It’s often hard to visualize the nasty side-effects of over-drinking, especially when its most immediate effects often seem to drift away after a few pints of water and an apologetic text.
However, if you need a nudge to prove that regular heavy drinking causes serious havoc with your body, look no further than these two human livers: one that belonged to a healthy person and one that has faced a life of alcohol abuse.
The shocking video comes from a segment on the TV show Dr Drew's Life Changers. Host Dr Drew Pinsky shows two heavy drinkers the cross-sections of two livers in the hopes of getting them to rethink their drinking habits.
Judging by their reactions, it worked. While the healthy liver looks relatively uniform, smooth, and rich in color, the alcohol-damaged liver appears grey, scarred, and downright ill.
Liver cirrhosis is about as fun as it looks. One of your liver’s many jobs is to help break down alcohol, but when it’s consistently overloaded with work, toxins can build up and damage the liver cells. This results in scarring that consists of irregular bumps replacing the smooth liver tissue. The liver also becomes hardened and loses its natural reddish coloring.
As the illness slowly progresses, people will become increasingly weak, develop yellow skin, bruise easily, and experience a massive fluid build up in the abdomen. Patients in later stages of the disease will even experience a debilitating form of brain damage called hepatic encephalopathy. Alcohol-induced cirrhosis eventually goes on to kill over 350,000 people in the US each year.
As Dr Drew correctly points out, women are more at risk to cirrhosis than men because they generally have lower levels of the alcohol-metabolizing enzyme in the stomach called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH).
“Essentially every woman I’ve treated who drinks like either of you do has some degree of alcoholic liver disease,” Drew tells the two young women. “I can’t say that you have cirrhosis – not everybody gets cirrhosis, but I worry that you are at risk for cirrhosis.”
It isn’t just your liver you are putting on the line if you hit the bottle too hard. A scientific study released last month found that even very casual over-drinking can have some profoundly negative effects on your heart health.
The study found that people who regularly drink over 12.5 units of alcohol a week, that’s around five large beers or five glasses of wine, are at a significantly higher risk of cardiovascular problems, including stroke, aortic aneurysm, fatal hypertensive disease, and heart failure. Even just a few too many drinks each week will eventually lead to a shorter life expectancy.