Your Genes May Explain That Digestive & Liver Issue

Written by Dr. Pulyk Nataliya Omelanivna on Fri, 11 November 2022


hundreds of functions every day, including detoxification, producing bile and some hormones, etc. Our digestive tract is no less important either.

It is responsible for converting the food we chomp down into energy and also absorbing the various nutrients that our body works on. But sometimes, our organs fail to perform their functions.

This could be because of a virus, poor lifestyle choices, or an alcohol problem. Or it could be because of our genes. Here are a few digestive and liver health-related diseases where the root cause could be our very own gene pool.


Following are some of the functions of the liver

  •  The liver plays a vital role in filtering out all the blood in the body of toxins eg. alcohol, drugs, etc.
  • The liver is the only organ that produces bile which helps in the breakdown of fats.
  • The liver breaks down the glucose in the blood and stores it as glycogen for fueling the body.
  • The liver produces albumin which is a protein that helps in blood clotting.
  • The liver produces and maintains a healthy level of amino acids in the body.

The liver stores essential vitamins and minerals like vitamin A, D, E, K, Iron, and copper.


Here's why your digestive system is important

  • Breaking down the food we eat
  • Absorption of nutrients like fats, carbohydrates, proteins
  • Supplying us with the energy needed for daily functions
  • Preventing infections from ingested food with the help of stomach acid
  • Discarding waste in the form of faeces
  • Maintaining immunity with the help of gut microbiome


The inherited diseases of the liver

1. Autoimmune hepatitis

Imagine it's war, and the troops start attacking their chief! We can say Autoimmune hepatitis is something like that. Here, the body's immune cells start attacking the liver. This can cause scarring of the liver tissue and cause severe damage to the liver. The cause of autoimmune hepatitis is unknown but genetic and environmental factors might play a role.


2. Polycystic liver disease

It is characterized by the growth of fluid-filled sacs throughout the liver. These liver cysts can grow up to the size of large grapes! These cysts can cause abdominal pain, bloating, and jaundice. In most cases, PCLD is genetically inherited, but in some cases, the occurrence of this rare condition could be random without any pre-existing link.


3.Hereditary hemochromatosis (HH)

It is a condition caused by increased absorption of iron from the intestines. If you're wondering if that is how one becomes Iron-man then you're hilariously mistaken. HH causes increased iron in the blood which is then deposited in the liver. This can cause impaired liver functioning and even cancer of the liver known as hepatocarcinoma.


4.Wilson's disease

Wilson disease is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait. This means you inherit a copy of the faulty gene from both your parents. Wilson's disease is caused by disruption or changes (mutations) of the ATP7B gene, which plays an important role in the movement of excess copper from the liver to the bile to eventually be excreted from the body through the intestines.

It results in the build-up and accumulation of copper in the liver and brain as excess copper is not eliminated from the body. Wilson's disease causes fluid to build up in the abdomen, vomiting, itchiness of the skin, and swelling of the limbs. Copper accumulation leads to severe liver cirrhosis and in most cases a liver transplant is required.


5. Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency

Alpha-1 antitrypsin is a protein produced by the liver to protect the cells of the body against various irritants and infection-fighting cells. When the secretion of this protein is reduced, it's available very little in the blood. This increases the risk of lung and liver diseases that can be life-threatening. The liver gets injured and undergoes cirrhosis because of the buildup of AAT in it. If not treated, the condition becomes worse and can require a liver transplant and lung transplant.


The inherited diseases of the digestive tract

1. Ulcerative colitis:

This is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation in the inner lining of the colon and rectum. Ulcerative colitis is inherited from the family in most cases and might develo due to external factors in some. Ulcerative colitis is known to cause horrors like rectal bleeding, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and cramps.


2.Celiac disease:

This is caused due to hypersensitivity to gluten. Ingestion of gluten leads to inflammation and damage in the small intestines. Whether you have Celiac disease or not can be confirmed with a simple lab test. Multiple genes are responsible for inheriting Celiac disease. Although this disease can run in a family, it is not known to follow any specific inheritance factor.


3.Lactose intolerance:

Imagine not being able to digest ice cream, puddings, and custards. Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, which is a sugar present in dairy products. It is a hereditary disorder that can be passed to newborns (Congenital lactose intolerance) or be developed in individuals randomly.


4.Lynch syndrome:

Also known as hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) is a condition in which the tendency to develop colorectal cancer is inherited. It runs in families and usually affects the right side of the colon. It is caused by genetic damage by one of the genes that usually work in repairing our DNA damage. If this damage is not repaired on a genetic level, the chances of developing colorectal cancer arise. People with Lynch syndrome need to get screened for colon cancer throughout their lives as there's no cure present at the time.


5.Familial adenomatous polyposis:

It is a genetic condition diagnosed when a person develops more than 100 adenomatous colon polyps. In adenomatous polyposis, the cells lining the inside of the colon start to form clumps of cells called polyps. These polyps often lead to colon cancer. One can either inherit this condition from their family or develop it randomly. Early screening on the onset of symptoms like bloody stools, diarrhoea, and abdominal pain can lead to early detection and treatment.


6.Colon cancer:

Colon cancer is a type of cancer that affects the final part of the digestive tract known as the colon. It usually starts with the growth of benign polyps, and later progresses to cancerous tumours. In most cases, this condition is asymptomatic, that is why it is advised by doctors to get screened regularly. Individuals who have this disease in the family should get themselves screened often as it tends to follow a genetic pattern. Early detection of colon cancer can make treatment easier.


Here's how to care for your liver and gut

● Avoid drinking alcohol frequently.

● Abstain from any sort of drugs.

● Do not self-medicate or take medications unnecessarily.

● Eat a healthy and balanced diet with a good mix of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.

● Include probiotics in your diet.

● Sound sleep is essential for the digestive as well as the overall health of the body.

● Get enough exercise for your body.


Liver and digestive health

Our genetics rule certain factors in our lives, it may be regarding how we look or what medical conditions we might be diagnosed with. The truth is it's next to impossible to escape them. We can only face these factors on our family tree and put our best foot forward by trying to lead a clean and healthy lifestyle.

Our liver and gut are connected anatomically as also physiologically. The relationship between our liver and digestive tract is called the gut-liver axis. Our gut is the centre of the digestive system and receives everything we ingest; when it comes to metabolising these substances, the liver plays a major role in it. When the intestines take a hit due to the toxins ingested, it leads to the slow damage of the liver tissue which can eventually lead to swelling or cirrhosis of the liver.

The hepatic portal vein is the main pathway through which the gut-liver axis is known to function. With this connection in mind, it is essential to be mindful of both the liver and the gut and the diseases at risk.

It is important to find a balance between our party life and healthy life. Watching what we eat, exercising regularly, getting sound sleep, abstaining from alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, and unnecessary medications are all important. Most importantly, getting regular health check-ups done can play a crucial part in our well-being. We need to stop taking our bodies for granted and take good care of them.



Dr. Pulyk Nataliya Omelanivna

Dr. Pulyk Nataliya Omelanivna is an Internal Medical Expert who is based out of Ukraine. With a special interest in internal medicine Dr Pulyk graduated from the Ternopil National Medical Academy in Ukraine, in the year 2001. Between the years 2002-2009, Dr Pulyk worked as an emergency physician. Her years of work as an emergency physician gave her immense exposure to a range of patients and an opportunity to learn on the job, and gather extensive experience.

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