10th January 2012, NST – For love of the liver


By Sushma Veera, NST

Many tend to neglect their liver, not realising that this organ needs their care so it can perform at its best. This triangular-shaped organ, located at the right hypochondrium (right side of the upper abdomen) serves as the body’s filter, garbage disposal and attentive gatekeeper to the heart, which are among its 500 roles. Associate Professor Dr Loong Yik Yee of Universiti Putra Malaysia says the liver works round the clock without any break. It is usually overlooked — until the damage has been done.


Dr Loong, a consultant physician and gastroenterologist, says the liver is the most hardworking organ in the body. It is always multi-tasking and usually won’t “complain” until it is unable to cope. “In fact, the liver starts working before one is born. While the mother is carrying the baby, the liver works to produce red blood cells and protein,” he explains. About the size of an American football and weighing between 1.2kg and 1.8kg, the liver plays a vital role in regulating life processes. “Its main functions are to produce substances that break down fats, convert glucose to glycogen, and control the production and excretion of cholesterol. It also filters harmful substances from the blood (such as alcohol), stores vitamins and minerals, and maintains a proper level of glucose in the blood,” says Dr Loong. He was speaking at the launch of the health campaign Your Essential Liver Is Your Life, by Essentiale, a liver health supplement.


A healthy liver is usually reddish-brown in colour, soft and smooth. When damaged, it turns yellowish, shrinks and hardens. When the liver is overworked, it will display symptoms that correlate with the nature of the “overactivity”. Bad lifestyle habits such as a poor diet, lack of exercise, stress, smoking and routine alcohol consumption also affect the functions of the liver. In terms of liver problems, it can be cholestasis, fatty infiltration, hepatitis, fibrosis, cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or liver cancer. The condition can progress from one stage to another and can be fatal. “Some liver diseases are inherited, due to genetic defects such as hemochromatosis and Wilson’s disease. Others are acquired, due to lifestyle. For example, if a person consumes an excessive amount of alcohol, then the liver will have problems removing the byproducts, which can harm the liver cells and lead to cell death and scarring,” explains Dr Loong.


Having a healthy diet and exercising regularly can help the liver to function well. Dr Loong suggests: “Modify your food habits. It’s essential to have a healthy diet comprising fresh fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains. Regular exercise, coupled with good rest and sound sleep, is also important.” He also stresses that heavy alcohol consumption can cause swelling of the liver, or alcoholic hepatitis. When it comes to medication, he says it’s important to know if the medication can result in side effects. “While most medicines are metabolised by the liver or kidney, some may not be suitable to the individual. It’s best to check with the doctor,” advises Dr Loong.


According to Dr Loong, liver supplements, theoretically, can help protect and boost the health of the liver. Supplements such as Essentiale Forte N contain highly purified essential phospholipids derived from soya beans that can help protect the liver. Essentiale Forte N is produced by leading healthcare company Sanofi.

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