About the Liver
What does it look like | What does it do | What makes it unique? | Diet and your liver
Where is it and what does it look like?
The liver is located in the upper right-hand portion of the abdominal cavity, beneath the diaphragm (a sheet of muscle separating the chest and the abdomen), and on top of the stomach, right kidney, and intestines. The gall bladder is attached to the lower portion of the right side of the liver.
Shaped like a cone, the liver is a dark reddish-brown organ that weighs about 1.2 kg. There are two distinct sources that supply blood to the liver:
- Oxygenated blood flows in from the hepatic artery
- Nutrient-rich blood flows in from the hepatic portal vein
The liver holds about 500 ml (13 percent) of the body's blood supply at any given moment.
The liver consists of two main lobes - the right and
the left, both of which are made up of thousands of lobules. These
lobules are connected to small ducts that connect with larger ducts
to ultimately form the hepatic duct. The hepatic duct transports
the bile produced by the liver cells to the gallbladder and duodenum
(the first part of the small intestine).
What does the liver do?
The liver regulates most chemical levels in the
blood and excretes a product called "bile," which helps carry away
waste products from the liver. All the blood leaving the stomach
and intestines passes through the liver. The liver processes this
blood and breaks down the nutrients and drugs into forms that are
easier to use for the rest of the body.
The liver is the most complex and metabolically active organ in the body. It performs more than 500 vital functions. Some of the important ones are
- It provides immunity against infection. Hence if the liver is damaged, infections are more likely.
- It is the factory for manufacturing most of the important proteins in the body, and also cholesterol and special fat forms called lipoproteins in which all body fats are carried.
- It clears the blood of most chemicals, drugs and alcohol.
- It excretes bile into the intestine. Bile is vital for digestion of fats, and also serves to throw out body wastes.
- It regulates clotting of blood by manufacturing vital proteins
- It converts and stores extra sugar (glucose) in the form of starch (glycogen) which can be used in times of starvation.
What makes the liver unique?
All liver functions remain normal even if 70% of it is removed (provided the remaining 30% is healthy). Hence, in persons with cancer of the liver, large portions of cancerous liver can be removed without causing harm or compromise to liver function. Similarly, more than half the liver can be removed from the donor for transplantation purposes, without causing any derangement of liver function or any other serious harm to the donor.
The liver is the only organ in the body which can regenerate
itself after large portions of it are removed. Small remnants of
liver grow back to normal size within a few weeks. This is another
reason why it is safe to remove large portions of liver from living
donors and persons with liver tumours.
This is also why half livers transplanted into liver
failure patients are very successful since they soon grow to normal