What weighs about three pounds, yet is bigger than all its peers? Give up?
Yep. Our liver, weighing in around three pounds, is the largest organ in the human body. It performs hundreds of functions, 24 hours a day. And you thought YOU had a stressful job!
The liver is best known as one of our major detox organs, the others being our kidneys (secreting waste through urine), GI tract (providing a vessel to transport waste out), lungs (expelling carbon dioxide), and our skin (allowing us to sweat).
Detoxing is not something the body needs once in a while after a night of heavy drinking. The liver helps us detox every single day and night of our lives. We live in a world where it’s impossible to avoid toxins. They’re in our polluted air, unfiltered water, medications, beauty and skincare products, and our toxin-laden food supply, thanks to our poor-quality soil, questionable farming methods, and pesticides on our produce. The liver helps us to combat these elements. Even the healthiest individuals need detoxing on a regular basis.
Not only that! The liver metabolizes estrogen. If the liver is damaged or not able to perform optimally, you can end up with increased estrogen (or estrogen dominance), which can decrease progesterone and testosterone, leading to all sorts of hormonal imbalances and unpleasant symptoms.
But wait, that’s not all!
You may also know the liver as a storage unit, holding roughly 400 calories of energy (in the form of glycogen) at any given time. Yes, thanks to the hospitality of the liver, we have backup glycogen which can be converted back to glucose and released into the bloodstream for when we need to keep our blood sugar stable (think: while we’re sleeping or if we forget to eat).
The liver also stores essential vitamins and minerals like iron, copper, and vitamins A, B12, D, E, and K. And just when you thought there was no room for anything else, the liver can store roughly 450 mls (almost half a liter) of blood, which is about 10% of our circulating blood.
Yep, our liver is one mighty organ - contributing to 3% of our body weight. For only three pounds, it pulls the enormous weight of keeping us alive and thriving. A healthy liver is essential to a healthy life, and here are five more reasons why!
In addition to storing our blood, the liver purifies it! Through the portal vein and hepatic artery from the GI tract, the liver takes in blood from the stomach, intestines, pancreas, etc. And through the hepatic vein, it can send cleansed blood back to the heart.
However, if there is a problem with the heart, such as a hardening in a heart valve, and blood gets backed up like a traffic jam, it can flow backward into the liver. When this happens, the liver can store up to one liter of blood, more than twice what it usually holds.
The liver helps cleanse our blood, sorting through, separating out the vitamins and nutrients from the toxins. It ensures our body stores and receives the nutrients it needs. The toxins, however, either get neutralized so they do not harm us, or eliminated entirely. This is our natural detoxification process.
Thank you, liver!
Speaking of blood, in instances where there is excessive bleeding, the liver creates proteins that can help clot blood and stop bleeding. This is an automatic function of the liver in times of distress to prevent the body from losing too much blood. Once again, thank you, liver!
Every time we eat carbs (fruits, veggies, grains), our body breaks them down into a single molecule, glucose. Some glucose is sent into the bloodstream for immediate energy, while the rest goes to the liver and is stored as glycogen. While we’re sleeping, fasting, or otherwise unable to eat, our liver converts the glycogen back to glucose and sends it into our blood, to ensure our blood sugar stays stable.
Bile is critical for digesting food and getting rid of toxins. Our primary source of nutrition comes from the food we eat. Anything we put in our mouth must be digested and assimilated, if we’re going to reap any benefits from the nutrients. And that process can’t happen without bile, and bile can’t happen without our liver to produce it!
No other organ has the ability to regenerate itself as the liver does. If 75% of our liver was diseased or removed, the remaining healthy liver cells would take over and regenerate - it may not rebuild the entire liver, but enough to allow the liver to function normally. It is reassuring to know that in a severe case where the majority of our liver was destroyed or removed, it has the capacity to heal, and get back to working in our best interest.