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How To Protect Yourself Against Liver Damage

A study published in the July 5th, 2006 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that taking the maximum recommended dose of Tylenol (acetaminophen) for fourteen consecutive days can cause acute liver damage.

Medical researchers who co-ordinated this study had 106 participants take 4 grams of acetaminophen (the equivalent of eight 500 mg tablets of extra-strength Tylenol) every day for two weeks. Thirty-nine participants received placebo pills.

The key results were as follows:

  • Among the particpants who took acetaminophen, almost 40 percent showed signs of acute liver damage
  • Those who showed signs of acute liver damage continued to show signs of liver stress four days after they stopped taking acetaminophen; it took a full eleven days for their liver enzymes to return to normal levels

Why is your liver so susceptible to damage by acetaminophen? Because almost everything that enters your mouth, travels down your digestive tract, and gets absorbed into your blood stream must travel directly to and through your liver before it travels through the rest of your circulatory system.

Your liver acts as a processing plant. It receives everything that you put into your mouth and that ends up in your blood stream, does its best to sort out useful nutrients and harmful substances, and then packages these nutrients and harmful substances to be delivered to your cells and eliminated from your body, respectively.

When certain drugs like those that contain acetaminophen reach your liver for processing, they can cause direct injury to your liver cells, sparking an inflammatory reaction that leads to increased production of liver enzymes, which a standard blood test can detect. If your liver cells are injured repeatedly, they can go through a series of degenerative changes, the last ones being cirrhosis (hardening) and cancer of the liver.

Medical drugs that list liver damage as a potential "side" effect and all forms of alcohol are the two groups of substances that can most efficiently and predictably cause liver damage in the fashion described above.

Protecting yourself against liver damage must begin with avoidance of said medical drugs (whenever possible and under the guidance of your doctor) and alcohol. It's true that not everyone who takes medical drugs and drinks alcohol regularly over many years ends up with irreversible liver damage. Genetics and lifestyle changes can help to ward off liver damage despite a history of alcohol and drug use. Still, you should be aware that any amount of these two substances can and do heap unnecessary stress onto your liver cells.

Beyond doing your best to avoid drugs and alcohol, here are some additional steps that you can take to protect yourself against liver damage:

  1. Stay away from foods that are high in unhealthy fats and/or sugar. Donuts, deep fried fast food, and soda are three of the worst foods for your liver. And yes, chicken McNuggets and McChicken sandwiches are deep fried.

  2. Eat mainly fresh, minimally processed foods. Focus on green vegetables and produce that comes in rich colors like field tomatoes, carrots, avocado, mango, blueberries, and blackberries. These richly colored fruits and vegetables contain naturally occurring antioxidants that can help to protect your liver cells against physical injury.
  3. Use extreme caution and common sense when it comes to being physically intimate with another person. Hepatitis B and C are viruses that can cause significant liver damage. These viruses live in all body fluids, including blood and seminal fluids.
  4. Be aware that hepatitis C is most commonly spread via blood, and can be acquired through contaminated needles used for IV drug injections, body piercing, and tattooing.
  5. Strive to stay away from chemicals of all types, particularly pesticide and insecticide sprays, which can inflict direct damage to your liver cells once they make their way into your blood stream. Many chemicals are capable of entering your blood stream through your skin, so try to use on your skin only those products that you feel comfortable eating.

One final note: if you rely on regular intake of acetaminophen to deal with intolerable pain, I encourage you to try taking a high quality cod liver oil or fish oil for their omega-3 fatty acids, which can be extremely effective at decreasing inflammation.


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