The liver is the second largest organ in our body after skin. It is the largest solid organ and the largest gland in our body. The liver is situated on the right side of the upper abdomen below the lungs. The liver is an important organ in our body. It works as an engine of the digestive system by controlling metabolic processes efficiently.
Do you know that the liver is the only organ in the body that has the capacity to regenerate? It can regenerate entirely without any functional loss, as long as a minimum of 25% of the healthy liver tissue is left.
Functions of the liver
The liver is a metabolically very active organ. It performs many crucial works to maintain our circulation system effortlessly. The liver synthesizes many essential proteins, filters blood, maintains blood sugar, and stores many vitamins and minerals. Whatever we eat or drink, it is cleansed by the liver. It performs hundreds of tasks to maintain our body’s functionality. Some of the functions of the liver are:
- The liver produces and excretes bile. Bile helps in the breakdown and absorbs fats, cholesterol, and some vitamins present in food in the small intestine.
- The liver synthesizes plasma proteins such as albumin, and clotting factors.
- The liver filters all the blood from the stomach and intestine. Thus the liver absorbs all the nutrients from the blood. It also ensures to absorb all the waste, harmful products from the blood.
- The bile of the liver helps in absorbing vitamin K. Vitamin K is needed for blood clotting and bone-building.
- The liver is a storehouse of many vitamins and minerals like vitamin A, D, E, K, B12, iron, copper, and zinc.
- The liver absorbs excess glucose of food from the blood and stores it as glycogen in our body. In need, the liver also converts back this stored glycogen into glucose.
- The liver’s phagocytic cells also known as kupffer cells, plays important role in the immune system by destroying diseases causing pathogens.
- The liver also filters and metabolizes drugs and alcohol.
Symptoms of poor liver functions
Generally, a liver disease does not show symptoms until it is severe. Symptoms may vary according to disease type but, some symptoms are common if the liver is not functioning properly like:
- Jaundice is characterized by yellowish skin and eyes
- Pain and swelling in the right side of the upper abdomen
- Swelling in ankles and legs
- Dark color urine
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sometimes stool color becomes pale color
- Decreased or loss of appetite
- Easy bruising
How to improve liver health
As we know liver diseases are deteriorating our health. Liver disease affects our overall health. Sometimes unattended liver diseases may lead to life-threatening conditions. We can prevent liver diseases by some modifications in our lifestyle such as:
- Cutting the amount of alcohol consumption is a must for a healthy liver. Alcohol is harmful to liver health as it is the main cause of liver cirrhosis.
- Preventive vaccination for hepatitis A and B reduces the risk of infection of any form of the hepatitis virus.
- We have to avoid excess sugar and fatty food. As excessive fat lead to fatty liver disease.
- Eating healthy foods keeps many problems at bay. Including some fruits and drinks that can improve liver health such as grapefruits, blueberries, cranberries, pears, grapes, sprouts, broccoli, green vegetables, nuts, fish, green tea, beetroot juice.
- Keeping a tab on our weight is a must to maintain a healthy liver. As we know overweight can lead to fatty liver.
- Protection during sex is good to avoid sexually transmitted diseases such as hepatitis C.
- A light exercise routine is overall beneficial for good health including liver health.
- Avoid exposure to the toxins such as pesticides, chemical aerosols, and smoke. These toxins can damage our liver cells and jeopardize our health also.
- We have to reduce the intake of over the counter drugs. As intake of unnecessary drugs and mixing of some drugs can damage our liver.
- Intake of illicit drugs can damage our liver.
- We have to manage our other health conditions like diabetes, blood pressure as they put extra pressure on our liver.
- We have to avoid the use of contaminated needles. We have to make sure that needles should be sterilized properly. Needles are not only used in medical practices but also used in tattoos, and body piercings.
- We should not share our personal hygiene items such as razors, toothbrushes, and nail clippers. As these items may some tomes carry contaminated blood and body fluids which can spread diseases that affect our liver.
- Washing hands properly with soap after using the bathroom is essential to avoid liver disease.
Dr. Naveen Kumar, Senior Consultant – Medical Gastroenterology, Dharamshila Narayana Superspeciality Hospital, Delhi