would be unable to process large amounts of alcohol ingested in a short period of time. People who do binge drinking are those who are more likely to have alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol Detoxification

a flowchart showing liver injury due to alcohol

In general terms, detoxification (or simply “detox”) is the removal of poisonous substances from an organism, like a human body, through physiological or medicinal means. It is a natural process most commonly accomplished by the liver.

An enzyme in hepatocytes known as alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) breaks alcohol down into acetaldehyde. The latter is again broken down into acetate by another enzyme, aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). Finally, the acetate is further processed in the citric acid cycle, having water and carbon dioxide as a result.

An alternative detoxification pathway, referred to as the microsomal ethanol-oxidizing system, is done by a different array of enzymes in the liver. It is a process that is essentially utilized when your blood alcohol concentration levels are very high. Engaging in regular drinking could cause upsurge inactivity of this second route.

Hepatic Diseases

Since the liver is a vital organ that encompasses multidimensional processes, it is likewise vulnerable to falling prey to many diseases. This can be terribly dangerous to the human body because of the organ’s ultimate importance.

Alcoholic liver disease (ALD, otherwise known as Laennec’s cirrhosis) is the term that covers hepatic indicators of alcohol overconsumption. It takes account of alcoholic hepatitis, fatty liver, and chronic hepatitis with liver cirrhosis. Presently known risk factors include, but are not limited to, the quantity of ingested alcohol, drinking patterns, genetic and gender factors, and diet. Terms such as drug-induced or toxic liver disease are accepted as analogous to this disorder, as they are caused by a variety of drugs.

To treat ALD, abstinence from alcohol is considered the most imperative course of action. Further drinking alcohol will cause a rapid acceleration of the disorder. There are no exact medications that could be prescribed for this disease. Moreover, liver transplantation is said to be the remaining definitive therapy for alcoholic liver disease. Survival rates after having a transplant are similar among those with ALD and those without.

We humans may be capable of doing many things, but we are not invincible. The same is true with all our organs, like the liver — it may be doing so many multidimensional functions, yet it could also fail on us so easily. Most times, preventing diseases could be up to us. We could change our lifestyles, alter the food and drinks we ingest, and so many more.

To protect our liver, our natural detox therapist, always remember to drink responsibly and at moderate amounts. Pacing is important so that the liver would still be able to process the alcohol in our bloodstream properly.

Also Read- Alcohol and Its Effects on Memory and the Brain

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