How Does the Liver Work?

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How Does the Liver Work?
How Does the Liver Work? (Image: http://www5.epfl.ch/webdav/site/vrai-grou)

Introduction

Your liver is the largest glandular organ in the human body and is located on the right lower side of the abdomen just below your diaphragm. The liver is one of the most important organs in your body, and many of the tasks that keep your body alive and moving are associate with the liver.

Your Body's Filter

One of the largest functions of the liver is to filter the blood that runs through your body. Liver cells are arranged as such that when harmful substances such as drugs, alcohol, metabolic waste, and chemicals are ingested and reach the liver, they are at least partially filtered out before the rest of the nutrients hit the blood stream. The liver is unable to always completely filter out these substances. This especially is the case with alcohol, as many alcoholics drink more alcohol per hour than the liver is able to filter before it reaches the blood stream. Healthy livers can usually filter about 1.5 quarts of blood per minute, or about 540 gallons of blood per day (pagassist.com statistic).

Digestion

Your liver is also a vital component of your digestive system. After you eat a meal, your liver is stimulated to produce a special digestive enzyme called bile. Bile is created in the liver and then stored in the gallbladder. Once the food reaches your intestines the gall bladder releases the bile into your duodenum aiding in digestion. The bile is used to break down the complex amounts of fats in our diets.

Storage

Your liver is also one of the main storage areas in your body for vitamins, energy, and minerals (especially iron). The liver is able to store these products and then release them into the bloodstream as they are needed.

Metabolism

This liver is also largely involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates lipids and proteins. With carbohydrates the liver does this by creating glucose from amino acids and breaking glycogen down into glucose. With lipids the liver synthesizes cholesterol and produces triglycerides. With proteins the liver converts lactic acid to alanine.

Other Tasks

The liver is also involved in: creating blood clotting substances such as fibrinogen and prothrombin, converting ammonia to urea, and also helps with the immune system by storing active immunologic cells.

Disorders of the Liver

With so many important tasks, it is important to keep the liver as healthy as possible. However, certain diseases and risky behaviors can have serious side effects on the liver. Behaviors such as illicit drug use or excessive use of alcohol can destroy a liver in a short amount of times. Common diseases of the liver include: hepatitis, cancer, cirrhosis, jaundice, and Wilson's disease.

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