The holiday season is a hard one for your liver. Everything you eat and drink is managed by your liver, and while it’s remarkably resilient, the things you consume during December can overwhelm it and cause long-term damage.
Here’s what happens to your liver, and will hopefully inspire you to be kinder to it, and make it to January without too many ill-effects.
The first few drinks
The first couple of drinks gets your liver into gear as it transforms the alcohol into water and carbon dioxide, which you exhale or urinate out. The liver also takes out antioxidants in wine and carbs from beer that it can use to our benefit.
This process is managed seamlessly by the liver, and the metabolism of alcohol creates fatty acids which are then stored as triglycerides until your body can use them up. Eating and drinking in moderation causes no problems, but things get worse for your liver during the party season.
The next few drinks
Constant bingeing means your liver gets shocked and can’t recover, says Christopher Koh, M.D., who is a researcher at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
The more you drink, the faster the liver moves the triglycerides into storage to burn later, but those stored triglycerides soon stack up, and your liver becomes overwhelmed.
This causes inflammation, and eventually death of the liver cells. This leaves scar tissue, and can lead to cirrhosis of the liver. Only three parties in a week through the holiday season can trigger inflammation if each one involves more than five servings of alcohol in two hours.
Lots of rich food
If you’re feeling smug because you rarely drink, this next bit might shock you. You don’t have to drink any alcohol to ruin your liver – eating certain foods can do the same damage.
Seasonal foods such as red meats, sweet treats full of fat and sugar, and lots of refined carbs can lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
Mazen Noureddin, M.D, says that up to 30% of the U.S. population has nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and they don’t know it because there are no symptoms. This means that they aren’t doing anything to reverse the damage until it’s too late.
Help your liver regenerate
The liver can bounce back from a beating, and you don’t need a special detox smoothie to do it. Your liver will naturally recover if you follow up the holidays with a month of no alcohol consumption. You can also help by cutting portion sizes and losing weight – losing only 5% of your weight can reduce fat in your liver by up to 30%.