L is for Liver

Body’s Favorite Filter Performs Many Jobs

Everything we eat and drink gets the once-over as it passes through the liver, one of the largest organs in our body. The liver has many important jobs. It’s a filter that works with the pancreas, gallbladder and intestines to digest, absorb, and process our food. It removes harmful substances from our blood and eliminates them through our urine or stool. It detoxifies chemicals and metabolizes drugs. The liver also makes bile, which helps us digest foods, especially fat, and makes proteins that help our blood clot. And, it stores glycogen, which our bodies use for energy.

So, it stands to reason that we should do all we can to keep our liver healthy. “The most common problems with the liver are alcoholic liver disease, fatty liver and hepatitis C,” according to Mounzer Al Samman, M.D., a gastroenterologist at NorthBay Medical Group. “You can keep your liver healthy by avoiding alcohol or using it in moderation. With fatty liver disease, weight loss is important, as is eating a low-fat diet. If you are at risk for hepatitis C, get checked.”

There are several types of hepatitis, Dr. Al Samman said, and you should avoid contracting it if at all possible. Hepatitis A comes from drinking water or eating food that has been contaminated with the virus. Hepatitis B and C are spread through contact with blood and body fluids. To be safe, don’t share toothbrushes, razors, needles or have unprotected sex.

There is a vaccine for hepatitis A and B, but not for hepatitis C. “Today, all children must get vaccinated for hepatitis A and B,” he added. “For adults who did not get the hepatitis A vaccination as a child, it is recommended when you travel to countries where the disease is common. The hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for people at risk, such as people in the medical field who may get punctured by a needle.”

Your liver can also be damaged by medications. Cholesterol drugs or painkillers with acetaminophen can cause liver problems. Be sure to read the labels of any drugs you use, as acetaminophen can be found in cold medicines and prescription pain medications.

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