What is Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease?
The liver is an important organ in the body because it has several functions such as filtering toxins from the blood, aiding digestion of food, regulating blood sugar and cholesterol levels and helping to fight infection and disease. This organ can easily adapt to changes and is also capable of regenerating itself. After consumption of alcohol, some liver cells may die; however the liver has the capacity to develop new cells to replenish old ones. Prolonged alcohol consumption over the years can reduce the liver's ability to regenerate new cells, thus causing serious damage to the liver.
Alcoholic fatty liver disease is a medical condition characterized by liver damage which may be caused by alcohol abuse. This medical condition can bring about various signs and symptoms as well as more life-threatening conditions. These signs and symptoms do not often become evident until the liver has severe damage. Symptoms may often include generalized body malaise, weight loss, loss of appetite, yellowing of the eyes and skin or jaundice, swelling of the legs and of the abdomen, confusion, drowsiness, vomiting and bloody stools.
Alcoholic fatty liver disease is caused by many factors. One is drinking large amounts of alcohol over a short period of time. This is also known as binge drinking. Another cause is drinking more than the recommended limits of alcohol over many years further causing hepatitis and cirrhosis which are the more serious types of liver disease. People who drink more than the maximum amounts of alcohol allowed are the ones who are mostly at risk for alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Other risk factors for alcoholic fatty liver disease include being overweight or obese, being female, having a pre-existing liver condition such as hepatitis C and genetics. Alcoholic fatty liver disease tends to run in families.
There are three main stages of alcoholic fatty liver disease. The first stage is alcoholic fatty liver disease and is caused by drinking large amounts of alcohol for a few days. This tends to build up fats in the liver. During this time, the person is not able to feel any symptoms but there is potential for harm. Fatty liver disease is reversible once alcohol intake is stopped.
On the other hand, alcoholic hepatitis is characterized by inflammation of the liver. This is still reversible when consumption of alcohol is stopped. Severe alcoholic hepatitis however is more serious and life-threatening. The final stage of liver disease is cirrhosis which occurs when the liver is scarred too much. Cirrhosis is no longer a reversible medical condition however alcohol consumption during this stage can decrease the risk for further damage and early death. Life-threatening complications of alcoholic fatty liver disease include internal (variceal) bleeding, a build-up of toxins in the brain (encephalopathy), fluid accumulation in the abdomen (ascites) with associated kidney failure and also liver cancer. These complications can all be prevented by stopping alcohol consumption.
Key Protein in Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
There is a new causative link found between a key cell stress response pathway and alcoholic liver disease. This link was found by researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. These researchers have discovered that by blocking a protein called ATF6 (or activating transcription factor) helped prevent alcohol-induced fatty liver disease while over expression of the protein caused the disease to develop in zebrafish. The results of this study were published in the journal PLoS Genetics.
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