The liver is a very large organ weighing up to 3 kg in adult humans.
The role of the liver
The liver is the second-largest organ in the body that performs many important functions (the largest organ is the skin).
The liver produces bile, a substance that helps to break down fats. Bile produced in the liver is transferred to the gallbladder where it is stored until needed for digestion.
Once food, medicines, liquids, etc that you consume are digested in the small intestine and absorbed by the walls of the small intestine, these products of digestion (nutrients and other molecules) are then transferred to the liver for further processing.
Nutrients arriving from the small intestine into the liver are made into products that can be more easily used by the body. On the other hand, toxins are generally broken down into less toxic substances
The liver is the body's 'detoxifier'.
- The cells within the liver contain a number of powerful enzymes that break down many toxins or chemicals that can be found in some of the things we eat
- Any alcohol that you consume is processed in the liver
- The liver also is the place where any medicines or herbal supplements, etc that you take are broken down further
- Ammonia - a toxic product arising from the digestion of proteins, is converted into the less toxic 'urea' by the liver and then transferred to the kidneys (and removed from the body via urine).
The liver receives glucose from the small intestine but is also able to produce glucose from other substances. Some of this glucose is stored in the liver in a different form (called glycogen). When you perform exercise, the liver quickly breaks down the stored glycogen into glucose, which is released into the bloodstream for use by muscles as a source of energy.
The liver stores iron, vitamin B12 and copper.
Another function of the liver is to make cholesterol and other fats that are needed by the body. Cholesterol is a very important ingredient in many cells and hormones in the body. Some of the fats made by the liver may be stored in other tissues as a source of energy.
As you can see, the liver is an extremely important organ that performs many different tasks. Interestingly, the liver is the only organ in the body that is capable of regenerating if parts of it are removed (eg, via surgery) or become diseased. However, even a resilient organ such as the liver cannot withstand long-term pressures such as consuming too much alcohol or other substances that may be toxic/harmful - this can lead to permanent damage in the form of cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Thus, maintaining a healthy digestive system is essential for the health of your liver and other organs so they can continue to perform their daily tasks that are vital to your overall health and well-being.
Where is the liver?
It is located in the upper abdomen, to the right of the stomach and immediately below the diaphragm (the diaphragm is a set of muscles below rib cage and lungs that help with breathing).
Disorders/Problems of the liver
Some problems that can arise in the liver are listed below. Information leaflets on some conditions of the liver are available by clicking below.