October is Liver Awareness Month. We are celebrating by helping our readers understand more about our body’s “workhorse” and the common diseases that can impact it. The liver is not only essential to our overall health but also to sustaining our lives.
The Many Hats of the Liver
Your liver performs around 500 different functions making it one of the hardest working organs in the body. It is the heaviest organ, weighing an average of 3.5 pounds. One of the most critical functions is how it filters toxins and other byproducts from what we consume. A healthy liver controls the amount of minerals and vitamins in the blood. It also produces bile necessary for digestion, especially fats and some vitamins.
There are over 100 kinds of liver diseases, but most cause damage to the liver and progress the same. They can be caused by:
- Infection, such as hepatitis B and C
- Genetic mutations
- Autoimmune reactions
- Drug toxicity
The rise in obesity in the United States has led to a surge in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). NAFLD is caused by excess fat accumulation in the liver. Chronic alcohol abuse can cause fatty liver, but unhealthy diets and lack of activity have led to a growing epidemic of fatty liver disease not related to alcohol.
The body’s immune system can trigger chronic liver inflammation from the excess fat and can begin to injure and scar the liver. Eventually, this can end up developing into nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). NASH is a more severe form of fatty liver disease and places individuals at higher risk for developing cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure.
Opening Options for Severe Liver Disease
The only current treatment for end-stage liver disease is a liver transplant. However, not everyone will qualify for a transplant, and there is a limit to the availability of donor’s livers. We need better options. Current research efforts have several focuses, including:
- Ways for identifying liver disease early
- Preserving liver function in liver disease patients
- Developing new treatment options, including transplants performed with liver tissue from living donors.
If you have severe liver disease, you can help in the effort to improve options as a clinical research study volunteer. Study participants learn more about their condition, receive expert care from study staff, and may qualify for time and travel reimbursement. They also potentially gain access to cutting-edge treatment options not yet available to the public. Call Clinical Pharmacology of Miami today at (305) 817-2900, or visit our website.