The most commonly known liver function is the ability to filter toxins out of the bloodstream. Some common examples are alcohol and the byproducts of medications. It is your second largest organ, after the skin, and works in tandem with other organs. It works with the gallbladder and pancreas to digest food, and with the kidneys to filter toxins from the blood.
When the liver becomes damaged, though, it becomes evident that the liver does much more. Check out these lesser recognized liver functions.
Nutrition and Liver Function
One of the most important liver functions is to process and store nutrients used by the body. After being absorbed in the stomach and intestines, nutrients make their way into the bloodstream. As the blood passes through the liver, excess nutrition is stored for future use.
Amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, are also processed by the liver. The liver is responsible for extracting amino acids from food and for synthesizing the amino acids not found naturally. This synthesizing process produces ammonia, a highly toxic substance commonly found in cleaning products. Another liver function is to convert the ammonia into the less toxic chemical, urea. Urea is then sent to the kidneys to be converted into urine.
The liver also aids in breaking down fats and carbohydrates in the body. To process these substances, the liver produces bile for the stomach and intestines. Bile is necessary for breaking these fats and carbohydrates into more manageable amounts. The pancreas can then finish the process by producing enzymes that continue to break the fats and carbohydrates down.
Glucose and Liver function
While the pancreas is commonly associated with glucose, or blood sugar, the release of glucose is up to the liver. After the intestines break sugar into glucose and absorb it into the blood, the glucose is filtered through the liver. In times of high blood sugar concentration, such as after a meal, the liver stores excess glucose. It converts this available energy into glycogen, an easily stored form of glucose. As the pancreas creates insulin, which allows cells to use glucose as energy, blood sugar levels drop. The liver then begins to slowly convert glycogen back into usable glucose.
Blood and Liver function
On average, red blood cells function for around 120 days before they become too worn to be effective. At this point, they are removed through one of the liver’s functions. As the liver filters blood, it removes catches and removes these ineffective blood cells from circulation. More cells are created by the bone marrow to replace the lost cells which are converted into waste. Before completely disposing of these cells, though, the liver functions yet again. These worn cells are broken down and their iron is recycled back into the body.
In addition to this, the liver functions in maintaining blood levels and clotting ability. The liver naturally creates a variety of proteins, such as albumin. This protein helps maintain blood pressure, and is responsible for binding the many components of blood together. Fibrinogen, another protein created by the blood, works with vitamin k to help clot blood. Studies show that when injured, a liver’s fibrinogen production increases to help prevent blood loss.
What happens if any of these liver functions fail?
Without the liver, all of these functions are compromised. Studies have shown that a damaged liver has trouble absorbing nutrients, converting and storing glucose, and maintaining healthy blood stores. In severe cases, patients with liver disease have experienced malnutrition, abnormally distributed fluid retention, and inability to clot blood properly.
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