The liver is the body's detoxification organ. It's the largest organ and is also one of the most important.
The liver has many jobs apart from detoxifying the body. Here's a brief summary of its functions, courtesy of the British Liver Trust. But remember, there are more than five hundred functions.
- Processing digested food from the intestine.
- Controlling levels of fats, amino acids and glucose in the blood.
- Combating infections in the body.
- Clearing the blood of particles and infections, including bacteria.
- Neutralising and destroying drugs and toxins.
- Manufacturing bile.
- Storing iron, vitamins and other essential chemicals.
- Breaking down food and turning it into energy.
- Manufacturing, breaking down and regulating numerous hormones, including sex hormones.
- Making enzymes and proteins that are responsible for most chemical reactions in the body, for example those involved in blood clotting and repair of damaged tissues.
Some of the most important functions
Producing quick energy
One of the liver's most important functions is to break down food and convert it into energy when you need it. Carbohydrates such as bread and potatoes from your diet are broken down to glucose and stored mainly in the liver and muscles as glycogen.
When energy is required in an emergency, the liver rapidly converts its store of glycogen back into glucose ready for the body to use.
Your liver also helps the body to get rid of waste products. Waste products, which are not excreted by your kidneys, are removed from the blood by the liver. Some of them pass into the duodenum and then into the bowel via the bile ducts.
People with liver damage may sometimes lose the ability to control glucose concentration in the blood and need a regular supply of sugar.
Your liver plays a vital role in fighting infections, particularly infections arising in the bowel. It does this by mobilising part of your body's defence mechanism called the macrophage system.
The liver contains over half of the body's supply of macrophages, known as Kuppfer cells, which literally destroy any bacteria that they come into contact with.
If the liver is damaged in any way, its ability to fight infections is impaired.
Source: The British Liver Trust, www.britishlivertrust.org.uk