Your liver, which is located on the right side of the abdomen, is one of the most important organs in your body, and plays a critical role in your health (performing over 500 vital functions) such as:
• Metabolizing alcohol, drugs, and other chemicals
• Neutralizing and destroying poisonous/toxic substances
• Producing, storing, and supplying glucose
• Producing, storing, and exporting fat
• Transporting substances in your blood
• Clotting of your blood
• Helping the body resist infections
• Regulating thyroid, cortisone, and adrenal hormones
• Regulating cholesterol
• Aiding digestion
• Regulating the body’s supply of essential vitamins and minerals
What is Liver Disease?
Liver disease affects as many as 1 in 4 Canadians. There are several different types of liver-related diseases, including hepatitis A, B and C, fatty liver disease, cirrhosis of the liver, inherited diseases such as hemochromatosis and Wilson diseases, as well as liver cancer.
Symptoms of Liver Disease
Symptoms of liver disease will vary from person to person. In some cases, an individual may not experience any symptoms at all. However, among the most common are:
• Abdominal swelling
• Swelling of the legs
• Changes in color of urine and/or stool
• Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
One of the most common myths that is often associated with liver disease is that many people are under the impression that they can only get it if they drink alcohol in excess. This, however, is wrong. While heavy alcohol consumption is one of the contributing factors for liver disease and should therefore be avoided, there are also many other factors that can put an individual at risk of developing liver disease, such as having type 2 diabetes, obesity, illicit drug use/sharing needles, blood transfusions (prior to 1992), unprotected sex, and exposure to other people’s blood and/or bodily fluids.
To prevent liver diseases, it’s important to be aware of the critical role your liver plays in your overall health and wellbeing, as well as ensure you’re making healthy lifestyle choices to prevent it from occurring – such as reducing/avoiding alcohol consumption, avoid mixing alcohol with with medication (i.e., acetaminophen), getting vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, practicing safe sex, and make food choices that optimize the health of your liver (i.e., drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water each day, eating healthy meals (i.e., increased consumption of fruits & vegetables while limiting consumption of saturated fats and sugar, consuming vitamin D fortified dairy products.)