The Whole Liver And Nothing But The Liver

There were more mixed messages for drinkers at the start of the new year; with the latest misinformation to feature in the media. The British Liver Trust has called on GPs to ask their patients more lifestyle questions and to offer a simple test to establish liver function. So far, so good. But, of course, the anti-alcohol bandwagon rolls on and the story was handily illustrated with a pint of lager.

Why? Because the age of death from liver disease is steadily decreasing. According to Andrew Langford, chief executive of the Trust: “It used to be in the 60s, now it is 58, and by 2020 we would expect it to be about 50.” And the main cause of liver disease is long-term abuse of alcohol. That’s why alcoholics get cirrhosis. Everyone knows that. QED.

But hold on, haven’t we busted the binge-drinking Britain myth before? Aren’t people drinking less than ever before? Yes, but you have to face the fact that between 2003 and 2010 alcohol-related hospital admissions doubled. Well yes, but isn’t that widely accepted as merely the result of changes in reporting procedures and aren’t the government looking to change that?

Ok, but we’re still left with alcohol as the biggest single danger to liver function. Indeed...but not by much and not for much longer. Firstly, as the Trust makes clear on its website, there are other causes of liver disease. Viruses, cancer, adverse reactions to medicine and plain old genetics can all cause it. And even cirrhosis is not exclusive to boozing too much; iron overload, copper overload, metabolic disease, fat and autoimmune conditions can also account for it.

Whilst alcohol is clearly linked with liver damage in the public mind, it appears the greatest threat is actually obesity. "Lack of exercise and being overweight builds up the fat in your liver," said Langford. "You are increasing the pressure on your liver. These two things combined can create cirrhosis. It is a myth that cirrhosis is always caused by alcohol."

Drinking is on the decline but obesity figures just keep on getting bigger and, er, bigger. It’s already replaced alcohol as the single biggest factor in the USA and it’s coming over here. Experts predict that, by 2020, it could be the same in Britain. Remember that year? Yes, it’s the same year that they’ve predicted that age of death from liver disease will have sunk to 50. Coincidence? I think not.

So the mesaage is clear. You can still have that Jack Daniels, but just not with a Big Mac.


Paul Bailey said…
Certain prescription drugs aren't particularly kind on the liver either, but the medical profession are strangely quiet on this one!

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