The liver is the second largest organ in our body that performs numerous essential functions necessary for overall health and well-being. Not only it removes toxins from the body’s blood supply, it also maintains healthy blood sugar levels, regulates blood clotting, makes chemicals that our body needs and performs hundreds of other vital functions. Some of the diseases may cause damage to the liver, as well as the lifestyle habits that we adopted, but there are still many ways to protect this vital organ. In this overview, we will get to know the many functions of the liver, understand the common liver diseases as well as their symptoms and explore the options that we can take to have a healthy liver.
What is a healthy liver?
The liver is situated in the upper right portion of the abdomen, beneath the rib cage and on top of the stomach. It is shaped like a cone and is divided into several lobes. Blood flows into the liver through the hepatic artery and the portal vein, supplying it with oxygen and nutrients
What are the many functions of the liver?
The liver is responsible for carrying out more than 500 functions, which include the most vital being:
One of the liver's well known functions is to detoxify harmful substances from the bloodstream. Blood from other parts of the body that enters the liver carrying harmful substances such as toxins, drugs, alcohol and other byproducts will be broken down by the liver into less toxic forms that can be eliminated from the body. As part of the filtering process, the liver also removes bacteria from the bloodstream, which in turn supports the immune system.
Metabolic functions and regulations
The liver plays a crucial role in regulating various metabolic processes. It helps to metabolize carbohydrates, which maintain our blood sugar levels by storing or releasing glucose as needed. It also processes fats from the diet and releases them for energy, as and when needed. The liver also synthesizes and breaks down protein, playing a role in amino acid metabolism.
Essential proteins produced by the liver include blood clotting factor, enzymes and hormones that are needed for bodily functions. Liver also produces albumin, which is responsible for maintaining our blood volume and regulating fluid balance.
Bile is a fluid that is important in the absorption and emulsification of fats in the digestive system. Liver is responsible for producing bile, which is then stored in the gallbladder and released to the intestines when needed.
Not all cholesterol is bad. Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is vital for the proper functioning of the body including cell membrane structure, hormone production, and bile acid synthesis. Liver is responsible for producing cholesterol and regulates the levels tightly to ensure our body has an adequate supply while preventing excessive production. Excess cholesterol is excreted into bile and eventually eliminated from the body. Sometimes, you may need to take care of your liver to manage your cholesterol levels.
What are the common liver diseases and conditions?
There are a few common liver diseases and conditions that will affect the proper functioning of the liver. These conditions can vary in severity, which can range from temporary and mild to chronic and potentially life-threatening.
Listed here are a few of the more common liver diseases and conditions:
Hepatitis is liver inflammation which can be caused by many factors such as heavy alcohol use, toxins, some medications and certain medical conditions but the most common type of hepatitis is often caused by viral infection. Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are the most common types of hepatitis. Many people with hepatitis do not have symptoms and do not know they are infected.
Cirrhosis of the liver
Cirrhosis is a result of long-term liver damage, where healthy liver tissue has been gradually replaced by scar tissue. The liver attempts to repair itself by scarring during liver damage and these scar tissues prevent our liver from working properly. Scarring in your liver blocks the flow of blood and oxygen through your liver tissues and slows the liver's ability to process blood, metabolize nutrients and filter out toxins.
Fatty liver disease is a common condition caused by the accumulation of fat in liver cells. The most common ones are alcohol-induced fatty liver disease, which is caused by regular alcohol consumption. Fatty liver disease can also be non-alcohol related, which is known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Although the exact cause is unknown, people with obesity and diabetes might have higher risk.
Liver cancer is caused by abnormal growth of cells in the liver, which can originate from the liver or spread from other parts of the body. Risk factors of liver cancer may include: having hepatitis, heavy alcohol use, having cirrhosis, having diabetes or obesity.
What are the symptoms & diagnosis for liver diseases?
Symptoms of liver diseases can vary with the different conditions. People with liver disease can be asymptomatic even for liver cancer as most of the common liver diseases do not show symptoms until the disease progresses to something more severe such as cirrhosis of the liver. Tests such as imaging test and liver function test may be carry out to check liver for any damages and can help to diagnose liver disease.
Common symptoms of liver disease may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Changes in the colour of your stool and urine
- Jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin and eyes
How to keep your liver healthy?
Maintaining a healthy liver is crucial for overall well-being and can help prevent various liver diseases and conditions. Here are some important steps and lifestyle habits that we can take to support our liver health:
- Avoid toxins that will be harmful to our liver, such as chemicals, smoking and illegal drugs.
- Drink alcohol only in moderation.
- Maintain a healthy weight, including eating a balanced and nutritious diet with regular exercise.
- Avoid sharing needles, razors, toothbrushes or any personal items to avoid the spreading of viruses. Also, practice safe sex to avoid hepatitis infection.
- Practice good hygiene by washing your hands regularly to reduce the risk of getting hepatitis.
- Go for regular checkups on your liver health and speak to your healthcare professional and discuss hepatitis vaccination if necessary.
- There are some supplements that may be helpful for managing your liver conditions. However, always speak to your healthcare professional when considering supplements to take care of your liver health if needed.
In conclusion, the liver stands as a vital organ within the human body, performing multiple essential functions that impact overall health. Given that most liver diseases do not show symptoms at the early stages, timely identification is important for early detection, prompt intervention and proper management. Maintaining a well-functioning liver is not only crucial for its individual function but also important for our body overall well being too.
- Liver: Anatomy and functions. JHM. (2019, November 19). https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/liver-anatomy-and-functions#:~:text=The%20liver%20is%20located%20in,that%20weighs%20about%203%20pounds.
- professional, C. C. medical. (n.d.). Cirrhosis of the liver. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15572-cirrhosis-of-the-liver