The liver is the body’s largest solid internal organ, weighing approximately 1.5kg, approximately 2% of an adult’s total weight. It is of critical importance, responsible for an array of functions that help support metabolism, immunity, digestion, detoxification, and vitamin storage.
Essentially, the liver filters the blood coming from the digestive tract before passing it through to the rest of the body. Its 3 main functions are: synthesis, storage, and detoxification.
The liver synthesises amino acid proteins, lipids, carbohydrates and glucose absorbed during digestion. It helps with their storage, as well as that of glucose in the form of glycogen, iron in the form of ferritin, and copper via a protein called ceruloplasmin. Its management of protein also includes helping the body to coagulate blood.
The liver also eliminates toxins via the bile ducts, and that way helps the body to detoxify chemicals and metabolise drugs.
Liver issues and symptoms
Most liver issues take a while to manifest, often when the problem is at an advanced stage. The most common liver problems are:
- Hepatitis. Inflammation of the liver, usually caused by viruses (hepatitis A, B, and C) or heavy drinking, drugs, allergic reactions, and obesity.
- Cirrhosis. Long-term damage to the liver from any cause can lead to permanent scarring, called cirrhosis.
- Liver failure. Can have many causes including infection, genetic diseases, and excessive alcohol.
Any liver problem will likely hinder its performance. Thus, symptoms of liver issues include:
- Itchy skin.
- Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin).
- Rapid increase in weight or abdominal volume caused by fluid retention.
- Bruising due to coagulation failure.
- Disturbed sleeping patterns.
- Brain disorders caused by the accumulation of toxic substances such as ammonia.
How to maintain a healthy liver
- Alcohol. If you drink, do so in moderation.
- Hepatitis A, B and C. Get vaccinated, practice safe sex, and wash your hands regularly.
- Toxins. Avoid chemicals found in cleaning products or pesticides. Read the warning labels, ventilate when using these products, and wash produce and hands.
- Drugs, medications and supplements. Be wary of consuming these, always read the label and check with a doctor.
- Exercise and eat a balanced diet. The liver requires a wide array of vitamins to function correctly, and obesity may lead to fatty liver disease.