From the book: The essential guide to vitamins and
minerals, by Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D., published 1995 by Harper
Collins Publishers, Inc.
The liver is the largest and one of the most important organs in
the body and has the greatest variety of functions. Most of the
nutrients absorbed from the diet are transported directly to the
liver for storage, repackaging, or combining with other
Damage to the liver has profound effects on numerous body
processes, including digestion, absorption, storage, and use of
vitamins and minerals. In addition, the manufacture of proteins
decreases, fat production is altered and results in fat
accumulation in the liver, and the manufacture of enzymes necessary
for the detoxification of alcohol and other poisons is reduced so
that these substances accumulate in the body.
Liver disease causes malnutrition for three reasons. It
- hinders the digestion and absorption of food.
- affects the utilization of nutrients in the body.
- reduces food intake because of nausea, loss of appetite, and
The manufacture, use, and excretion of protein, carbohydrate,
and fat are altered and the absorption and use of numerous vitamins
and minerals are reduced when the liver is not functioning
Adequate intake of vitamin A might help prevent the accumulation of
tough, fibrous tissue in the liver characteristic of disease.
Animals with liver disease show reduced damage to the tissue when
the diet is high in vitamin A as compared to when vitamin A intake
is poor. Long-term and excessive intake of the fat-soluble vitamin
might cause liver enlargement and disease.
Vitamin E supplementation that raises liver concentrations of the
vitamin might prevent liver damage and cirrhosis according to
researchers at the University of Turin in Italy. Rats were
supplemented with vitamin E to levels that raised liver vitamin E
concentrations. The animals were then exposed to carbon
tetrachloride to test whether the pretreatment with vitamin E would
protect against both acute and chronic liver damage and cirrhosis.
Vitamin E supplementation increased the vitamin content of the
liver three-fold and reduced oxidative damage to liver tissue, but
had no protective effect on the development of fatty infiltration
of the liver. Cirrhosis also was significantly prevented in the
vitamin E-supplementation rats. Vitamin E apparently provides
considerable protection from carbon tetrachloride-induced liver
necrosis and cirrhosis, probably by reducing the spread of lipid
oxidation processes and reducing the extent of oxidative liver
Large doses of vitamin K produce jaundice and damage to brain
tissue in infants.
Beta carotene levels are low in patients with liver cirrhosis,
while a diet high in beta carotene might reduce liver damage.
Cirrhosis of the liver often is associated with increased activity
of harmful compounds called free radicals that might increase the
risk of liver cancer. As an antioxidant, beta carotene might
prevent the formation of potentially harmful free radicals
Although hypercholesterolemia is effectively treated by niacin,
researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University warn that the
sustained-release form of niacin is hepatotoxic and the
immediate-release form also might produce negative side
Large doses of biotin over long periods of time might cause
abnormal enlargement of the liver.
Liver damage might be a sign of choline deficiency. Fat fragments
accumulate in the liver because triglycerides must be packaged as
VLDLs (very-low-density lipoproteins) to be transported from the
liver, but VLDLs require phosphatidylcholine to function.
Consequently, VLDLs cannot be exported during choline deficiencies.
Human subjects show liver enzyme dvsfunction and decreased blood
cholesterol (derived from VLDL secreted by the liver) within three
weeks on a choline-deficient diet. These symptoms are reversed
within two to six weeks after lecithin supplementation, which
raises blood choline levels.
An inherited disorder in the use of copper called Wilson's disease
is characterized by excessive accumulation of copper in tissues and
results in reduced liver function. Treatment of Wilson's disease
includes a diet low in copper and the medication penicillamine that
binds to copper and increases its excretion in the intestine.
One study showed that individuals with and without liver disease
have similar intakes of selenium, but those with liver disease have
lower liver and blood levels of the mineral.
Nutritional consequences of liver disease might include reduced
formation of vitamin D, which contributes to osteoporosis,
increased loss of vitamin B6 and possible deficiency and reduced
formation of the protein that transports vitamin A in the blood.
Additionally; increased loss and possible deficiencies of folic
acid, calcium, magnesium, and zinc might occur.
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