The Dark Relationship Between Alcohol and the Liver

by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM Published on , Last Updated on May 13, 2013

alcoholic drinks

The liver is one of the most robust and capable organs in the body. It has to be, its function is to process toxins that have entered the body. However, some toxins, like alcohol, can be too much for the liver to process in excessive amounts. Despite the fact that many people do consume alcohol without immediate repercussion, it’s important to understand the hardline facts of what alcohol is, what the liver does, and how one affects the performance of the other.

Alcohol is processed differently than food; the stomach and intestines do not contribute to the digestion of alcohol, the liver does. Alcohol is a small molecule and passes directly through the membranes of the digestive system into the bloodstream to the liver. The liver receives almost all the blood flow from the digestive tract; hence the quick effect that happens when you drink alcohol; it’s been absorbed directly and the liver is receives most of it. The highest concentration of alcohol are found in blood flowing through the liver.

How the Liver Metabolizes Alcohol

The liver is the only organ in your body that can metabolize alcohol. Enzymes secreted by liver cells recognize alcohol as a toxin. In an attempt to break down it down, one enzyme in particular, acetate dehydrogenase, transmutes alcohol into a substance known as acetaldehyde. Unfortunately, acetaldehyde is even more toxic than alcohol and it’s damage is not limited to the liver. Acetaldehyde can combine with liver proteins to form toxic compounds that impair other cellular components and enzymes in the body. Eventually, acetaldehyde is metabolized into acetate which metabolizes into carbon dioxide and, finally, water. Your body then discharges this stuff through the lungs, urine, and perspiration.

How Alcohol Affects the Liver

The Liver Center of Excellence, Virginia Mason Medical Center doesn’t mince words in their analysis, stating that alcohol consumption is often a factor in chronic liver diseases and may exacerbate liver problems. Alcohol increases inflammation in the liver and accelerates fibrosis. Or, rather, scarring. To top it off, alcohol increases the risk for liver cancer and death from liver disease. [1] Although the liver is the primary target, to a degree, regular alcohol consumption irreparably damages nearly every organ. [2]

Alcohol offers no nutritional value to the body, yet it is high in empty calories which provide no nutritional benefit to the body. Alcohol is converted to fat that accumulates in the liver and, to a degree, all who consume alcohol will get fat deposits. Fatty liver can progress to alcoholic hepatitis which can progress to cirrhosis. [2]

Your Liver May Be Getting a Beating

Think it only happens to other people? Think again. It’s sobering to learn that alcohol-induced liver damage is usually not evident. The liver has the capacity to regenerate and surviving with only 10-20% of liver function isn’t unheard of. Liver efficacy on a constant decline can sometimes cause the symptoms of liver disease unnoticed until it has progressed substantially How many people probably thought their alcohol consumption was harmless- only to later be shocked by a liver disease diagnosis? Balancing the pleasures of today with the consequence of tomorrow is a delicate scale.

3 Things You Can Do Immediately

  1. Stop drinking alcohol.
  2. Eat foods that known to support the liver.
  3. Perform a full liver cleansing to combat the effect of toxins on your liver.


  1. Lee M, Kowdley KV. Alcohol’s effect on other chronic liver diseases. Clin Liver Dis. 2012 Nov;16(4):827-37. doi: 10.1016/j.cld.2012.08.010. Review.
  2. Ströhle A, Wolters M, Hahn A. [Alcohol intake–a two-edged sword. Part 1: metabolism and pathogenic effects of alcohol]. Med Monatsschr Pharm. 2012 Aug;35(8):281-92; quiz 293-4. Review. German.

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