The Development of Alcoholic Liver Disease
Cirrhosis of the liver results from long-term alcohol abuse or from damage by diseases like hepatitis. In the early stages of liver disease, you can respond with proper lifestyle changes (or treatment in the case of hepatitis) and fully reverse the condition. You cannot reverse full-blown cirrhosis, though, so it’s important to catch problems early and take action to fix them.
Chronic alcohol abusers overwork their livers. The liver processes the alcohol, and over time, is damaged by it. Liver disease due to alcohol abuse occurs in three stages: fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis.
Treating Fatty Liver Disease
In the first stage, extra fat deposits build up in the liver. All by itself, fatty liver disease is not dangerous. It’s a harbinger of things to come—an early warning that gives you an opportunity to reverse your course and prevent further damage to your liver.
When diagnosed with fatty liver disease, you should stop drinking and start exercising. A lower alcohol intake slows the damage and exercise helps to burn off the fat within the liver more quickly. Most people of any age can reverse their fatty liver disease within a year by taking these two steps.
Treating Alcoholic Hepatitis
The second stage of alcohol-induced liver disease is more serious. Alcoholic hepatitis results in inflammation and cellular damage. If you’re diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis, the most important thing you can do is stop drinking completely. Any amount of alcohol can prevent recovery or lead to further damage.
In addition to eliminating alcohol consumption, a person with alcoholic hepatitis should quit smoking and avoid any other drugs except for those prescribed by a doctor. Your doctor may recommend you work with a dietician to establish a diet that will support your liver as it recovers.
The recovery time from alcohol-induced hepatitis varies widely depending on your age, but you can expect it to take a year or more.
Coping With Cirrhosis
Full-blown cirrhosis means that scar tissue has formed within the liver. You can’t undo scar tissue and repair the damage, but you can prevent further damage and support the cells that are still healthy.
To prevent further damage to your liver, you must make a lifetime commitment to alcohol abstinence. To support your remaining healthy liver cells, you should eat a diet low in carbohydrates and rich in nutrients. Enlist the help of a licensed dietician or doctor to help you establish a diet that is best for your specific needs.
Many antioxidants such as vitamin C and E can offer some protection to your healthy liver cells. The herbal supplements SAMe and milk thistle may also be of some help. It’s important to discuss these alternative treatments with your doctor to determine what is best for your individual needs.
Liver disease is very serious and cirrhosis can be fatal. Act early to prevent cirrhosis, so that you can enjoy a long life with a healthy liver.