If you were to rank your internal organs by order of importance, where would you slot your liver? In all likelihood, it wouldn’t be in the same spectrum as things like the heart and lungs, as the liver is one of the more misunderstood parts of the anatomy. Most, likely chalk up the liver to “that part that filters out last night’s Happy Hour,” or something along those lines. In reality, the liver serves many key functions beyond simply disposing of recent Bud Light intake. Let’s take a quick look.
Located in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen, the liver is one of our largest organs, and also the heaviest. At some point, all blood passes through the liver, as the liver serves as a sort of clearing house for your body. Toxins, damaged cells, used nutrients, old hormones, all are processed by the liver en route to their removal, and it’s estimated that the liver cleans 1.7 litres of blood daily. The liver is especially important in the processing of protein from food, which gives off toxic ammonia as a bi-product. Cells in the liver convert this ammonia into urea to be excreted via urine.
Also aiding in food processing, especially foods high in fat, is the liver’s production of bile, a thick green-yellow fluid which helps your body digest food. The liver puts your fats to work so to speak, breaking down compounds such as cholesterol, and sending fat for storage throughout your body to be used when energy levels are low and more sustenance is required. (Yes, that explains that nagging roll of flab around your mid-section.)
Linked to the liver’s importance in the digestive process, is the concept of providing your body with energy and the liver does this by regulating your body’s use of carbohydrates. The liver helps control your body’s blood-glucose levels and also acts as a nutrient warehouse, storing many essential vitamins and minerals for later use. In this way, the liver is crucial to your body’s overall metabolism of the food you take in each and every day.
But the liver doesn’t simply aid in filtering out harmful toxins and the processing of things like fats, carbs and proteins. The liver also aids in building various proteins that your body uses, including those responsible for blood clotting.
Finally, your liver plays a big role in your body’s immunity. Of course, part of this is tied into what we discussed above, from the storage of key nutrients to the siphoning out of harmful toxins. But in addition, the liver contains what are known as Kuffer cells, which capture and process things like bacteria and parasites, all potentially harmful to the inner workings of the human body.
So the next time you’re enjoying a glass of ale and someone makes a crack about taking it easy on your liver, perhaps you should pay them mind. Your liver is responsible for a multitude of benefits and important bodily functions, and just like your heart, without it, you can’t live.
September 15, 2014