The words ‘Liver & Detox’ spring to mind as quickly and easily as ‘Posh & Becks’. Most people are well aware of the liver’s important role in getting rid of toxins from the body; less familiar though are the 500 or so (yes, really!) other essential jobs your liver does every single day.
It’s worth getting to know your liver a bit better. If you’re a bit more in tune with what your liver actually does, it’s easier to spot when it’s not working at its best. Here we’ve put together a quick summary of its main jobs, to show that there’s much more to the liver than detox. And suffice to say that even these are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the capabilities of this mighty organ.
What your liver actually does – A quick guide:
• Detoxification – The liver processes any toxins that end up in the body; that includes those from external sources such as alcohol, smoking or even pesticides on food and also those created inside the body, such as toxins produced by harmful bacteria or even by-products created during the processing of hormones such as oestrogen.
• Bile production – The liver produces a mind-blowing 800 – 1000ml bile every single day and this has a hugely important job. Bile helps the body to digest and absorb fats, cholesterol and some vitamins too.
• Blood clotting - With the help of vitamin K, the liver produces proteins that are needed for blood clotting. It also breaks down old or damaged blood cells.
• Cholesterol production – Many people are completely unaware that the liver actually makes large amounts of cholesterol!
• Protein metabolism – When you eat protein foods such as meat, your digestive system breaks these down into smaller substances called amino acids. These amino acids are then used for many different functions in the body, not least to make structural tissues such as hair, skin, nails, muscle and even neurotransmitters such as serotonin. The liver is also involved in what happens to proteins inside the body. Amino acids can be changed so they can be used to make energy, carbohydrates or even fats and it’s the liver that’s responsible for doing this. The liver also makes non-essential amino acids and converts ammonia (a toxic by-product of protein metabolism) to a much less toxic substance called urea which is released into the blood, transported to the kidneys and passed out of the body via urine.
• Fat metabolism – Liver helps to make energy from fats. Ketones are waste products produced when the liver breaks down fats to make energy and can be toxic in large quantities.
• Carbohydrate metabolism – The liver helps the body to maintain a constant level of sugar in your blood for easy-to-access energy. When blood sugar gets too high the liver removes some from the blood and stores it as glycogen. If blood sugar gets too low, the liver breaks down glycogen to release sugar into the blood. Once liver glycogen stores are full, excess glucose is converted into fatty acids by the liver for long-term storage as fat.
• Iron & copper storage – Iron is taken from hemoglobin and stored in the liver as ferritin, ready to make new red blood cells. The liver also stores copper and releases it when needed.
• Vitamin storage – The liver stores significant amounts of vitamins A, D, E, K and B12.
• Immune function - The liver contains high numbers of active immune cells called Kupffer cells; these cells destroy any pathogens that might enter the liver via the gut.
• Albumin production – The liver produces albumin – a substance which helps to maintain blood pressure and stops the blood vessels from becoming leaky.
• Blood pressure regulation – The liver also makes a hormone called angiotensinogen, which also helps to regulate blood pressure.
Look after your liver!
These are just a few of the vital jobs your liver does every day; thankfully you don’t need to be an expert on every single one of its 500+ functions, you just need to have a broad grasp of just how diverse the liver’s roles are. And the take away message is that if you look after this vital organ, your health will benefit in a vast number of ways.