It’s unsettling: Even a young woman who doesn’t drink can get cirrhosis of the liver.
The risk of non-alcoholic liver cirrhosis does not equally apply to men.
How young can a non-drinking woman get cirrhosis of the liver?
Early 20s and even teens.
This will seem very shocking to many people simply because cirrhosis of the liver has become, in modern culture, synonymous with heavy drinking – especially among men.
However, autoimmune hepatitis, which is not caused by liquor and is more common in women, can lead to liver cirrhosis if untreated. And it can start at a young age, too.
And then there’s primary biliary cirrhosis, which can strike women in their late 40s and 50s as well as at a younger age.
A third condition that strikes only women is intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy, which can pave a path to future cirrhosis.
Liver cirrhosis can lead to a need for a liver transplant.
Nobody knows why women are more likely to develop these conditions. Estrogen is believed to be a possible contributing factor with environmental factors and genetics.
Postmenopausal Liver Disease
Women often hear how the reduced level of estrogen after menopause can negatively impact bone and heart health.
Seldom do they hear that it can also negatively affect liver health. And all without drinking.
Of course, drinking can make the risk worse, leading to a condition called alcoholic fatty liver disease.
But in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, drinking is not required to eventually lead to a cirrhotic liver.
NAFLD can also affect men and kids, but menopause is a risk factor. However, added risk from menopause is not via a direct connection.
Hepatologist Jamile Wakim-Fleming, MD, says in a mayoclinic.com report that following menopause, “women in general are at risk of gaining more weight because of hormonal changes and because they may not exercise as much.”
Excess fat in the body is bad for the health, despite what throngs of “body positivity” promotors want you to believe.
It’s just plain bad, even if an overweight woman’s fasting blood sugar is in the 70s, resting pulse is in the 60s and total cholesterol is 148.
While these numbers are great, they can’t protect the liver from what excess body fat can do to it.
“When women gain weight, fat accumulates in the liver cells,” says Dr. Wakim-Fleming in the report.
Fat accumulation = a toxic ambience for the liver, potentially causing fibrosis…then cirrhosis. And guess what: Cirrhosis of the liver can lead to liver cancer.
A woman is not protected from a very sick liver just because she never drinks.
But as already mentioned, drinking will heighten the chances of developing a very ill liver. This is especially true if she takes medications including over the counter.
Due to a woman’s body being, on average, smaller than a man’s and with a higher percentage of fat, her risk is higher than a man’s.
This is why the general recommendations for liquor consumption are “one glass” a day for women and two for men.
But beware: The inept descriptor of “glass” actually refers to four ounces.
Can a non-drinking woman reverse cirrhosis once she has it?
No. Can’t be done. But there is a “cure”: a liver transplant.
Women in college who feel healthy and vivacious need to start thinking about cirrhosis of the liver. They absolutely must limit liquor intake. Its effect on the liver is cumulative.
Ever hear someone say, “I’ve been drinking for 40 years and never had a problem, so the problem I have NOW can’t possibly be related to my drinking”?
Guess what: It took 40 years to get that way. You can’t get back that 40 years. But if you’re young, you can make decisions today to avoid a path that, 40 years (or much sooner) from now, will bring you doom.
If you live in a college dorm and like to party, then for Pete’s sake, limit the alcohol to four ounces a day. If you feel “peer pressure” to drink more, here’s how to combat that.
If you’re older, don’t assume that cutting back on drinking won’t make a difference. It most definitely will.
• Cut back on processed foods.
• Replace soda with chilled water.
• Eat more fresh vegetables, fruits, non-sugared nuts and fish.
• Exercise! Even if you’re a size 4 and have the natural tone of youth, you still need to work out. Plus, lifelong exercise will help fight off excess fat later in life (and currently).
• Avoid drugs you don’t need. If you have insomnia or pain, explore natural treatments.
• Illegal drugs can cause a viral infection of the liver.