It’s big, and it’s very busy. Have you thought twice about your liver lately? Let’s explore the reasons why we think the liver is the ultimate multi-tasker!
The big and powerful human liver
The liver is one of the largest organs in the human body, and this isn’t surprising given its very long to-do list. It’s generally considered part of the digestive system, as it helps with metabolism by helping to process the nutrients we eat and converting them into substances our body can use, but it also stores substances and nutrients and helps filter our blood. In fact, many functions of the liver are simply vital.
All in a day’s work
Here are just some of the many jobs that we ought to thank our liver for each day.
Making about a litre of digestive fluid
An important liver function is making large amounts of a yellowish or greenish brown multi-purpose digestive fluid called bile. The liver produces 800–1000mL of bile each day which gets sent to the small intestine where it helps us digest fats, by breaking them down, and absorbing some important vitamins. For example, fat soluble vitamins like vitamin K absorption relies on bile.
Taking care of waste and recycling red blood cells
Our red blood cells work so hard carrying oxygen for us that they die after only a few months. But the iron they contain is needed for our bodies, so the liver can recycle and store the iron released from red blood cells and helps with getting rid of the remaining waste (known as bilirubin).
Monitoring and filtering our blood
Our digestive system is always busy breaking down food and absorbing various components from food plus other substances like medicines. These can get absorbed into our blood, and the liver is involved in filtering and removing things like waste products, medicines and toxins. Plus the liver helps to break down hormones when necessary, so they can be excreted from the body.
Storing vitamins and minerals
The liver stores many of the vitamins needed by the body like A, D, E, K and B12. – Large amounts of these vitamins are stockpiled for use when we might need them, enough to last years in some cases! Minerals are also stored in the liver, like that iron recycled from red blood cells which is then stored in the liver as ferritin, and it also stores and releases copper.
Keeping our blood sugar levels stable
Another delicate task is managing blood sugar (glucose) levels. The liver is like an energy bank – helping the body to stabilize blood sugar levels when needed. It stores energy in the form of carbohydrates. When needed it can break these carbohydrates down and send glucose to the blood, and stores the rest in the form of a substance called glycogen.
Glycogen is our energy back-up. It’s there for us when we’re not getting enough glucose from food sources. When our blood glucose levels get low, the liver can turn glycogen back into glucose and send that glucose out into our blood. On the flipside, if our blood glucose levels get too high, the liver can soak up the excess glucose and turn it into glycogen. However, when our liver’s glycogen level gets low, and we’re missing this important energy back-up, fatigue can set in.
Want to help your liver help you?
With everything that your liver does for you, it’s only fair that you do what you can to look after it. Most of the things we can do for our liver, and to keep fatigue due to an overworked liver at bay, are simple healthy habits: