The largest solid organ in our bodies, our livers play an equally large role in maintaining our health. It performs over 500 functions that are vital to our well-being, such as removing waste products and foreign toxins from the bloodstream, helping to regulate blood sugar, and creating nutrients.
A few of our livers’ essential jobs include:
- Blood Filtering: As blood passes through the liver, it’s cleansed of harmful materials.
- Infection Protection: Some of the harmful substances that are filtered out include dangerous bacteria. The liver also makes “immune factors,” substances that play a role in immune recognition and response.
- Bile Manufacturing: The liver makes bile which helps carry away waste and is critical for the digestion and absorption of fats.
- Blood Clotting: Bile also helps with the absorption of Vitamin K. The liver uses this vitamin to create coagulants that allow our blood to clot if we get cut.
- Blood Sugar Regulation: The liver plays a role in carbohydrate metabolism. When we have excess blood sugar (glucose), the liver can remove some of it and change it into a substance called glycogen. Glycogen can be stored in a way that glucose can’t. Then, later, if blood sugar levels fall, the liver can convert that glycogen back into glucose for a little boost of fuel!
- Hemoglobin Processing: The liver takes the iron from the hemoglobin in the blood and stores it as ferritin, which is then used to make new red blood cells.
- Amino Acid Regulation: Our body needs proteins to function. Proteins are built from amino acids, and the liver is in charge of keeping a healthy balance of those amino acids circulating in the blood.
- Vitamin and Mineral Storage: The liver stores vitamins A, D, E, K, B12, iron, and copper.
- Cholesterol Creation: The liver creates cholesterol which is used to make hormones, Vitamin D, and substances that help your body digest food.
As if this wasn’t amazing enough, the liver is the only internal organ that can regenerate itself. Because of this regenerative capacity, it’s possible for someone to donate part of their healthy liver to another person whose liver is diseased. In only a couple of months, both people end up with whole, healthy, livers!
If you’re thinking that your liver is an impervious super-hero, you’re half right. Because of their complexity, healthy livers are marvels of efficacy, but this complexity also means that they can be vulnerable to damage from multiple causes.