What makes it so important?
Your liver is your very own chemical processing plant. It receives 30% of the blood circulating in your system every minute – performing chemical reactions to remove harmful toxins and distribute and store essential nutrients.
This vital process is called ‘metabolism’ and cells in the liver, known as hepatocytes, are put to work to keep your body working at its best. Essentially, your liver loves and cares for you.
Your nutrient processing plant
Every time you feed, your liver feeds you. Once food is digested, nutrients enter the blood, which are taken straight to your liver for processing. Depending on how low or plentiful these nutrients are in your body, the liver cells will either release the goodness to when it’s needed or store it for when your body needs a boost.
Keeping you energised
We all know we need carbohydrates for energy. But did you know that it’s your liver that does the job of managing the release of this vital energy source?
Once carbs have been broken down into glucose in your gastrointestinal tract, the glucose enters the blood stream and is taken straight to your liver to regulate and maintain healthy levels. Your liver also stores excess glucose in the form of glycogen, ready for converting back into glucose when levels drop between meals, during exercise or when you’re fasting.
And here’s the really clever thing. Your liver can also convert non-sugars, such as amino acids, into glucose to keep levels healthy. It does some pretty impressive things with fats too.
Making fats work for you
Your liver is your fat processing factory – it breaks down fat and compounds such as lipoproteins, cholesterol and phospholipids. If fat is in excess, the liver combines fatty acids and glycerol to form a storage molecule and transports it to your body’s storage depots, such as the subcutaneous tissue (tissue just under the skin). Then, at times when energy levels are low, between meals and during exercise, this stored fat is converted back into glycerol and the liver turns the remaining fatty acids into an alternative energy supply.
Processing your proteins
Proteins are also vital for a healthy body, and your liver takes charge of these too. Once proteins are broken down into amino acids in your intestines, they enter the blood stream and flow direct to the liver. Here, the liver cells (hepatocytes) go to work on removing nitrogen from the proteins which rapidly changes into ammonia – a highly toxic substance. Your liver then acts fast to convert this into urea to be excreted into the urine and eliminated from your body. With excess amino acids, your liver converts them into fat for storage or, if your body needs an energy boost, it will use them to create glucose.
Your very own health store
As well as glycogen for energy, many vitamins and minerals are also stored in your liver for use when your body needs them most. Each individual liver cell will stock many of your essentials, including vitamins A, B12, D, E and K, as well as minerals like iron and copper.
How your liver looks out for you
When harmful toxins and substances enter your blood stream, your liver acts fast to detoxify and destroy them. Some may simply be a by-product of a normal metabolism, others may be ingested or inhaled substances such as drugs and alcohol.
Filtering the blood, your liver removes dead cells and invading bacteria, processes nitrogen and cholesterol and neutralises harmful hormones. All the unwanted substances and toxins are then quickly transported to your intestine or your kidneys for disposal.
Making everything better with bile
To aid absorption of fat and fat-soluble vitamins and flush out unwanted substances from your body, your liver produces bile. It stores the bile in your gall bladder, where it can be emptied into your intestines when needed.
There’s a lot your liver does for you on a daily basis, so show it some appreciation. Check out our liver-loving recipes, pick up some diet tips, discover how exercise can help, and show you care by finding out what can damage your liver, including common toxins to avoid.
i.Gastroenterological Society of Australia (GESA) www.gesa.org.au
ii.Australia liver foundation: liver.org.au