Although you might think alcohol is the number one threat to your liver, it actually wasn’t – until the pandemic hit.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit North America in March 2020, diet was the number one cause of liver-associated disease and transplants. Diets high in sugar and processed foods, in particular.
But booze is back. Between March 2020 and January 2021, the number of U.S. patients with an alcohol-associated liver disease who received a new liver or were on a waitlist for a transplant was 50% higher than pre-pandemic projections and is one of the leading reasons for liver transplants in the United States.
Alcohol creates fatty deposits in the liver’s tissue that can eventually lead to scarring – a condition called cirrhosis – which is one type of alcohol-related liver disease.
Another is alcohol-associated hepatitis, which can happen when the liver becomes inflamed by drinking too much alcohol in a short period.
Often, there can be few symptoms in the early stages, and the only way to identify a problem is with blood tests. For example, the first symptom, which you cannot see or feel, would be higher than normal liver enzymes.
Symptoms may eventually progress to jaundice, a yellowing of the eyes or skin.
Eventually, alcohol-related liver disease can show up through fluid buildup in the belly, dilated esophageal blood vessels, or mental confusion caused by a buildup of toxins that the liver would normally remove.
The good thing is that ceasing to drink can make a difference. If the organ does not have a liver disease, it can begin to restire naturally. In people with liver disease, medical intervention may be required, like medication or, worse, a transplant.
One way to limit your risk for alcohol-related liver conditions is to watch intake. Stick to the recommended drink thresholds, which are one drink per day for women and 2 for men.