Have you ever seen liver and onions on a diner menu? If so, we’re guessing you said “yuck” and ordered something else.
But did you know that there’s one liver you don’t have to order? It’s always right inside your abdomen, up under your ribcage, and it’s very important to your health.
Your liver is the largest solid organ in your body. By the time you’re grown up, it will be about the size of a football. The liver does many jobs, but here are three big ones:
- It cleans your blood.
- It produces an important digestive liquid called bile.
- It stores energy in the form of a sugar called glycogen.
The Liver Cleans Blood
The liver helps you by taking toxins (substances in the body that are actually like poisons) out of your blood. Wait! Why do you have toxins in your blood in the first place? Sometimes your body produces them as part of its normal function, like breaking down protein, a component in foods such as meat and nuts.
The liver also cleans blood that has just been enriched with vitamins and minerals during digestion. After you’ve eaten something, the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients from the food pass from the intestine into the blood. Before going out to the rest of the body, the nutrient-rich blood makes a stop at the liver.
The liver processes the good stuff into forms that the rest of the body can use. Waste or stuff your body doesn’t need can be carried by bile back into the intestine and out of the body when you poop. Other waste processed by the liver goes through your blood to your kidneys and out in your pee.
And, if you ever accidentally ate something that was harmful, your liver would try to break it down and clear it out of your system. But don’t put your liver to the test! Steer clear of poisons and other harmful stuff.
The Liver Makes Bile
As you probably know, the digestive system does more than just move food through your body until it’s time for a trip to the bathroom. During digestion, your body takes everything your body needs from the food you eat. Fat is one of the things the body gets from food.
Bile, a digestive juice produced by the liver, helps the body absorb fat into the bloodstream. You’ll find this thick, yellow-green substance in the gallbladder, where it’s stored until the body needs some to digest fats.
The Liver Stores Glycogen
The liver also helps the body use carbohydrates (carbs), another important component in food. Carbohydrates are found in lots of foods, such as bread, fruit, and milk. The body breaks down most carbs into a type of sugar called glucose, which is the main source of fuel for our cells. Glucose stored in the liver is called glycogen.
Glycogen is like your backup fuel. When the body needs a quick energy boost or when a person’s blood glucose level drops the liver breaks down glycogen and releases glucose into the bloodstream.
And That’s Not All!
Your liver doesn’t stop there. It has a hand in making cholesterol, which you might think of as bad, but your body needs some of it. And the liver helps with blood clotting, which is what helps you stop bleeding not long after you get a cut.
You should thank your liver next time you take some medicine, too. For example, when you take a pain reliever for a headache, the liver takes the active ingredient and breaks it down so your body can use it to make your headache go away!
Loving Your Liver
Now that you know how much your liver does for you, you’re probably wondering what you can do for it. It’s easy, really. Living healthy is the best way to care for your liver. The liver can be damaged if a person is very overweight or drinks too much alcohol. So be active, eat right, and your liver will keep on loving you back!
Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD
Date reviewed: September 2014