The liver is located in the upper part of the abdomen, below the diaphragm. It regulates the blood’s chemical levels, eliminates toxins, and excretes bile - a digestive fluid which helps to break down fat, preparing it for further digestion and absorption. In children, Hepatitis and jaundice remain the most common liver infections.
Jaundice in newborn babies
“Babies have extra red blood corpuscles (RBCs) that break down after they are born. Excess bilirubin, a substance made by the breaking down of RBCs in the baby’s blood, causes the familiar yellowish colour of jaundice,” says Dr Naresh P Shanmugam, paediatric liver specialist and senior consultant at Global Hospitals.
Jaundice appears a couple of days after birth and is self-limiting. The baby’s skin and the white part of the eyes become yellow. When the bilirubin level is high, babies are placed under special lights to break down bilirubin. “Very high levels of bilirubin can cause brain damage and deafness,” adds Dr Shanmugam.
Only if jaundice persists in newborns for two weeks or more, the cause needs to be investigated. Jaundice in older children is not considered normal as it indicates liver infections or other illness.
Hepatitis and its treatment
Hepatitis, a liver infection, leads to inflammation of the organ. In children, most liver infections are caused by two viruses called Hepatitis A and B, though there are other hepatitis virus types. “Hepatitis A and E are spread through contaminated food or water. Hepatitis B and C viruses can cause both acute and chronic liver diseases. Hepatitis C can go undetected for a long time and permanently scar the liver. These viruses are transmitted through contact with blood or other body fluids of an infected person. Newborns may get a Hepatitis B infection from their mothers,” says Dr Shanmugam.
Hepatitis A is self-limiting, while antiviral treatment is suggested for chronic Hepatitis B and C (though there is no guarantee of a cure). Ayurvedic treatment can lend additional support by aiding liver functions.
Indicators of liver disease
- Pale-coloured stool
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Change of sleep patterns
- Blood in the stools and urine
- Abdominal swelling
- Poor weight gain
Prevention of liver ailments
Ensure that your child gets immunised for Hepatitis A & B, eats food that is hygienically prepared and stored, and drinks clean water.
Children should be cautious while playing with pets as worms can be transmitted to them from pets, affecting the liver.
Monitor your teen for risky behaviours like unprotected sex; drugs, where needles are used; even tattoo piercing, where needles may be contaminated, and ensure that his nail clipper is clean if it is also used by others.
Tips to support a weak liver
Dr A Radhakrishna from Venkataramana Ayurveda College offers the following tips to keep your child’s liver in good shape:
- Include light food (laghu aharam) like green, leafy vegetables and finely-powdered wholegrain or coarsely-powdered parboiled rice kanji (porridge) in your child’s diet. Restrict your child’s consumption of food containing sugar and trans fat.
- Make fruits like apple, pomegranates and grapes a regular part of your child’s diet.
- Give your child keezhanalli leaves (Phyllanthus niruri), which is also available in capsule forms, as a medicine. You can also feed your child cooked karisalankanni (bhringaraj) leaves.
- Try to give your child his dinner by 7:00 pm, and cut the quantity of food.
- Frequent, small meals are the best for children.
- Children can be given Livomyn and Liv-52 syrup occasionally to maintain the liver’s good health.