This Christmas and New Year you may want to consider dialling down the drinking to avoid more than just a nasty hangover. Here’s what to know about liver cirrhosis and alcoholic liver disease, and how you can get your liver through all the festivities as healthily as possible – even if you still plan on drinking.
With the holiday season comes increased alcohol consumption, and the potential liver damage that comes with it. According to DR LIM LEE GUAN, gastroenterologist, senior consultant and clinical director at The Specialist Group, each time the liver is injured – whether by disease or excessive alcohol consumption – it tries to repair itself. During this process, scar tissue forms and, over time, causes cirrhosis – severe scarring that affects the organ’s abilities to function properly, leading to eventual liver failure, cancer or other serious complications. Of course, key to preventing cirrhosis in the first place is avoiding alcoholic liver disease, a type of liver disease caused by excessive alcohol consumption.
The liver and alcohol intake
“In Singapore, alcohol is responsible for a small but important proportion of deaths due to liver disease,” explains Dr Lim. “It accounts for five percent of all deaths due to cirrhosis and other chronic liver diseases, and for 11 percent of all deaths due to liver cancer.”
According to the American College of Gastroenterology, men and women who consume more than three drinks per day and two drinks per day, respectively, for more than five years are at an increased risk of alcoholic liver disease. “In fact, women are more affected by the detrimental effects of alcohol, even at the same levels of alcohol intake as males,” says Dr Lim. This makes women more likely to develop liver damage from alcohol.
Alcohol consumption should therefore be moderated, and patients with cirrhosis should cut down and eventually abstain from alcohol, says Dr Lim.
“The cornerstone in treating any level of alcoholic liver disease is the removal of alcohol from the diet. Abstinence can help to reverse some early stages of liver disease. However, any conditions that have reversed will typically return once alcohol consumption restarts.”
Ways to reduce your risk – realistically
For many of us, abstaining from alcohol completely just isn’t a realistic solution. So, don’t beat yourself up if you can’t say goodbye to booze, especially during the Christmas to New Year’s Day stretch. There are things you can do to manage and minimise your drinking without giving it up for good. Here are three strategies that can help.
#1 Pick and choose – and plan ahead!
“If you have a lot of holiday events, don’t drink at all of them. Sip on some soda water at one, then indulge in a glass of wine at another function the following weekend,” says Dr Lim. This will involve learning to say “no” and may require some planning ahead so you’re more likely to stick with it.
#2 Water it down
“When drinking, alternate alcoholic drinks with a glass of water to slow alcoholic consumption and to hydrate,” suggests Dr Lim. Or, try a wine spritzer with half club soda and half wine!
#3 Focus on the festive activities you love
Make a list of things you enjoy doing over the holidays that don’t involve alcohol – for example, ice skating, cookie decorating or watching Christmas movies with a cup of cocoa. Try scheduling these activities at times when you’re likely to be tempted to treat yourself to a drink, advises Dr Lim.
This article first appeared in the December 2022 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!
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