How Does The Liver Process Alcohol?

By James Madeiros


The Liver: A Body’s Booze Defense System

The liver is one of the most amazing machines in the human body. The fact that it can purify nearly any fool thing people can dump down their gullets is only the tip of the iceberg for this wonderful lozenge of organ love.

Alcohol is basically a poison to the human body. It is toxic – as in “intoxication” – and without the liver it would kill a person pretty quickly. Thanks to the liver and other processes, however, most people who drink to excess don’t die – at least right away.

It’s easiest to think of the liver as a kind of filter: toxins pass into it in fat-soluble form and leave it in water-soluble form through either the kidneys (urine) or the colon (feces). The crazy thing is that booze is not the only toxin the liver handles. It handles all of them; even the ones that come in through the skin, or the lungs by way of inhalation.

With regard to alcohol, it enters the liver after it is absorbed by the walls of the small intestine. Your liver can metabolize about one-half ounce of pure alcohol an hour (a can of beer, a glass or wine or a 1-ounce shot of liquor), and the rest heads toward other various organs as it is carried around in the blood. This results in intoxication as the leftover hard stuff literally hits you in the heart and the head.

It takes a tricky organ to do this kind of dirty work, which is why the liver can regenerate after injury. Like a salamander’s tail, it can grow back – even if it’s been lopped off in surgery. Even so, if you punish it enough it will quit on you and that’s when the party comes to a screeching halt.

Cirrhosis, the last stage before full-blown liver disease, occurs when a part (or all) of the liver is damaged beyond repair. Scar tissue develops that will not heal, preventing blood flow and disrupting metabolism of toxins.

There is no cure and people are usually pretty protective of their own in a donor situation, so your best bet is to show it at least as much love as it shows you.


Legal Stuff: Of course, we should remind everyone that our blog entries are for your information only and are not intended as medical advice. If you’re going to drink, do it legally and responsibly; don’t be stupid =).

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