Have you ever heard someone apologise to their liver after a few too many drinks? This complex, half-moon shaped organ has become so connected with the dangers of binge drinking that its many vital functions are often overlooked.
perating like an eco-friendly factory, everything your liver does is critical to your health. If you want to stay in charge of this factory and keep things running as smoothly as possible, there are 8 things you need to know about your liver.
The liver is your second largest organ
When getting better acquainted with a part of your body, it’s helpful to conceptualise its size, weight and location. Understanding how much space the liver takes up in your body can help put its importance into perspective.
After your skin, the liver is your second largest organ, and at 1.4kg (3lbs), it’s the heaviest. Roughly the size of a football, it sits just below your diaphragm in the upper-right side of your abdominal cavity. However, your liver is so large that it takes up space on the left as well.
Around 13 per cent of your blood can be found in your liver at any given time. This is a lot more blood flow than other body parts, but it makes sense considering the liver's size and need for oxygen to function. It’s also the liver’s job to filter, sort and process the contents of your blood.
Your liver is on the frontline of your immune system
Your liver is vital to immune system function
The position of the liver in your body is ideal for detecting and removing bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens that enter the body via your digestive tract. The liver also produces bile, which destroys harmful microorganisms and helps transport them out of the body.
In response to an infection, your liver produces antimicrobial proteins, inflammatory mediators, and other factors involved in the innate immune response. In short, your liver is on the frontline of your immune system.
Your liver transforms nutrients into energy
The liver receives blood from your digestive organs via the hepatic portal vein. This blood contains nutrients from the food you eat, but your body can't use them until they are processed by the liver.
Liver cells called hepatocytes break down dietary fats into the fatty acids needed to produce energy, hormones, and the lining of cells. They also make 800-1000 ml of bile each day, which is used in the small intestine to further break down and absorb dietary fats.
The liver breaks down carbohydrates and converts them into glucose, which is sent back out with the filtered blood for your body to use as an immediate source of energy. Your liver also breaks down protein into amino acids, which are primarily used to build muscle and make other proteins, hormones, and enzymes but can also be converted into glucose for energy.
Your liver stores nutrients and energy
Energy and nutrients that your body doesn’t immediately require are stored by the liver for future use. Extra glucose in your blood is converted into glycogen, which your liver stores and converts back to glucose when your blood sugar level is too low to meet your body’s energy requirements.
Your liver also stores vitamin B12, fat-soluble vitamins, and minerals such as iron and copper. Whenever your body needs these micronutrients, your liver releases them into your bloodstream.
The liver filters toxins from your blood
In addition to nutrients, the blood delivered to your liver also contains toxins and harmless byproducts that the body can’t use. A healthy liver does a great job of identifying harmful and useless substances, which it converts into something less toxic and sends to the kidneys or intestine for excretion.
Your body’s natural detoxification process is best known for removing alcohol from the bloodstream. However, the liver also filters out environmental toxins, the byproducts of medications, toxins found in your food, and metabolic waste produced by the body.
For example, the breakdown of protein into amino acids produces a toxic byproduct called ammonia. The liver cells convert ammonia into a much less toxic substance called urea, which is released into the bloodstream, transported to your kidneys, and eliminated when you pee.
Too much alcohol can damage your liver cells
The National Health and Medical Research Council provides evidence-based guidelines for the safe consumption of alcohol. When you drink in moderation, the enzymes in your liver can stay on top of their workload. When you drink too much, your liver can’t keep up, leaving the alcohol and its byproducts free to cause inflammation and cellular damage.
This damage and inflammation can cause scarring of the liver tissue, which increases the workload for the remaining healthy tissue. Alcohol also inhibits the breakdown of fats, which can lead to a dangerous accumulation of fat in your liver.
A liver-friendly diet consists of lean proteins, whole grains, nuts, and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables
Hydration and good nutrition keep your liver healthy
A liver-friendly diet consists of lean proteins, whole grains, nuts, and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Nuts, cruciferous vegetables, and antioxidant-rich berries like blueberries, acai and camu-camu are especially good for your liver. To help your liver stay on top of its many important jobs, avoid processed foods and drinks that are high in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats.
Reduced liver function is one of the many risks associated with dehydration. For optimal liver function, drink water first thing in the morning before breakfast, before and after exercise, and in between meals.
Tip: Warm water with a squeeze of lemon juice stimulates bile production and reduces fat storage in the liver.
Medicinal herbs can support your liver’s natural processes
In traditional Western medicine, milk thistle is used to treat liver diseases. Studies suggest this herb protects the liver from damage and improves its function by reducing inflammation. Dandelion is known to reduce stress on the liver and support bile production. It’s traditionally known as a blood cleanser, along with burdock and yellow dock, which also help reduce the liver’s workload.
Body and Liver Cleanse combines these four medicinal herbs to support your liver’s natural processes.
Keep this amazing internal factory running smoothly
Everything you swallow, inhale, and absorb through your skin is processed by your liver and has an impact on its 500+ vital functions. Minimise your liver’s workload through good nutrition and hydration, and support its natural processes with medicinal herbs to keep this amazing internal factory running smoothly.