That big, brownish blob in your abdomen? That’s your liver. And although it doesn’t look like much, it’s pretty incredible. The liver performs over 300 different functions in the body, making it second only to the brain.
But do you have any idea what it really does? Here are some fun facts about your most undervalued organ:
It is the largest organ inside your body
It weighs about 3 pounds and lies primarily in your upper right abdomen. Beneath the diaphragm and over the stomach. It’s pretty hard to miss.
Yes, just like Doctor Who. Except, the liver isn’t fictional. The liver is the only organ we have that is capable of regeneration. Slice a piece off and the liver will regenerate itself fully. It’s generally understood that you only need 25 percent of a whole liver in order for it to grow back to full, functioning size. That’s pretty incredible!
It processes everything we eat
The liver converts the nutrients we get from our diets into substances that the body can actually utilize. Nutrients are transported via blood directly through the liver, where the liver is responsible for nutrient conversion and organization.
It converts toxic substances into harmless substances
Or it makes sure they get excreted from the body. The liver scrubs toxins out of the blood and either renders them innocuous or puts them on the fast track to evacuation. Without your liver, toxins like alcohol would just circulate in the blood and do a lot more damage.
It helps your blood to clot
With vitamin K, the liver produces the proteins need for blood clotting. For anyone who has ever had so much as a paper cut, you can thank your liver for not allowing you to bleed out.
It breaks down fats
Fats we consume need to be broken down in order to create energy. The liver is where that happens. Liver cells also produce bile, which help with fat absorption and fat breakdown in the small intestine.
It monitors nutrient levels in the blood
Since the liver is soaked in, essentially, a large pool of blood, it has a pretty good idea of what’s going on. It stores vitamins and minerals and releases them into the blood when needed. It also plays a part in controlling blood sugar levels by removing excess sugar from the blood and storing it away as glycogen. In instances of low blood sugar, the liver breaks down this glycogen stash and releases sugar into the blood.
It manages appetite and food choices
The liver also releases hormones to signal when the body needs or doesn’t need certain foods. One recent study looked at the hepatokine fibroblast growth factor 21, which is a hormone that plays a hand in quenching sugar cravings when we’ve consumed more sugar than the body needs. That’s why when you are eating a piece of cake, you are able to turn off your cravings and stop at just a piece (or a few). Malfunction of this hormone can lead to excessive sugar consumption, and potentially obesity and diabetes. Needless to say, the hormones the liver secretes may be powerful influencers on our dietary behavior.
It keeps track of time
Studies have shown that the liver swells and shrinks along with our unique circadian rhythms. Because so many toxins pass through the liver, it is likely that this size change relates to its own sort of repair and maintenance program. With over 300 functions it performs day to day, there is a lot of housework to do to keep up.
Liver cells are practically immune cells
Liver cells are pretty incredible. While most cells can manage only 2 sets of chromosomes, liver cells (or hepatocytes) can enfold and manage up to 8 sets without succumbing to disease. Because of this genetic diversity, they are as bomb-proof as immune cells and can handle the onslaught of all sorts of toxins without breaking down.
Your liver is responsible for a lot, so treat it well. As incredible as the liver is, if you overload it with toxins (like alcohol and processed fatty foods), it won’t be able to keep up. So give your liver a hand. Keep your diet clean, enjoy indulgences in moderation and keep a balanced lifestyle. It’s the least you can do for all that your liver does for you.