We’re one week in to 2014, and all anyone is still talking about is ‘giving up alcohol’ for a month and giving the body a ‘detox’ in the desperate hope that it makes them feel better and makes right all of the wrongs from December’s over-indulgence. BUT (breaking news!) having a week off, month off, or a ‘Dryathon’ won’t have any affect on your long-term liver health if you drink to harmful levels in February and forget about what you did in January. Without getting embroiled in the debate, we’d like to celebrate how great the liver is, and that it isn’t just a processing factory for alcohol. There are lots of liver conditions out there that are NOT related to alcohol in any way.
It really is important to remember that there are a number of people whose life (and liver) are affected due to no liquid punishment. Liver conditions, regarded as ‘auto-immune’ types, exist, which often have wieldy and cumbersome names, such as Primary Biliary Cirrhosis (PBC), Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC), Obstetric Cholestasis (OC) and Autoimmune Hepatitis (AIH). These conditions are important and they represent roughly 5% of all liver diseases, although no registries exist to estimate the true number.
There are currently no ‘cures’ for these conditions, they are chronic and last a lifetime, and yet they do not get the publicity or recognition from both the general public and the wider medical profession. It also means that the symptoms are often difficult to recognise, and are generally missed for a while by GPs.
And yet, I have met many people with these conditions who manage their symptoms brilliantly, although not without difficulty and effort, and don’t have the option to take a month off after hammering their liver over Christmas.
I remember my first meeting with someone affected by PSC, he ran a support group from London and I’ll call him Ivor (because that was his name), and he said when people phoned him for support they were in a terrible state generally. They had usually just been to see their specialist and been told that they have liver disease, and it’s incurable. When they heard their diagnosis, they stopped listening and started planning their last holiday with their family. Yet when they phoned Ivor, he said ‘yes, it’s incurable, but I’ve had it for 35 years and I’m still talking to you!’
So, when you next hear someone talking about a friend with a liver condition who suggests, regardless of their diagnosis that in no way relates to alcohol, that the person affected ‘must like a tipple’, ‘they are just hiding it’, or ‘I bet they used to drink’ please remind (and correct) them, that its not always about the drink, sometimes it’s about how we are made and who we are.