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Alcohol And The Liver


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  • Alcohol And The Liver

    How many units should you drink a week? Dr Mark Wright answers your questions and explains the risks alcohol creates for your liver.


How Do Alcoholic Drinks Damage The Liver?

Alcohol is a poison really, and our liver has evolved to deal with poisons that we might meet when we were foraging for food or drinking things we weren’t sure what they were. So the alcoholic drinks you consume is treated by your liver just like a poison.

The liver is very good at its job and it can deal with poisons extremely effectively, but it only has so much capacity. If you consume something with a low alcoholic content it won’t do you much harm at all. Your liver will cope with it and everything will be ok. But if you exceed the liver’s ability to deal with it, it’ll start accumulating in the body. What this means to the liver is that certain alcoholic metabolites will start to build up and actually start to damage the liver. Because of the liver’s capacity to deal with it has been exceeded, the alcoholic metabolites will get to other areas of the body and start to cause harm elsewhere or even hepatitis.

How many units, do you recommend, should you drink in a week?

In terms for what a safe limit is for an individual, it varies. In general we would recommend not exceeding 2-3 alcoholic units per day for a woman and 3-4 units per day for a man. This goes up to a maximum of 21 units a week for a man and 14 units a week for a woman. We also recommend you take a few days off each week to give your liver a chance to recover.

What do you consider binge drinking?

Binge drinking normally means different things to different people. In general, most people think binge drinking is when you become intoxicated rather than drinking a little bit of an alcoholic drink it and having a mild euphoric effect. In general, if you are drinking more than 8 units a day in one go, we consider that to be a binge. The problem with binge drinking is that because you are taking in more than your liver can cope with, your liver can only metabolise about a unit of alcohol every hour. So if you’re taking more than that then the alcoholic metabolites accumulate in your body and are more likely to do damage to your liver and to other organs.

When are you putting yourself at risk of liver damage?

You either excessively drink for a long time or you drink very excessively for a short time. There is no absolute safety limit to how much you can drink and there is no absolute level to which you can say you will get a risk. But if you are drinking too much over a long period of time, then your risk increases. Likewise, you can see people who drink very large amounts, even over short periods of time, like several months to a year, causing themselves substantial damage. Add that to the fact that quite a lot of people are carrying too much weight, and this is another risk factor to the disease, and these risks start to combine.

Dr Mark Wright

Consultant Hepatologlist

10878 Published January 2013

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