The liver is the largest glandular organ in the body and
performs many vital functions to keep the body pure of toxins and harmful
It is a vital organ that supports nearly every organ in the
body in some facet. Without a
healthy liver, a person cannot survive.
An average adult liver weighs about three pounds. Located in
the upper-right portion of the abdominal cavity under the diaphragm, the liver
consists of four lobes. It receives about 1.5 quarts of blood every minute via
the hepatic artery and portal vein.
The liver is considered a gland—an organ that secretes
chemicals—because it produces bile, a substance needed to digest fats. Bile’s
salts break up fat into smaller pieces so it can be absorbed more easily in the
In addition to producing bile, the liver:
- Detoxifies the blood to rid it of harmful
substances such as alcohol and drugs
- Stores some vitamins and iron
- Stores the simple sugar glucose
- Converts stored sugar to usable sugar when the
body’s sugar (glucose) levels fall below normal.
- Breaks down hemoglobin as well as insulin and
- Converts ammonia to urea, which is vital in
- Destroys old red blood cells
The destruction of old red blood cells produces waste that gives
fecal matter its usual brown color. Discoloration of stool — or darkened urine —
could signal something is wrong with your liver.
Another common sign of liver problems is jaundice, the
yellowing of the skin and eyes due to the buildup of bilirubin, a waste product
of normal hemoglobin breakdown.
Because the liver performs so many vital functions, it is
prone to disease.
Common liver diseases include hepatitis infection, fatty
liver disease, cancer as well as damage from alcohol, the pain reliever
acetaminophen, and some cancer drugs.
Cirrhosis of the liver occurs when the organ becomes scarred
and hardened so that it cannot function properly. This is most often caused by
chronic liver disease brought on by long-term alcohol abuse or hepatitis C
Liver dialysis—in which a machine performs the detoxification
function of the liver—is still a relatively new treatment, and it cannot
support a person longer than a few years. Dialysis is normally used as a bridge
between liver failure and liver transplant surgery.