The liver is the body’s largest solid organ (about the size of a football) and on average weighs between 1.2 and 1.5 kg (depending on body size and sex). The liver is essential for the body’s metabolic, detoxification and immune system functions. We are unable to survive without a functioning liver.
The liver is located just below the diaphragm (the muscle under the lungs used for breathing) and also extends up the right and left sides of the abdomen.
This article explains exactly what the liver does and how it works. We also cover some diseases that can effect the liver and how liver supplements can help maintain a healthy liver.
What is the purpose of the liver?
The liver’s main functions relate to metabolic processes of the body, which is mainly related to processing foods and other substances that we consumer or our body creates. Below is a brief summary of the metabolic processes the liver supports
- breaking down or converting certain substances
- balancing energy metabolism by converting glycogen to glucose and storing extra glucose by converting it to glycogen
- making toxins less harmful to the body and removing them from the bloodstream
The liver achieves all of this by admitting blood with nutrients from the digestive organs via a vein (hepatic portal vein).
The cells in the liver (called hepatocytes) accept and filter the blood. They effectively sort the contents of the blood into the following categories:
- which nutrients should be processed
- what should be stored
- what should be eliminated via the stool
- what should go back to the blood
The liver also helps with the process of breaking down fats from food, either metabolising them or releasing them as energy.
Minerals, such as copper and iron, and fat soluble vitamins are stored by the liver for later release when needed by the body.
The liver produces between 0.5 and 1 litre of bile, which is used by the small intestine to break down fats in food.
Proteins are also broken down by the liver. Interestingly the process of breaking down the amino acid proteins creates a substance called ammonia, which is toxic for the body. The liver cleverly turns the ammonia into urea, which can be safely transported in the blood to the kidneys and released in urine.
Also the liver removes alcohol and other drugs from the blood.
Finally the liver contributes to the following processes:
- creating immune system factors that can fight against infection
- creating proteins responsible for blood clotting
- breaking down old and damaged red blood cells
- storing extra blood sugar as glycogen
As can be appreciated from this extensive list the liver is vitally important for maintaining optimum health.
Can the liver regenerate?
The liver is quite an incredible organ as it has the capability of regenerating itself after injury or surgery where tissue is removed. The liver can grow back to some extent.
To repair itself the liver goes through a process of enlarging existing cells and then new cells multiply.
It has been found that as soon as a week after removing two thirds of the liver it can return to the same weight it was before the operation.
What diseases effect the liver?
The liver can be effected by a number of diseases. See below for examples of common diseases that can effect liver function:
The body’s immune system attacks itself and destroys healthy liver tissue. Autoimmune hepatitis can lead to liver damage, including cirrhosis.
This condition affects the function of bile ducts and the resulting flow of bile. This normally affects young children and if left untreated can cause liver scarring and damage liver tissue.
Cirrhosis is where scar tissue in the liver replaces healthy tissue and the liver has reduced function. This can be caused by long term heavy alcohol consumption, chronic hepatitis and also some genetic disorders.
The disease hepatitis means a viral infection that causes the liver to become inflamed. The hepatitis virus has different varieties and is differentiated by the letters A, B, C, D and E. Each variety has different causes and risks.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease / NASH
These are conditions where fat builds on the liver, which causes inflammation. Obesity increases the risk of these diseases.
How to protect the liver?
- Balanced, nutritious diet – the best way to protect your liver from disease is to eat a diet that is highly nutritious and provides your body with the building blocks it needs to maintain a healthy liver.
- Drink alcohol in moderation – one of the leading causes of damage to the liver is the consumption of excessive alcohol. Keeping drinking to moderate levels reduces risk of damage to the liver.
- Maintain a healthy weight – excessive weight can cause fatty deposits to build up in the liver – a condition called fatty liver disease.
- Avoid known risks – contracting one of the hepatitis varieties can cause liver damage or even failure. Among other ways, these diseases can be caught through sexual contact, sharing needles or exposure to infected blood.
How can liver supplements help maintain a healthy liver?
Adding liver to the diet provides nutrition that is very hard to obtain from plant sources or muscle meats.
Our grass fed desiccated beef liver capsules contain all of the nutrients that the liver is constructed from, which means the body can use these to repair and maintain a healthy liver.
Hirsch Organic Grass Fed Beef Liver Capsules