Learn the Effects of Hepatitis C on the Body
What the Liver Does
The liver is the largest organ in the body. It rests mainly in the upper right abdomen, just to the right of the stomach. It’s roughly the size of a football and is an important processing center for the entire body.
As blood passes through the liver, toxins like ammonia and alcohol are filtered out so they can’t cause damage to the body. The liver manufactures important substances such as bile so food can be digested and absorbed. Finally, it stores beneficial substances like vitamins and glucose for later use.
Hepatitis C Damages the Liver
A healthy liver performs roughly 500 separate functions, each vital to life. When hepatitis C infects the liver, it damages and eventually kills healthy liver cells. The liver’s tissue, which is dense and smooth when it’s healthy, becomes lumpy and stiff, making it progressively harder for blood to filter through. Eventually, it can’t filter at all.
The body becomes vulnerable to toxins and bacteria. Too much sugar builds up in the blood and a myriad of other vital processes within the body stop, causing illness and eventually, death.
Toxins Aren’t Filtered From the Blood
Many of the foods we consume contain certain poisons or toxins. A healthy liver filters those harmful substances out of the bloodstream, neutralizing and breaking them down, and then sending the by-products into the blood or bile so the body can dispose of them.
An example is ammonia, an end-product of protein metabolism. It’s a poisonous substance, so the liver converts it into urea and sends it to the kidneys. Eventually, it leaves the body as urine. Hepatitis C can impede and finally halt this and other life-saving processes within the body.
Glucose Can’t Be Stored
The liver extracts sugar from the foods we eat and converts it into glucose for storage. When the body needs energy, the liver converts the glucose back into sugar and releases it into the bloodstream. When the liver is damaged by hepatitis C, it can’t convert and store sugar properly or efficiently.
Instead, too much sugar will enter the bloodstream and cause damage throughout the body, some of it irreparable. Type 2 diabetes, which is caused by too much sugar in the blood, can be a result of the liver damage caused by hepatitis C.
Bile Production Is Impaired or Stopped
Hepatitis C can cause damage that prevents the liver from producing bile, a substance that’s vital to digestion. Stored in the gallbladder, bile is a bitter-tasting fluid that breaks fats from food down into fatty acids.
The gallbladder releases bile into the duodenum, the first portion of the intestines. There, it mixes with stomach acid and digestive juices from the pancreas so vitamins, minerals, and nutrients can be absorbed into the bloodstream from the intestines.
Amino Acid Levels Aren’t Regulated
Organic compounds that combine to form proteins and amino acids are the building blocks of life. Amino acids come from the food we eat. They can’t be made by the body, which uses those proteins to break down food, grow, repair body tissue, and perform many other functions that are vital to life.
Among the proteins formed by amino acids are some that convert sugar to glucose and neutralize ammonia. The liver regulates the amount of amino acids released into the bloodstream.
Hemoglobin Can’t Be Processed
Hemoglobin is a protein molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen to all other cells in the body. It also carries iron, the most essential mineral to animal life. Iron helps maintain healthy cells, skin, hair, and nails.
The liver processes and stores iron from the blood for later use. When hepatitis C damages the liver, it becomes less efficient at processing and storing iron. Without it, the body may become iron-deficient.
Hepatitis C Affects the Entire Body
Left untreated, hepatitis C causes damage to the liver that eventually affects the entire body. A healthy liver does everything from fighting infection to digesting food and storing energy in the form of glucose and iron for when the body needs it.
While it may be a decades-long process, the liver damage that hepatitis C does eventually causes liver failure and death.
- Hepatitis C, What does your liver do? (2013, January 3). U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved November 12, 2013 from http://www.hepatitis.va.gov/patient/complications/cirrhosis-what-liver-does.asp.
- Anatomy and Function of the Liver (2013, September 24). Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. Retrieved November 10, 2013 from http://www.lpch.org/DiseaseHealthInfo/HealthLibrary/transplant/liverant.html
- Bile (2013, October 31). National Institutes of Health. National Library of Medicine. Medline Plus. Medical Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 10, 2013 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002237.htm
- Duodenum (2013, October 31). National Institutes of Health. National Library of Medicine. Medline Plus. Medical Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 10, 2013 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002347.htm
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- The Progression of Liver Disease (2011, October 4). American Liver Foundation. Retrieved November 10, 2013 from http://www.liverfoundation.org/abouttheliver/info/progression/