What is the Liver?
The liver is the largest glandular organ of the body. It weighs
about 3 lb (1.36 kg). It is reddish brown in color and is
divided into four lobes of unequal size and shape. The liver
lies on the right side of the abdominal cavity beneath the
diaphragm. Blood is carried to the liver via two large vessels
called the hepatic artery and the portal vein. The heptic artery
carries oxygen-rich blood from the aorta (a major vessel in the
heart). The portal vein carries blood containing digested food
from the small intestine. These blood vessels subdivide in the
liver repeatedly, terminating in very small capillaries. Each
capillary leads to a lobule. Liver tissue is composed of
thousands of lobules, and each lobule is made up of hepatic
cells, the basic metabolic cells of the liver.
Structure of the Liver
The liver consists of four sections, or lobes. There are two
main lobes--the right lobe, which is by far the larger, and the
left lobe. Two small lobes lie behind the right lobe.
Each lobe is made up of multisided units called lobules. Most
livers have between 50,000 and 100,000 lobules. Each lobule
consists of a central vein surrounded by tiny liver cells
grouped in sheets or bundles. These cells perform the work of
the liver. Cavities known as sinusoids separate the groups of
cells within a lobule. The sinusoids give the liver a spongy
texture and enable it to hold large amounts of blood.
The liver has an unusual blood supply system. Like other organs,
the liver receives blood containing oxygen from the heart. This
blood enters the liver through the hepatic artery. The liver
also receives blood filled with nutrients, or digested food
particles, from the small intestine. This blood enters the liver
through the portal vein. In the liver, the hepatic artery and
the portal vein branch into a network of tiny blood vessels that
empty into the sinusoids.
The liver cells absorb nutrients and oxygen from the blood as it
flows through the sinusoids. They also filter out wastes and
poisons. At the same time, they secrete sugar, vitamins,
minerals, and other substances into the blood. The sinusoids
drain into the central veins, which join to form the hepatic
vein. Blood leaves the liver through the hepatic vein.
Each lobule also contains bile capillaries, tiny tubes that
carry the bile secreted by the liver cells. The bile capillaries
join to form bile ducts, which carry bile out of the liver. Soon
after leaving the liver, the bile ducts join together, forming
the hepatic duct. The liver manufactures bile continuously, even
if the small intestine is not digesting food. Excess bile flows
into the gall bladder, where it is stored for later use. Bile
from the liver and gall bladder flows into the small intestine
through the common bile duct.
What the Liver Does
The liver is the largest organ in the body. It is located on the
right side of the abdomen (to the right of the stomach) behind
the lower ribs and below the lungs. The liver performs more than
400 functions each day to keep the body healthy. Some of its
major jobs include:
converting food into nutrients the body can use (for example,
the liver produces bile to help break down fats)
storing fats, sugars, iron, and vitamins for later use by the
making the proteins needed for normal blood clotting
removing or chemically changing drugs, alcohol, and other
substances that may be harmful or toxic to the body
Basic Functions of the Liver
The liver is the largest and one of the most complex organs in
the body. It is located on the right side of the abdomen. The
liver performs four basic functions:
It aids in digestion by helping in the absorption of fat and
certain vitamins, including vitamins A, D, E, and K
It helps distribute the nutrients found in food
It helps "clean" the blood by removing medications and toxins
It produces important proteins that affect the blood, such as
factors that are essential in making the blood clot after an
liver is the link between the digestive and the circulatory
systems. Some of the most important functions of the liver
• The liver
secretes bile that aids in the digestion of our food; for
without it digestion could not take place.
• The liver
detoxifies the blood and stores glucose, (i.e., sugar) the chief
source of energy for the body.
• The liver
acts as storage for numerous vitamins and minerals.
• The liver
makes various substances that aid in the clotting of blood.
• The liver
regulates the body’s metabolism.
the liver regenerates itself.
These are just a few of the more than 500 functions of the
The liver produces bile, which aids in the digestion and
absorption of fats. Bile also aids in the absorption of
substances such as vitamins A, D, E, and K and medication that
patients take as an immunosuppressive agent following liver
transplantation. The bile is stored in the gallbladder (which is
located just below the liver) and then released into the
intestines as needed. Together, these organs process the
nutrients found in the foods we eat.
The liver also helps filter many chemical substances and waste
products from the blood. Most medicines are cleaned from the
bloodstream by the liver. The liver also removes any alcohol
Symptoms of Liver Disease
The symptoms of liver disease include:
jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin)
mental confusion or coma
vomiting of blood
easy bruising and tendency to bleed
gray or clay-colored stools
abnormal buildup of fluid in the abdomen
Prevention of liver diseases
consists mainly of avoiding risk factors for liver disease or of
prophylaxis by immunization.
Risk factor modification
Abstinence or reduced alcohol
intake (Alcoholic liver disease, deterioration of other liver
Caution regarding intimate
contact and use condoms when sexually active (HBV, HCV, HDV) -
the hepatitis B virus is also present in saliva and, unlike
HIV, can be transmitted through this fluid!
Careful hygiene when traveling
Avoid accidental exposure to
blood or needle stick (HBV, HCV) - the chance of HBV infection
by needle stick is approx. 500 times greater than that of HIV
Avoid syringe sharing if IV drug
abuse (HBV, HCV).
Potentially hepatotoxic medications
Avoid potentially hepatotoxic supplements for the prevention of
liver disease progression, e.g. some mushrooms (amanita
species), Echinacea, gentian, iron, mistletoe, sienna fruit
extract, valerian root, vitamin A.
Causes Of Liver Diseases
Liver disease may be caused by one
or more different factors. Most common causes for liver disease
are alcohol abuse, viral hepatitis, genetic disorders, obesity,
cancer, autoimmune disorders and drugs and other toxins.
Alcohol abuse is the major cause
of liver disease in the US and most western countries. Like
viral hepatitis and fatty deposits present in morbid obesity, it
can lead to scarring and inflammation of the liver, which is
known as cirrhosis.
Long exposure to harmful factors
like certain drugs and copper may cause liver malfunction as
well, and anomalies in the immune system can cause the body to
attack its own liver as if it were a foreign element. Cancer is
also an extended cause of liver disease, and most of the times
presents itself as a manifestation of metastasis of a tumor
present in another place in the body.
Several diseases can injure the
liver and stop it from working correctly.
Non viral hepatitis
and Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH)