The human liver performs an array of functions. In addition to detoxification and protein synthesis, the liver also produces chemicals necessary for digestion. Understanding the role of the liver can help people make smart choices about keeping their livers healthy and avoiding disease.
Understanding the liver
The largest glandular organ of the body, the liver weighs about three pounds and is divided into four lobes of unequal size and shape. The liver can be found in the right side of the abdominal cavity. A healthy liver will be a reddish-brown color.
One of the main functions of the liver is to eliminate harmful biochemical waste products. Much like the kidneys, the liver acts a filter for the body, helping to detoxify alcohol and certain drugs. It also helps clear the body of environmental toxins that may have been ingested.
The liver also produces substances that break down fats. The liver turns glucose to glycogen, which serves as a secondary energy storage in the body. The liver produces urea, the primary compound in urine, and makes certain amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins.
The liver also produces bile, which aids in the digestion and intestinal absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Bilirubin is the main bile pigment that is formed from the breakdown of waste substances in red blood cells.
Diseases of the liver
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate chronic liver disease and cirrhosis is diagnosed in roughly 100,000 patients who visit hospitals each year.
Jaundice is one of the most recognizable warning signs that the liver may not be functioning properly. Jaundice is the yellow coloring of the skin, the sclera in the eyes as well as other mucous membranes. It is caused by hyperbilirubinaemia. If the liver isn’t functioning at full capacity, it cannot maintain the correct amount of bilirubin in the blood.
Several behaviors can negatively affect the liver. Drinking too much alcohol can damage liver function over time, and certain drugs — both pharmaceutical and recreational drugs — can compromise the liver. Some drugs that treat cancer and diabetes can be harsh on the liver. Drugs that treat cholesterol can also affect liver function because the liver is also responsible for producing a good amount of the cholesterol in the body. The cholesterol that the liver produces is vital to strengthening the membranes of cells in the body.
Hepatitis is an inflammatory disease of the liver that is caused by a number of different viruses. Hepatitis comes in many forms and is even named A through G, depending on the virus responsible for the infection.
Cirrhosis is scarring that appears on the walls of the liver.
While alcohol consumption is largely blamed for liver disease, it is only one of the many causes. Cancer also can occur in the liver, and liver cancers typically spread through the bloodstream from other areas of the body.
Keeping the liver healthy
Maintaining a healthy liver involves eating a well-balanced diet and drinking plenty of water, which helps to flush toxins out of the body. Foods that are high in fat or sugar can be harder on the liver, and should be consumed in moderation.
People should avoid over consumption of alcohol and only use drugs as prescribed by a doctor. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, drinking 10 or more cups of green tea per day was associated with less liver disease in men.
The liver is vital to human health, performing so many functions in the body. So it pays to keep the liver healthy by eating well and avoiding drugs and alcohol.