The liver is an awesome organ. It is an important ‘factory and warehouse’ within our body working continuously 24/7 throughout our whole life time. Weighing only about 1.5 kg, it serves a body that’s 50 times its weight. Apart from being workaholic, our liver is also a multi-tasker, carrying out the multiple duties of detoxification, manufacturing and storage of important elements.
It excretes bilirubin, bile, cholesterol, hormones and drugs; manufactures protein and clotting factors; metabolises fats, proteins and carbohydrates; and stores vitamins, minerals and energy in the form of glycogens.
As the name of this largest solid organ suggests, we can’t live without liver. Its continuous functions are essential for maintenance of good health. A sick liver constitutes a sick man. Yet, knowingly or unknowingly, many of us continue to insult our liver mercilessly with excessive consumption of alcohol, excessive eating and sitting with minimal or no exercise. As a result, many of our livers turn fat, sick and dysfunctional.
Currently, about 25 percent of the world population has non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Apart from these, there are another 20 percent fatty liver disease due to alcohol consumption among people who drink 20 grams or more of alcohol per day. Together, they made up 45 percent of our world population. In other words, for every two persons, one of them has fatty liver – the sick liver.
Fatty liver is a quiet disease. It kills quietly and slowly. It progress insidiously over many years until complications set in. As more and more fats accumulate in the liver, it leads to inflammation and scarring of the liver. Gradually the scar tissue replaces most of the normal liver tissue. The liver becomes shrunken and hard with scar tissue. Such liver is called a cirrhotic liver. A cirrhotic liver losses its functions leading to liver failure. When the liver fails to function, the toxins accumulate in the body. They are toxic to other organs especially the brain and kidney. In the United States, fatty liver is the third leading cause of liver cancer.
The progression of fatty liver disease is so slow that many of them do not live long enough to die of complications of liver failure or liver cancer. Nonetheless, most of them are killed prematurely by heart attack, stroke, etc. – the complications of the syndrome that is closely associated with fatty liver. This syndrome known as metabolic syndrome is a syndrome of excess fat around the waist, high blood sugar, high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol and triglycerides. All these four disorders that collectively form the syndrome are themselves risk factors of NAFLD.
Over the past three decades, modernisation has led to changing lifestyles and dietary habits among Asians that have made almost half of them fat or have fatty liver disease. Old Asians had little time to sit and little money to buy food. The new Asians sit far too long and eat far too much of high fat/energy food. Such behaviours invariably led to increasing obesity and NAFLD. This is confirmed by several Asian studies that have revealed a close relationship between a sedentary lifestyle and the risk of NAFLD development.
Westernisation of traditional Asian diet is BAD for health. While the West is campaigning against fast food and soft drinks, many Asians are picking up what Westerners are throwing away. The rapidly changing dietary pattern in Asia, particularly among the young where the percentages of energy derived from fat have increased over time, has been associated with NAFLD development. In addition, dietary fructose consumption in soft drinks has increased in tandem with the increasing number of obesity and NAFLD in Asia.
What shall these people do to save their liver or perhaps ‘save their lives’?
Well, get up early and move. Keep moving as much as possible like what our ancestors had been doing during the caveman’s era. Declare war against the consumption of soft drinks packed with a high quantity of fructose and high fat/energy foods from fast food outlets. Eat more fish, rich in omega 3 fatty acids, grains, nuts, vegetables, legumes and fruits. Avoid excessive consumption of alcoholic drinks, which is by itself a major cause of fatty liver disease and liver cancer.
In the overzealous pursuit of wealth, men had often forgotten their health. While the pursuit of wealth is important, health should not be neglected. When we are poor, we have to keep ourselves fit and healthy to enable us to work for our living. When we are already rich, always remember that HEALTH is our greatest wealth. Without good health we shall never enjoy our wealth.
My next column will be on “The ‘helicopter’ in the stomach”.
Dr. Victor Ti, MD, MFAM (Malaysia), FRACGP (Australia), Dip P Dermatology (UK), Dip STDs/AIDS (Thailand), Dip. AARAM (USA), LCP of Aesthetic Med.(Malaysia) is an experienced expat specialist generalist (Family Physician) of BH Clinic, Phnom Penh. As a specialist generalist, he is skillful at diagnosing all general diseases, excluding the sinister ones. Apart from the general diseases, Dr. Victor is also known for his skills in skin diseases, sexually transmitted diseases, minor surgery and aesthetic medicine. He can be contacted via email [email protected] Tel: 023900446 or Whatsapp: +60164122977