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Alcohol is linked to more than 60 different medical conditions, are your drinking habits damaging your health?
Many of us enjoy an alcoholic drink or two after a long day at work or out socialising with friends. Other than a few ill-effects such as feeling worse for wear the next morning or putting on a little bit of weight, we often forget, or are unaware of the unseen damage that alcohol can cause to our bodies.
After drinking alcohol, around 30% is absorbed straight into the blood through the stomach. The rest is absorbed into the blood at a slower rate through the small intestine. Once in the blood, alcohol can move into nearly every tissue in the body. Because of this, alcohol is linked to more than 60 different medical conditions. Long-term heavy drinking can increase the risk of various cancer types such as mouth, throat and bowel cancer. Alcohol is also capable of lowering the body’s white blood cell count, which weakens the immune system. Of all the organs affected, the liver is particularly susceptible to alcohol-related injury because 90% of alcohol metabolism occurs here.
The liver is the largest internal organ and is responsible for many crucial processes in the body including removing toxins, fighting infections and aiding digestion. In small amounts, the liver can break down alcohol. However, if the liver is exposed to high levels, it is not able to break it down quickly enough and the excess alcohol can cause damage to the liver. Over time high levels of alcohol can cause the accumulation of fat in the liver which increases inflammation and causes scar tissue to form. This can eventually lead to the development of liver disease. Liver disease doesn't usually cause any major signs or symptoms until it's advanced and the liver is badly damaged. Although it is true that the liver can develop new cells, prolonged alcohol consumption over many years can reduce its ability to regenerate, resulting in severe and permanent damage to the liver.
Many assume that it is only those who depend on alcohol and drink way beyond the recommended limit that develop liver problems, but this is not the case. Moderate drinking over a prolonged length of time can also damage the liver. To minimise the health risks that alcohol can cause, it is advised that both men and women should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week. However, while overall levels of alcohol consumption are falling, around 2.5 million people in the UK drink more than 14 units on their heaviest-drinking days.
It is usually in the New Year after a couple of alcohol-fuelled weeks over the Christmas period that we are concerned about the health of our liver when we are feeling slightly guilty about the amount of alcohol we have consumed. Although yes, it is good to check the health of our liver after a period of heavy drinking, it is also necessary to see if our usual drinking habits are having a negative effect to allow us to make any necessary changes before things get worse.
Our Liver Check is a comprehensive examination of liver enzymes such as gamma GT (GGT), alanine transferase (ALT) and aspartate transferase (AST) which can be raised if the liver is damaged. Our Liver Check is the perfect test for those who want to find out if their lifestyle is damaging their liver.
For a more comprehensive screen, our Well Man Ultravit and Well Woman Ultravit tests include a liver check along with tests for C-reactive protein, a cholesterol status and vitamins D, B12 and folate. All these tests are useful in determining the health of our liver and giving you the power to take control of your health.