The liver is the largest solid organ and the largest gland in the human body. Perform over 500 essential tasks. Classified as part of the digestive system, the liver’s functions include detoxification, protein synthesis, and the production of chemicals that help digest food. This article covers the main functions of the liver, how the liver repairs itself, what happens when the liver is not working properly, and how to keep the liver healthy.
Some facts about the liver
The liver is classified as a gland.
This vital organ performs more than 500 functions in the human body.
It is the only organ that can regenerate.
The liver is the largest solid organ in the body.
Alcohol abuse is one of the leading causes of liver problems in the industrialized world.
The liver is one of the most versatile and important organs. Weighing between 1.44 and 1.66 kilograms, the liver is reddish-brown in color with a rubbery texture. It is located above and to the left of the stomach and below the lungs. The skin is the only organ heavier and larger than the liver. The liver is roughly triangular and consists of two lobes: a larger right lobe and a smaller left lobe. The lobes are separated by the falciform ligament, a band of tissue that keeps it anchored to the diaphragm. A layer of fibrous tissue called Glisson’s capsule covers the outside of the liver. This capsule is also covered by the peritoneum, a membrane that forms the wall of the abdominal cavity.
This holds the liver in place and protects it from physical damage.
Unlike most organs, the liver has two main sources of blood. The portal vein carries nutrient-rich blood from the digestive system, and the hepatic artery carries oxygenated blood from the heart. The blood vessels divide into small capillaries, each of which ends in a lobe. The lobules are the functional units of the liver and are made up of millions of cells called hepatocytes. Blood drains from the liver through three hepatic veins.
The liver is classified as a gland and is associated with many functions. It’s hard to give a precise number as the organ is still being explored, but the liver is believed to perform 500 different functions.
The main functions of the liver are:
Bile production: Bile helps the small intestine break down and absorb fats, cholesterol, and certain vitamins. Bile is made up of bile salts, cholesterol, bilirubin, electrolytes, and water.
Absorb and metabolize bilirubin: Bilirubin is formed by the breakdown of hemoglobin. The iron released from hemoglobin is stored in the liver or bone marrow and used to make the next generation of blood cells.
Promote the formation of blood clots: Vitamin K is necessary for the creation of certain coagulants that help coagulate the blood. Bile is essential for the absorption of vitamin K and is created in the liver. If the liver does not produce enough bile, coagulation factors cannot be produced.
Fat metabolism: Bile breaks down fats and makes them easier to digest.
Carbohydrate metabolism: Carbohydrates are stored in the liver, where they are broken down into glucose and extracted into the bloodstream to maintain normal glucose levels. They are stored as glycogen and released when a quick burst of energy is needed.
Storage of vitamins and minerals: The liver stores vitamins A, D, E, K and B12. It retains significant amounts of these vitamins. In some cases, it keeps several years of vitamins in reserve. The liver stores the iron in hemoglobin in the form of ferritin, ready to make new red blood cells. The liver also stores and releases copper.
Helps Metabolize Proteins: Bile helps break down proteins for digestion.
Filters the blood: The liver filters and removes compounds from the body, including hormones, such as estrogen and aldosterone, and compounds from outside the body, such as alcohol and other drugs.
Immune function: The liver is part of the mononuclear phagocyte system. It contains a large number of Kupffer cells that are involved in immune activity. These cells destroy any pathogens that may enter the liver through the intestine.
Albumin production: Albumin is the most common protein in blood serum. It transports fatty acids and steroid hormones to help maintain proper pressure and prevent blood vessel leakage.
Angiotensinogen synthesis: This hormone raises blood pressure by constricting blood vessels when alerted by the production of an enzyme called renin in the kidneys.
Due to the importance of the liver and its functions, evolution has ensured that it can regenerate rapidly as long as it remains healthy. This ability is found in all vertebrates, from fish to humans. The liver is the only visceral organ that can regenerate. It can regenerate completely, as long as a minimum of 25% tissue remains. One of the most impressive aspects of this feat is that the liver can return to its previous size and capacity without loss of function during the growth process.
In mice, if two-thirds of the liver is removed, the remaining liver tissue can return to its original size in 5 to 7 days. In humans, the process takes a bit longer, but regeneration can still occur in 8 to 15 days, an incredible achievement given the size and complexity of the organ. Over the next several weeks, the new liver tissue becomes indistinguishable from the original tissue.
This regeneration is promoted by a number of compounds, including growth factors and cytokines. The most important compounds in the process seem to be the following:
hepatocyte growth factor
transforming growth factor-alpha
epidermal growth factor
The main diseases of the liver.
There are a large number of conditions that affect the liver. An organ as complex as the liver can experience a host of problems. A healthy liver works very efficiently. However, in the case of a diseased or malfunctioning liver, the consequences can be dangerous and even fatal.
Here are some examples of liver diseases:
Fascioliasis: This disease is caused by the invasion of a parasitic worm called the liver fluke, which can lie dormant in the liver for months or even years. Fascioliasis is considered a tropical disease.
Cirrhosis: Scar tissue replaces liver cells in a process known as fibrosis. This condition can be caused by a number of factors, including toxins, alcohol, and hepatitis. Eventually, fibrosis can lead to liver failure, as the functionality of liver cells is destroyed.
Hepatitis: Hepatitis is the name given to a general infection of the liver. It can be caused by viruses, toxins, or an autoimmune response. It is characterized by inflammation of the liver. In many cases, the liver can heal itself, but in severe cases, liver failure can occur.
Alcoholic liver disease: Drinking too much alcohol over long periods of time can cause liver damage. It is the most common cause of cirrhosis worldwide.
Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC): PSC is a severe inflammatory disease of the bile ducts leading to their destruction. There is currently no cure and the cause is unknown, although the disease is believed to be autoimmune.
Fatty liver disease: It usually occurs at the same time as obesity or alcohol abuse. In fatty liver disease, vacuoles of fat accumulate in liver cells. If it is not caused by alcohol abuse, the disease is called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
It is usually caused by genetics, medication, or a diet high in fructose sugar. It is the most common liver disorder in developed countries and has been associated with insulin resistance. Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is a condition that can develop if NAFLD gets worse. NASH is a known cause of liver cirrhosis.
Gilbert’s syndrome: This is a genetic disease that affects 3 to 12% of the population. Bilirubin is not completely broken down. Mild jaundice may occur, but this disease is harmless.
Liver cancer: The most common types of liver cancer are hepatocellular carcinoma and cholangiocarcinoma. The main causes are alcohol and hepatitis. It is the sixth most common form of cancer and the second most common cause of death from cancer.
Liver health: how to take care of it
Here are some recommendations to help your liver function as it should:
Diet: Since the liver is responsible for digesting fat, consuming too much can overload the organ and distract it from other tasks. Obesity is also linked to fatty liver disease.
Moderate alcohol consumption: Avoid having more than two drinks at a time. Excessive alcohol consumption eventually leads to cirrhosis of the liver. When the liver breaks down alcohol, it produces toxic chemicals, such as acetaldehyde and free radicals. For serious damage to occur, the equivalent of a liter of wine a day for 20 years in men is needed. For women, the threshold is less than half that amount.
Avoid illicit substances: Drugs can overload the liver with toxins.
Be careful with drug mixtures: Some prescription drugs and natural remedies can negatively interact when mixed together. Mixing drugs with alcohol puts a lot of pressure on the liver. For example, mixing alcohol and acetaminophen can lead to acute liver failure. Be sure to follow the directions for any medication.
Airborne Chemical Protection: When painting or using harsh cleaning or gardening chemicals, the area should be well ventilated or you should wear a mask. Chemicals in the air can cause liver damage because the liver must process any toxins that enter the body.
Travel and vaccinations: Vaccination is essential if you are traveling to an area where hepatitis A or B could be a problem. Malaria grows and multiplies in the liver, and yellow fever can lead to liver failure. Both diseases can be prevented with oral medications and vaccinations.
Safer sex: There is no vaccine against hepatitis C. Therefore, caution should be exercised with safer sex, tattoos, and piercings.
Avoid exposure to blood and germs: See a doctor if you are exposed to another person’s blood. It is also important not to share personal hygiene-related items, such as toothbrushes, and to avoid dirty needles.
Despite its ability to regenerate, the liver needs to be healthy to do so. The liver can be protected primarily through lifestyle choices and dietary measures.
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