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Chemicals & Organisms that Affect the Liver


Though the liver is a hearty organ, it can be adversely affected by a number of drugs and chemicals. A few parasitic organisms have also been known to cause liver problems in humans.

Chemicals and Drugs That Affect the Liver

There are many drugs that can cause liver problems when misused or overused. Nearly 1,000 drugs have been shown to cause liver damage! Though many of these medications have been removed from the market, others continue to be manufactured. In many cases, the liver damage caused by medications can only be detected by liver function tests (LFTs). A whopping 5% of emergency-room admissions and 50% of all acute liver failure cases are the result of drug-induced liver damage. As such, it is incredibly important to understand the adverse effects that drugs and chemicals can have on the liver.

Acetaminophen, often marketed as Tylenol, is the most commonly-used hepatotoxic drug on the market. Accidentally overdosing on acetaminophen can overwhelm the glutathione pathway in the liver. A toxin found in the drug them begins to accumulate in the liver, causing damage to the organ.

Another well-known drug that affects the liver is Isoniazid. This drug, which is used to treat tuberculosis, is known to cause elevated liver enzyme levels in many patients. Severe hepatotoxicity has been observed in roughly 2% of patients using the drug.

Other chemicals not generally found in drugs can adversely impact the liver as well. Arsenic, for instance, is sometimes found in contaminated tap water or foods. This carcinogenic drug can pile up in the liver and may lead to cancer.

Aflatoxins are naturally-occurring substances frequently found in the soil of tropical regions. Unfortunately, these chemicals can sometimes affect crops growing in these areas. Grains, nuts, and spices grown in moist, humid regions of the world are prone to being infected with aflatoxins. Though most affected individuals live in these parts of the world, individuals can sometimes be affected by exported goods contaminated with aflatoxins. High or frequent exposure to these substances can ultimately lead to cirrhosis, necrosis, or cancer of the liver.

Carbon tetrachloride is another particularly hepatotoxic chemical. This substance was once used in fire extinguishers and as a pesticide, but has been banned in most developed countries since the 1970s. The chemical has been shown to cause severe fulminant hepatic necrosis amongst other health conditions.

Organisms that Affect the Liver

There are a few parasites that are known to adversely affect the liver. Trichinosis is perhaps the most common of these parasites. Trichinosis is acquired when an individual eats undercooked meats. Generally, the parasite is found in pork. The parasite impacts the liver’s bile ducts and may cause long-term liver damage.

Trematodes, also known as liver flukes, are another such parasite. These flatworms can cause damage to the liver as well as other organs. Liver flukes can be acquired by eating fish, seaweed, or other organisms living in fluke-invested waterways.

Schistosomiasis is another parasite that can damage the liver. This parasite, which is acquired from swimming in infested waters, damages the veins in the liver, ultimately leading to cirrhosis.

Though most individuals will not suffer from drug-related liver injury or parasite infections during their lives, it is good to be aware of such conditions. Always consider what you are putting into your body. The things you consume can affect you more than you know.

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