The liver is the most powerful metabolic organ in the body and I call the liver the Master Chemist of the Body. The Chinese medical theorists call the liver “The General of the Army of the Body” Shaped like a cone, the liver is a dark reddish-brown organ that weighs about 3 pounds and is situated in the right upper abdomen.
The liver holds around 15 percent of the body’s blood supply at any given moment; incredibly busy, it needs a huge amount of blood supply.
The Liver is Unique – Why?
It is the only organ that has two distinct sources of blood supply –
- Oxygenated blood flows in from the hepatic artery
- Nutrient-rich blood flows in from the hepatic portal vein draining all blood from the intestines.
The liver is self perpetuating –
The liver can lose three-quarters of its cells before it stops functioning. The liver is the only organ in the body that can regenerate itself and 25% of a liver can regenerate into a whole new liver.
Let us look at some of the liver’s amazing functions
The liver produces thousands of essential chemicals and hormones and manages over 50,000 enzymes.
The liver is the mainstay of protein metabolism. The liver produces the protein albumin, which is the major osmolar component of blood serum. Albumin holds your blood inside your blood vessels, and if albumin levels fall too low, fluid will leak out of your blood vessels into the abdomen and limbs. The liver manufactures vital proteins for blood plasma, and to transport essential substances throughout the body.
The liver manufactures coagulation factors – such as fibrinogen, prothrombin, clotting factors V, VII, IX, X and XI, as well as protein C, protein S and antithrombin. This prevents you bleeding to death
The liver manufactures hormones such as insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), a polypeptide protein hormone that plays an important role in childhood growth and continues to have anabolic effects in adults.
Another hormone made by the liver is called thrombopoietin, which regulates the production of platelets by the bone marrow.
Another hormone made by the liver is angiotensinogen, which is responsible for raising the blood pressure when needed, to prevent low blood pressure.
The liver manufactures a quart of bile daily. The bile is excreted from the liver cells into the bile ducts which empty into the small intestines. Bile emulsifies fats so they can be absorbed from the intestines. This enables the absorption of fat soluble vitamins from the gut into the blood stream. The fat soluble vitamins are vitamins A, D, E and K and are needed for strong healthy bones, healthy blood vessels and to prevent cancer. Bile carries away waste products from the liver and these are eliminated via the faeces. Bile is an important way that toxins get out of your body.
Stores a multitude of substances
The liver stores iron which is used to make red blood cells
The liver stores glycogen which releases glucose when blood sugar levels drop. Thus the liver helps to maintain stable blood sugar levels
The liver stores essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, (1–2 years’ supply), vitamin D (1–4 months’ supply), vitamin B12 (1–3 years’ supply), vitamin K and the mineral copper
The liver converts toxic ammonia into urea, which can then be safely eliminated by the kidneys. Ammonia is an end product of protein metabolism. If ammonia builds up, even slightly, you will experience brain dysfunction.
The liver removes and breaks down harmful toxins and drugs from nearly 100 gallons of blood per day. This includes internal and external environmental pollutants
The liver filter removes unhealthy cells, cancer cells, dead cells, bacteria and other micro-organisms from the bloodstream so they can be destroyed in the liver
The liver filters the blood from the gut – all the blood leaving the stomach and intestines passes through the liver.
Iron – The liver makes a hormone called hepcidin, which controls how much iron is absorbed from the intestines. An average normal daily loss of iron from the body is around 1 to 2 milligrams. To compensate for this daily loss of iron, the liver hormone hepcidin allows 1 to 2 mg of iron to be absorbed from food in the intestines. The balance is carefully controlled by hepcidin and it’s amazing that only 10% of daily dietary iron intake is absorbed. This is important because the body has no mechanism to excrete iron from the body, other than by abnormal bleeding or menstrual bleeding.
The liver supports healthy blood sugar metabolism which is vitally important to prevent and treat diabetes. The liver makes glucose (sugar) from amino acids, lactate or glycerol and this process is called Gluconeogenesis.
The liver makes glycogen from glucose and this is called Glycogenesis
Fat Metabolism – The liver makes cholesterol, lipo-proteins and triglycerides. The liver regulates fat metabolism and keeps your blood fats in the healthy range. A healthy liver makes the good cholesterol and keeps bad cholesterol levels down.
The liver burns fat so it helps to keep your weight under control
The liver breakdowns insulin and other hormones so you do not develop hormonal imbalances such as estrogen dominance
The liver breaks down or modifies toxic substances (e.g., methylation) and most medicinal products in a process called drug metabolism. Fat soluble toxins are conjugated to make them water soluble so they can be excreted in bile, sweat or urine.
The liver breaks down toxic ammonia to urea for elimination in the urine
Protects your Immune System
The liver protects your immune system from overload and damage.
The liver filter (containing the reticulo-endothelial system of the liver) contains many immunologically active cells, acting as a ‘sieve’ for antigens carried to it from the intestinal blood. Professor Robin Fraser from the University of Otago, Christchurch New Zealand, did the pioneering research on the liver filter. The liver filter (sieve) is altered by many factors such as stress, smoking, alcohol, ageing, diabetes and detergents. This can lead to high blood fats, atherosclerosis and osteoporosis. An open (excessively permeable) liver sieve plays a part in immune tolerance and cancer.
The liver manufactures immune factors and immune proteins which strengthen your defences.
Anyone with an immune system disease must improve their liver function to reduce the overload on the immune system.
If your liver did not perform all these functions, you’d be dead within hours!
The liver supports almost every organ in the body and is vital for survival. Because of its strategic location and multidimensional functions, the liver is also prone to many diseases.
How is your liver going?
It is easy to check your liver function with a simple and inexpensive blood test which will give you a good evaluation of most of these functions. For details see www.liverdoctor.com/liver/liver-function-tests/
Another very useful test is to have an ultrasound scan of your upper abdomen which will show the state of your liver and gallbladder. An ultrasound scan will show the shape, size and texture of the liver and also detect any cysts or tumours within it. An ultrasound scan will also show the size of the gallbladder and bile ducts and if there are any stones inside the gallbladder or bile ducts.