The liver performs hundreds of functions, all of which are essential to human health. Though it is estimated that the liver performs over 500 functions for the body, a handful of these functions are most critical to survival.
The liver’s most important functions include:
- regulating and storing sugars for the body
- filtering and detoxifying blood in the body
- producing bile and aiding in metabolism
- breaking proteins down into simpler amino acids
- producing cholesterol
- storing vitamins and nutrients
One particularly important liver function is the organ’s ability to complete the process of glycogenolysis. After consuming food, the liver will absorb glucose sugar (obtained from carbohydrates) and store it as glycogen. Later on, the liver will convert glycogen back into glucose, supplying the body with the energy it needs to function properly. The liver is therefore critical to the process of blood sugar regulation in the human body.
Perhaps the most important feature of the liver is its ability to filter toxins out of the bloodstream. These toxins may be inhaled, ingested, or produced by the body during its normal digestive processes. Certain substances, such as drugs and alcohol, must pass through the liver to be filtered and properly processed.
The liver’s filtration system is crucial to human health. At any given time, a full 10% of the body’s blood is contained in the liver, with an incredible 47 ounces (1.4 liters) flowing through the organ every minute. In this filtration process, the liver separates substances that can be used by the body for energy from other substances that should be expelled from the body as waste. These waste substances, such as urea, are dissolved in the blood and transported to the kidneys, where they can be removed from the body. The useful substances are then stored in the liver or released throughout the body for further use.
Another notable function of the liver is its ability to produce bile. The substance, which is also known as “gall,” is a bitter green-yellow fluid that aids in the digestion of fats in the human body. The liver produces bile constantly and stores this substance in the gallbladder. When an individual eats, bile is excreted into the small intestine. Here, the substance aids the body in breaking down lipids (fats). Without bile, the body must expel fats through bowel movements, leading to greasy, white-grey stools, intestinal problems, and nutrient deficiencies.
The liver is also crucial to the process of cholesterol production in the body. 80% of the body’s cholesterol is produced by the liver, which converts other fats into cholesterol fat. Though the body needs a certain amount of cholesterol for proper functioning, an excess of it can lead to other health problems. As such, it is crucial that individuals consume more “good” fats than “bad,” leading to healthier livers and better health overall.
The functions of the liver are practically innumerable. From filtering the blood to producing bile, glycogen, and cholesterol, it is clear that the liver is important to countless bodily functions.