The liver is one of the body’s true powerhouses — an organ that performs a staggering number of important functions simultaneously. Not only does it convert nutrients into bile, a substance that helps with the digestion process, it also produces amino acids that play a key role in fighting infections. The list goes on and on when it comes to the liver. While we certainly count on it to maintain homeostasis throughout life, its health and functionality are especially vital as we get older, when the threat of liver failure becomes greater.
There are more than 100 known liver diseases, many of which can lead to liver failure, robbing the body of essential functions that keep it healthy. One of the most common causes of liver failure is alcohol abuse. Alcohol abuse often leads to cirrhosis, a condition that sees the liver becoming scarred and deteriorated, ultimately leading to the loss of functioning cells. The overuse of painkillers, specifically acetaminophen, and certain prescription medications can also damage the liver and lead to a condition known as liver necrosis.
One of the other major causes of liver failure is viral hepatitis, a disease that has a number of forms. Hepatitis C, in particular, is quite dangerous and can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer if untreated. Unfortunately, most people with Hepatitis C don’t know that they’re infected, as it can take years for symptoms to manifest. Once detected, Hepatitis C is treatable, but it does become more difficult to fight with age. That’s why screening as early as possible is vital, especially for baby boomers (those born between 1945 and 1965). It’s believed that the transmission of Hepatitis C was highest around this time because many of the infection control procedures seen in the healthcare industry today were simply not around.
Ways to protect the liver
There’s no doubt that the liver is one of the hardest-working organs in the human body, and a tough one at that. In fact, it’s the only organ that has the ability to fully regenerate itself after surgery or injury. It’s certainly not invincible, though, and as we age, it’s important to take the right steps to protect the liver from the known threats. Below are a few tips that seniors can follow to help protect their livers:
• Limit alcohol consumption, or don’t drink at all.
• Take acetaminophen in moderation (most medical experts recommend no more than 3,250 mg/day) and talk to your physician about the risk of current medications.
• Research and consult with a physician before taking any supplements.
• Ensure you are eating a balanced diet, complete with whole grains, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats.
• Get tested for viral hepatitis, especially if you were born between 1945 and 1965.
• Take caution when using cleaning products, as many of the active agents are known to damage the liver.
• Incorporate coffee into your diet. Recent studies show that drinking coffee may help in preventing liver disease.
While all of the tips listed are important for maintaining the health of the liver, the management of alcohol remains central. Alcohol abuse is common in seniors, often serving as a way to cope with the hardships associated with aging, such as death of friends/family, physical pain, and isolation. It can occur without anybody ever knowing. Understanding the dangerous potential of alcohol will help seniors not only reduce their risk of liver problems, but also brain damage, cancer, and even immune system disorders.