What Are the Aging Changes That Occur in the Liver?
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Aging Changes in the Liver

Published on Feb 12, 2024 and last reviewed on Feb 21, 2024   -  4 min read

Abstract

Liver health is essential, and just like other organs, its functions compromise as one ages. Read the article to learn more about how aging affects the liver.

Introduction:

The liver is a wedge-shaped organ and gland in the body that is spongy and reddish-brown in color. Its size is that of a football, but this can vary depending on the individual’s weight and height. This vital organ performs numerous critical functions that are essential for the functioning of the human body. It is situated on the right side of the body, just beneath the ribs. During the period of one’s lifetime, the human liver gradually shrinks by 20 to 40 percent, accompanied by an age-related decrease in liver volume.

What Are the Functions of the Liver?

In an adult, the weight of the liver is about three pounds, making it the largest internal organ. The liver carries out numerous functions like the following:

  • Eliminates toxins from the blood.

  • Manufactures bile, which aids in food digestion.

  • Removes old red blood cells.

  • Regulates the amount of blood in the body.

  • Metabolizes fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.

  • Manufactures substances that aid in blood clotting.

  • Stores vitamins and glycogens in the body so that they can be used later.

  • The liver is an important organ for thyroid activity since it transforms T4 (thyroxine) into T3 (triiodothyronine) through a process referred to as deiodination. The liver is also the major site for manufacturing almost all the body’s plasma proteins, such as binding globulins, albumin, proteins C and S, and also every clotting element involved in the intrinsic and extrinsic pathways.

What Are the Common Conditions That Affect the Liver?

The following are a few conditions that can affect the liver:

  • Liver cancer.

  • Diseases that can manifest as a consequence of consuming too many toxins, like fatty foods and alcohol.

  • Viral infections like hepatitis A, B, and C.

  • Immune system disorders like autoimmune hepatitis.

  • Inherited diseases like Wilson disease (an inherited disorder that causes excessive copper accumulation in the organs) or hemochromatosis (deposition of excess iron in the body).

All these conditions can cause cirrhosis of the liver.

What Are the Risk Factors of Liver Disease?

The risk factors of liver disease include:

  • Obesity.

  • Heavy alcohol consumption.

  • Type 2 diabetes.

  • Body piercings or tattoos.

  • Blood transfusion.

  • Unprotected sex and exposure to other individual’s blood and body fluids.

  • Injection of drugs using shared needles.

The following age-related changes occur in the liver:

  • Numerous structural and microscopic changes occur in the liver as the liver ages. For instance, the color of the liver transforms from lighter to darker brown. The size and blood flow of the liver also diminish, but liver test results usually remain normal. The capability of the liver to metabolize many substances diminishes with aging. Hence, a few drugs are not quickly inactivated in the elderly when compared to young individuals. Due to this, a drug dose that usually will not have any side effects in younger individuals may have dose-related side effects in the elderly. Hence, it is advisable to reduce drug dosages in the elderly.

  • Due to the deposition of highly oxidized insoluble proteins called lipofuscin that are stored in hepatocytes, the appearance of the liver is referred to as ‘brown atrophy’ in older people. These accumulations are associated with chronic oxidative stress and the inability to break down (degrade) damaged proteins. The remarkable age-related change in liver function that occurs in the elderly population is a remarkable decrease in the regenerative capacity of the liver.

  • In addition, the ability of the liver to withstand stress also decreases. Hence, substances that are harmful to the liver can result in more damage in the elderly than in the younger population. Repair of damaged liver cells is also retarded in older individuals. Since the manufacturing of bile and its flow decreases with aging, there are increased chances for the formation of gallstones.

  • A recent study found that aging not only enhances vulnerability to acute liver injury but also enhances the susceptibility to fibrotic response. Aging is associated with the severity, and poor prognosis of numerous liver diseases, including alcoholic liver disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, liver transplantation, and hepatitis C. Numerous hallmark features have been observed with aging changes in the liver, such as mitochondrial impairment, genetic alterations, and telomere shortening.

  • Studies show that aging has a negative influence on the function of the liver by causing a substantial morphological alteration in the sinusoidal vascular system. Further, the area of smooth endoplasmic reticulum is reduced, which results in decreased generation of smooth endoplasmic reticulum and also reduces the synthesis of microsomal proteins in the liver. Age-related changes in the liver include accumulation of dense bodies (lipofuscin) inside liver cells, volume changes, polyploidy (a condition in which the cells of an individual have more than one pair of chromosomes), a decreased area of smooth endoplasmic reticulum and a decreasing number and dysfunction of mitochondria.

How Can Liver Health Be Maintained?

Liver health can be maintained in the following ways:

  • Consuming superfoods as a part of a well-balanced diet and lifestyle can help improve digestion, maintain a healthy weight, and lower cholesterol, all of which can benefit the liver. Some of the superfoods include soybeans, almonds, blueberries, oats, broccoli, yogurt, spinach, vegetable juice, kidney beans, pumpkin, and so on.

  • Refraining from smoking.

  • Avoiding the consumption of unnecessary medications.

  • Staying physically active can help everyone. It improves overall health and well-being, energizes the body, and promotes a healthy lifestyle. It is advisable that adults do 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical exercise a week to aid in the prevention of non-alcoholic fatty liver. Examples of these activities include cycling, walking, jogging, dancing, yoga, gardening, and so on.

  • Getting vaccinated for Hepatitis A and B.

Conclusion:

Aging is a condition in which an individual progressively loses the ability to maintain homeostasis (a self-regulating process by which the body tends to maintain internal stability) as a result of structural alteration or dysfunction and eventually becomes vulnerable to external damage or stress. Aging is a major risk factor for many chronic diseases. Age-related changes in the liver mostly include the accumulation of dense bodies (lipofuscin) inside liver cells, volume changes, polyploidy, and so on. The blood flow and volume of the liver also diminish with aging. By maintaining a healthy lifestyle, one can minimize the age-related liver issues that are prone to occur.

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Last reviewed at:
21 Feb 2024  -  4 min read

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