Our liver is one of the most complex organs in our bodies. It is formed of cells called hepatocytes which carry a wide variety of functions. Liver functions vary from managing our carbohydrates and fats, to the production of proteins including those in our blood and factors that control our blood clotting.
The liver is also critical in storing many of our minerals and vitamins including vitamins A, E and K, as well as iron and copper. It is the main site of processing medications and detoxifying the blood. Liver dysfunction is, therefore, manifested by many symptoms and complaints.
The liver is remarkably resistant to damage and can regenerate at an impressive rate. It takes a lot of damage to cause symptoms of liver disease, and a few agents and organisms can achieve that. Understanding how our liver can be damaged is essential to maintain a healthy liver.
Trends in liver diseases
In the past, most liver diseases resulted from parasites such as bilharziasis or ascariasis as well as viruses such as hepatitis B and C. Alcoholic hepatitis also played a significant role in liver disease. Due to the advent of antiviral medications, safe disposal and use of needles as well as managing parasitic infestations, the incidence of such diseases decreased considerably.
However, our unhealthy lifestyle including excessive consumption of fats and carbohydrates in the form of sweets and fast food plus our sedentary lives sitting all day long and engaging in virtually no exercise led to the development of a new cause for liver disease, collectively known as fatty liver disease.
The impact cannot be overstated. Up to 30% of the population have steatosis, the first stage in fatty liver disease, and this percentage is only set to rise with fewer and fewer people eating healthy foods especially children in whom the disease can be more severe since it starts early on in their life, exposing the liver to more years of damage.