In humans, the liver is very important because of the
numerous functions it performs. Scientists say this
vital organ, being one of the largest in humans,
detoxifies the body by ridding it of harmful
substances, while it also produces the biochemical
substances that are necessary for proper digestion of
The presence of a healthy liver in the body is what
makes the blood what it is, experts say, as the liver
produces the albumin – a major component of blood
A General Practitioner, Dr. Daniel Ogunboyejo, says
when a woman is pregnant, in the first three months,
the liver is the main site of red blood cell production
in the foetus. And even after the baby is born, this
organ produces the hormone that plays an important
role in the child’s growth and continues to aid the
building up of organs and tissues in adults.
Ogunboyejo also notes that when a person’s blood
pressure becomes low (hypotension), the liver,
working in tandem with the kidneys, produces
angiotensinogen – a hormone that is responsible for
raising the blood pressure when activated by another
enzyme (renin) that is released when the kidney
senses low blood pressure.
Experts say the liver is thought to be responsible for
up to 500 separate functions, usually in combination
with other systems and organs. And that is why they
conclude that this organ is necessary for survival, as
there is no way to compensate for its absence in the
body in the long term.
Scientists say the liver is basically the ‘body’s filter.’
The function of the liver is to process medications,
alcohol, and other such chemicals and toxins and
remove them from the body. “Therefore, anything
you put into your body will, at some point and in
some form, pass through the liver,” Ogunboyejo
At a media briefing about Hepatitis C, a specialist in
hepatology, gastroenterology and endoscopy, Dr.
Aderemi Oluyemi, warns that numerous activities can
jeopardise the liver, leading to damages that are
sometimes irreversible unless the patient goes for
liver transplantation – an extreme and expensive
procedure that is not available in the country.
How can you damage your liver? These ways…
Abusing anabolic steroids
Many people, especially athletes, body builders and
weight lifters, use anabolic steroids without
supervision by a competent physician. Yet experts
say these synthetic variants of the male sex hormone
(testosterone), if used regularly and for a long
period, can raise the risk of developing liver cancer
as well as some other cancers.
It can also result in liver tumours; the liver may be
enlarged, become deep red in colour and fragile.
“It may also lead to haemorrhagic cystic
degeneration of the liver – a rare condition that
requires urgent surgery,” Ogunboyejo notes.
Unguarded antibiotics, painkiller use
Many of the over-the-counter drugs that we use
casually without consulting the doctor affect our liver
the way we don’t imagine, Ogunboyejo says.
For instance, physicians say drugs used to treat
epilepsy (anticonvulsants), cholesterol-lowering
drugs (statins), acetaminophen (painkillers) and
isotretinoin (used to treat severe acne) all have
terrible effects on the liver.
Worse still, a study published in the journal
Gastroenterology also shows that of all types of
prescription drugs, antibiotics are the ones most
likely to cause liver damage.
Ogunboyejo laments that in most cases, people don’t
just take these drugs in isolation; rather, they may
combine two at a time. For instance, it isn’t
improbable for people to take a combination of
antibiotics and paracetamol. “In which case, you
increase your risks of liver damage exponentially,”
the doctor warns.
The physician therefore counsels, “If you have
recently finished a course of antibiotics, or if you
have been taking them long-term, it is vital to ask
your doctor for a liver function test to determine the
health of your liver.”
According to Diabetologist/Medical Director,
Rainbow Specialist Medical Centre, Lekki Phase 1, Dr.
Afokoghene Isiavwe, people who are diabetic are
more likely to develop liver damage than people with
normal blood sugar level.
“More than people probably realise, diabetes has
terrible effects on the liver. That is why I recommend
that every diabetic has a blood test and ultrasound to
check on the health of their liver annually,” she
She adds that the closer you are to a healthy body
weight, and the closer to normal your blood sugar
level is, the better your liver’s health.
Impure water, alcohol use
What is the source of the water you drink? For the
average Nigerian, we source our water from
privately-owned wells or boreholes, which may not
be bad enough if the wells are up to standard depth
and the water sweet, odourless and colourless.
However, many people don’t know the ‘texture’ of
their water, which may be hard or soft.
A study carried out by Scottish researchers show that
those who drink ‘soft’ water and who also consume
alcohol risk developing Alcoholic Liver Disease – a
Soft water is water which has relatively low
concentration of calcium carbonate and other ions. It
lathers with soap easily and contains few or no
minerals such as calcium or magnesium ions.
The study author/liver transplant surgeon, Prof.
Roger Williams, says those who drink soft water are
exposed to the risk of liver damage because such
waters contain lower levels of magnesium – the
mineral that helps to protect the liver from the
effects of alcohol.
But even on its own, Alcoholic Liver Disease occurs
after years of heavy drinking, says a nutritionist, Dr.
Tobi Lawrence. “Alcohol can cause inflammation in
the liver; and over time, scarring and cirrhosis can
occur. Cirrhosis is the final phase of alcoholic liver
disease,” she counsels.
Lawrence notes that the longer the time you have
been using alcohol, the higher your chances of
getting liver disease go up.
“It is also based on the more alcohol you consume,”
she warns; advising that even those who claim to be
moderate drinkers can still have damaged liver if it’s
a habit they persist in for a long period.
Smoking is harmful to virtually every organ in your
body. Scientists say there are over 60 chemicals in
cigarette smoke, all of which have the potential to
affect and disturb all parts of the human anatomy.
These chemicals prevent the liver from performing
its main function by making it to age and become less
efficient at removing toxins from the body.
Lawrence says foods that are processed and contain
lots of preservatives, fats and cholesterol can cause
the liver to become clogged with fat residue. Avoid
processed, deep fried or fatty foods such as sausage,
bacon, corned beef, etc., to allow the liver to unblock
itself and regenerate its cells.
Symptoms of liver damage
Symptoms of liver diseases include weakness and
fatigue, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, and yellow
discolouration of the skin (jaundice).