You’ve provably heard of the word ‘liver’ before, either from the
doctor or teachers or health workers or other sources. You probably
also know that’s it’s a vital organ in the body and that it’s involved
in body metabolism(activities that enable your body too keep
functioning). However, many people do not know the specific
operations and functions of the liver, therefore they don’t really
know why it’s important, they just know that it is!
In this article,
we’re going to find out just how important the liver really is. But
before we go into that, here are some quick-fire facts about the
-It is the largest internal organ of the human body
-It processes everything you eat. No matter the class of food it
belongs to, the liver will definitely be involved in breaking it down
-It can regenerate its damaged tissues
-It weighs about 1.4kg in an adult human
– The metabolic cells of the liver are called hepatic cells.
These facts should give you an idea of what the liver is like, and
we will slightly touch the anatomy of the liver now. The liver is
roughly triangular in shape and is located on the right side of the
abdomen, just beneath the diaphragm and ribs. It is make up of soft,
pinkish-brown tissues enclosed by a connective capsule which is
reinforced by the peritoneum.
It consist of 4 lobes;
-the left lobe
-the right lobe(which is much larger than the left lobe)
-the caudate lobe(which wraps around the inferior vena cava)
-the quadrant lobe(which wraps around the gall bladder)
For detailed info on the gross and microscopic anatomy of the liver,
consult appropriate textbooks or gently await the next Anatomy class.
The liver has adapted to playing a key role in body metabolism, and
here are some of the reasons why the liver is indispensable in the
1)DIGESTION: The liver aids in digestion through the production of
bile(a mixture of water, cholesterol, bile salts and bilirubin). The
hepatocytes (liver cells) produce bile and it is moved to the gall
bladder for storage. Whenever we eat food containing fat(like butter
for example), it goes through the digestive system and when it gets to
the duodenum(that’s a part of the small intestine), some chemical
responses trigger the stimulation of the gall bladder, which makes it
release bile. The bile now emulsifies (breaks down) the fat into
smaller bits which will be easier for the body to digest.
2) DETOXIFICATION: Toxic substances such as alcohol and drugs get into
our body sometimes and it’s up to the liver to detect and remove it
from the body. As blood from the digestive organs flow through the
hepatic portal circulation(network of blood vessels that run from the
small intestine to the liver), the hepatocytes detect the toxins and
release enzymes which will break the toxins down to their inactive
metabolites. The liver also helps to maintain the right hormonal
levels in the blood
3)METABOLISM OF CARBOHYDRATES, PROTEINS AND FATS: Since all blood
leaving the digestive system moves through hepatic portal vein, the
cells of the liver detect and breakdown the carbohydrates, proteins
and fats to their simplest forms which are glucose, amino acids and
fatty acids & glycerol respectively. The glucose and fatty acids
produced are stored up for energy production later. Most of the amino
acid is converted to ammonia and then to urea, which is excreted.
4) STORAGE: Think of the liver as one big warehouse where Vitamins,
Minerals, Glucose and Fatty Acids are packed. They are all stored
there so that when the need arises, these substances can be sent to
their target area immediately through the blood stream
5)PRODUCTION OF PROTEINS: The liver produces some of the proteins that
make up blood plasma, like fibrinogen, albumin and prothrombin.
6)IMMUNITY: The Kupffer cells of the liver are a type of macrophage
which help to protect the body from microbes in the blood. It captures
and digest bacteria, parasites, etc, thus helping to maintain good
7) PRODUCTION OF RED BLOOD CELLS: In babies and little children, their
red blood cells are produced in the liver. However, the liver does not
produce red blood cells for adults.
Like I promised you would, you now know(hopefully you’ll
remember too) just how important your liver is, so be careful not to
overwork it through excessive alcohol intake, substance abuse, etc,
because the liver is one organ you can’t afford to lose.
Written by Okafor Chelsea Emmanuel, a medical student of the University Of Lagos College of medicine.
Feel free to add more functions of the liver in the comment box.
Questions and general comments are also welcome