The liver and its function

The liver is a large and complex organ. It weighs about 1.5 kg and sits mainly below your right lung, surrounded and protected from injury by the lower ribs on that side. The liver has two main parts, called the right lobe and the left lobe.

Your liver is critically important to your health. Everything you eat and drink is digested in the stomach and intestine, and passes into the bloodstream and ultimately enters the liver. Other substances that enter your bloodstream, for example by an injection, also pass through the liver.

The liver gets its blood in two ways, from the hepatic artery and the hepatic portal vein. It operates as a "chemical factory" that breaks down nutrients for use in the body, filters toxins from the blood and processes waste so it can be eliminated in the urine or faeces.

The liver performs the following functions:

  • Metabolises the food you eat, breaking down fats, carbohydrates and proteins into nutrients your body can use
  • Stores vitamins, minerals and sugar, converting these items into usable nutrients that are delivered to the cells throughout your body as they are required
  • Makes many substances the body needs including proteins, substances that help blood to clot and cholesterol which is an important building block in cell walls
  • Produces bile which breaks down the fats in food so they can be absorbed; bile is stored in the gallbladder and is passed through the bile duct to the small intestines.

If the liver is not working properly, harmful substances can build up and cause problems with the normal functions of the body. Symptoms of liver damage can be difficult to spot as they are not always obvious - they can include pain, tiredness and itching. However, the liver is very good at repairing itself and can function normally with only a small part of it in working order.


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