Hepatotoxins – substances that damage the LIVER. A key role of the liver is to metabolize chemicals that it filters from the BLOOD. In the case of medications, this releases the therapeutic components into the bloodstream and channels the waste byproducts for appropriate elimination. Often the chemical interactions of these metabolic processes generate substances that poison the cells of the liver. Most drugs affect liver function to some degree; hundreds of them have short-term toxic effects and dozens cause permanent liver damage.
The most common are ALCOHOL, acetaminophen, and NONSTEROIDAL ANTI-INFLAMMATORY DRUGS (NSAIDS). Recreational drugs such as hallucinogenic mushrooms are especially hazardous to the liver. Industrial chemicals such as carbon tetrachloride and numerous environmental pollutants also cause the death of liver cells (hepatonecrosis).
Elevated levels of key liver enzymes in the blood provide early indication of hepatotoxicity. These include aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alanine aminotransferase (ALT), and glutamate oxaloacetate transaminase (GOT). Hepatotoxicity may also result in symptoms similar to those of HEPATITIS, such as JAUNDICE, NAUSEA, vomiting, and occasionally FEVER. Damage can be fairly immediate (within days to weeks of ingestion) or manifest months later.
Regular alcohol consumption reduces the capacity of the liver to handle toxins, lowering the threshold at which damage occurs. Liver function often returns to normal when ingestion of the toxic substance ends and the liver completes all metabolic functions related to it, though hepatotoxic consequences can cause irreversible loss of liver function and even LIVER FAILURE. Many substances that damage the liver also damage the KIDNEYS. The herb MILK THISTLE, which contains silymarin, helps protect the liver from toxins.