The liver is a marvelously sophisticated chemical laboratory, capable of carrying out thousands of chemical transformations on which the body depends. The liver produces important chemicals from scratch, modifies others to allow the body to use them better, and neutralizes an enormous range of toxins.
However, this last function of the liver, neutralizing toxins, is also the organ’s Achilles’ heel. The process of rendering toxins harmless to the body at large may bring harm to the liver itself.
Alcohol is the most common chemical responsible for toxic damage to the liver, causing fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis , and, potentially, cirrhosis of the liver . Exposure to industrial chemicals may harm the liver. Many prescription medications may damage the liver as well, including cholesterol-lowering drugs in the statin family and high-dose niacin (also used to reduce cholesterol levels.) The over-the-counter drug acetaminophen (Tylenol) is highly toxic to the liver when taken to excess. Finally, numerous natural herbs and supplements contain chemicals that may cause or accelerate harm to the liver. (See Herbs and Supplements to Use Only With Caution below.)
Chemicals aren’t the only source of harm to the liver. Viruses may infect it, causing viral hepatitis ; hepatitis C, in particular, may become chronic and gradually destroy the liver. In addition, during pregnancy , the liver may become backed up with bile, a condition called cholestasis of pregnancy.