The liver is one of the body’s largest organs, located in the right upper abdomen and below the diaphragm where it is protected by the rib cage. It is an essential organ which performs many metabolic functions and supports the immune system. A person can’t survive without a healthy functioning liver.
The liver is part of the gastrointestinal system which includes the stomach, small and large intestines and it works closely with other digestive system organs such as the pancreas and gallbladder.
Functions of the liver
Some of the most important functions of the liver include the storage and release of glucose for energy, storing and processing vitamins and minerals, recycling red blood cells and detoxifying harmful substances. Functions include:
- Bile production: secretes and releases bile into the gallbladder, a substance needed to digest fats and help absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
- Processing nutrients for energy: stores sugars (glycogen) and converts them to glucose for the body to use when there is a demand for energy.
- Regulates glucose: supports healthy blood sugar levels.
- Detoxification: processes harmful substances such as environmental toxins, medications, drugs and alcohol and clears them from the blood. It eliminates natural body waste such as bacteria, ingested foreign substances and hormones, such as insulin and oestrogen.
- Blood cell recycling: breaks down, destroys and recycles old red blood cells.
- Nutrient storage: stores fat-soluble vitamins, copper and iron.
- Making proteins: manufactures essential proteins to support blood clotting.
- Immune system: stores important immune cells and supports specific immune responses.
The liver is an amazing organ which is able to fully repair and regenerate itself. However, many factors can put a great burden on liver health and influence how well it performs these essential life-dependent functions. Exposure to environmental toxins, poor diet, alcohol and drug use and even stress can impact liver function and lead to multiple symptoms and chronic disease.
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Trefts, E., Gannon, M., & Wasserman, D. H. (2017). The liver. Current biology : CB, 27(21), R1147–R1151. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2017.09.019