The Liver: The Body’s Central Factory

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The liver is the body’s busiest and most multitasking organ. It carries out more than 500 vital functions!

What and where is the liver?
The liver is located mainly in the upper right part of the abdomen, beneath the diaphragm, and on top of the right kidney and intestines. Its left lobe sits over the stomach. It is a dark reddish-brown triangular-shaped organ that weighs about over 1-1.5kg in the adult. The liver is the largest internal organ of the body (the skin is the body’s actual largest organ).

The liver consists of 2 main lobes. Both are made up of 8 segments that consist of 1,000 lobules (small lobes). These lobules are connected to small ducts (tubes) that connect with larger ducts to form the common hepatic duct. The common hepatic duct transports the bile made by the liver cells to the gallbladder and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine) via the common bile duct.

Because of its many important functions, it receives a lot of blood supply. It holds about 500mI (10-1596) of the body’s blood supply at any time.

What are the functions of the Liver?
The liver carries out more than 500 vital functions! It regulates most of the substances circulating in the blood; produces many substances; detoxifies many toxins; and excretes bile, which helps carry away the waste products from the liver.
All the blood leaving the stomach and intestines pass through the liver. The liver processes this blood and breaks down the nutrients and manufactures various substances; and also metabolizes many drugs into active or inactive forms before or after they are used by the target organs. Some drugs and toxins are detoxified or rendered less harmful or are excreted through the bile.

Health and wellness
Some of the important functions include:

• Bile production and excretion (which helps carry away waste and break down fats in the small intestine during digestion)
• Excretion of bilirubin, hormones, and drugs
• Metabolism of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates
• Production and regulation of cholesterol
• Storage of glycogen (and reconversion to glucose), vitamins, and minerals (including iron)
• Synthesis of plasma proteins, such as albumin, and clotting factors
• Synthesis of immune factors and removing bacteria from the bloodstream
• Blood detoxification and purification
• Enzyme activation

When the Liver has broken down harmful substances, its products are excreted into the bile or blood. Bile and the by-products enter the intestine and leave the body in the form of feces. Blood and the by-products are filtered out by the kidneys, and leave the body in the form of urine.

So, the liver is indeed a very busy organ, with so many functions. It is an essential organ that we cannot live without. Because of this, it is important that its health is kept optimum.

Often it is overworked and stressed. In the beginning, it just works harder to cope with the increased workload, but after some time, it is not able to cope and starts to become damaged.

Once it is damaged, the problem worsens because it may not be able to cope with even the normal workload.

What happens and how do we know if the liver is overworked?
In order to protect the body, the Liver has a large reserve capacity, meaning it can work much more than normally required in a healthy person. Because of this, symptoms do not appear until after the liver stress is prolonged, or severe. So, if we wait till symptoms appear, it may be too late.

The signs and symptoms of the overworked or diseased liver are related to its major functions, as listed below.

So, what are the symptoms of an overworked or unhealthy liver?
These may include:

• Loss of appetite Chronic fatigue Nausea or vomiting
• Skin and eyes that appear yellowish (jaundice)
• Itchy skin
• Dark urine color
• Pale stool color
• Tendency to bruise easily Abdominal pain and swelling in the legs and ankles

If you have any of these symptoms, you should see a doctor or health practitioner as soon as possible.

Liver disease can be inherited (genetic) or caused by a variety of factors that damage the liver, such as prescription and OTC drugs (excess paracetamol intake is a common cause), herbal medicines, infections (viruses, bacteria, and parasites), alcohol consumption, obesity and cancer (primary or secondary).

In order to avoid discovering liver problems too late, it is best to do liver function blood tests at least once a year once you are over 40, or earlier if you are in the high-risk group. The earliest sign of liver stress (overworked) is the elevation of one or more of the liver enzymes. If unchecked, the liver enzymes can become very high, the protein levels become low or unbalanced (poor or abnormal production) and the bilirubin level will start to climb. If you are obese, drink alcohol regularly, take statin drugs (to reduce cholesterol), take herbal medicines, or have viral hepatitis, you should do the test regardless of your age. Obesity increases the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is a common disease nowadays because obesity is very common! Chronic alcohol consumption may lead to alcoholic liver disease, which is even more dangerous and may progress to cirrhosis (scarring) and liver failure.