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The Major Functions of the Liver Simplified

The liver is the largest solid organ of the body, and plays an important role in the uptake of amino acids, carbohydrates, lipids, and vitamins. Due to the positioning of the liver between the digestive tract and the rest of the body, a large variety of nutrients and toxic substances traverse through the liver. If you want more details of the cell found in the liver rather than an overview see my more detailed article about the “Cell Types Found in the Liver” here.

 The Liver is involved in breakdown of:

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Remember Glycolysis and the Citric Acid Cycle…in the Liver

You may remember how Glycolysis and the Citric Acid Cycle break down glucose to produce cellular energy. These pathways are very highly active in liver cells (hepatocytes) because the break down of glucose (carbohydrates/sugar)and storage as glycogen is a major function of the liver. For example, you will not observe skin cells carrying out energy production at the rate liver cells do.

The liver also produces bile that aids in the mechanical + chemical digestion of food in the small intestine. So the liver not only breaks down absorbed food, but it releases bile to “pre-breakdown” food before it even reaches the liver.


The Liver and the Immune System

As one of the first organs to encounter foreign substances after nutrients are absorbed by the body via the small intestine, the liver must also be integrated into the body’s immune response to combat invading bacteria. The liver has two cell types that protect the liver from invading organisms.

  1. Kupffer cells, named after the German scientist Carl Kupffer, are macrophage-like cells that engulf foreign substances.
  2. Pit Cells are immune system cells that recognize and kill tumors or viruses that may infect the body through the liver.


The Liver Neutralizes Toxins

Since the liver is the largest solid organ of the body it can play a crucial role in filtering the blood along with the kidneys. The liver can filter out harmful chemical added to food and even brakes down consumed alcohol. However, the liver can be overwhelmed with toxins and cause serious diseases such as liver cirrhosis.


Coolest Liver Function: Regeneration

The liver has the unique ability to regenerate damaged or removed liver tissue. You can cut out 75% of the liver and its cells will multiply rapidly until the liver returns to the “exact volume” before the tissue removal occurred. No other organ in the body can regenerate as much volume as the liver.


Summary of Liver Functions

The wide array of functions carried out by the liver make it a complex organ that must be carefully regulated to perform effectively. The liver’s main functions are to:

  1. Breakdown and store lipids, carbohydrates, amino acids, and Vitamins.
  2. Produce bile which aids in the breakdown of food.
  3. Plays a role in fighting off invading organisms.
  4. Detoxify harmful chemicals
  5. Regenerate itself when damaged

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