8 interesting facts about your liver

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8 interesting facts about your liver

Your liver is one of the hardest-working organs in your body.  Day and night, this second largest organ and the largest internal organ (our skin is the largest organ of the human body), is a virtual factory performing more than 500 vital functions that have been identified some of which include the following:

·      Regulates blood clotting

·      Produces bile which helps break down fat during digestion

·      Makes cholesterol

·      Clears the body of drugs and other poisonous substances

·      Converts excess glucose into glycogen for storage

·      Clears bilirubin from red blood cells

But how well do you really know your liver?  Did you know that to keep it healthy it’s best to choose high-fiber foods including fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, nuts, beans and seeds while skipping highly processed foods?  Also be sure to avoid consuming high amounts of salty and sugary foods but drink plenty of water. 

Here are 8 other important functions and facts about your liver you should know.

1.  The liver is the size of a football

This wedge-shaped, dark reddish-brown organ, shaped like a football that is flat on one side, weighs about 3 pounds.  It is located in the upper right-hand portion of the abdominal cavity, beneath the diaphragm, and on top of the stomach, right kidney, and intestines.

2.  Blood tests can tell you if your liver is healthy

Tests called liver function tests are blood tests that a doctor will use to check the liver for injury, disease, or infections.   This series of blood tests are usually done at the same time and are called a hepatic function panel or liver profile.

3.  The liver can actually grow back

The liver has the greatest regenerative capacity of any organ in the body.  One of the best known ways the liver can do this is when someone generously offers to donate part of their liver to someone in need.  During surgery, a portion of a donor’s liver is removed and used to replace a patient’s diseased liver.  After surgery, the donor’s liver regenerates back to full size, while the patient’s new liver also grows to a normal size.  Since the liver can regenerate damaged tissue rapidly, it can thereby prevent its own failure by regenerating itself.

4. The liver does not need to be detoxed

Some people go on a “cleanse diet” to where they restrict their diet to consuming only certain juices or food.  One of the purposes of detox diets is to remove toxins from the liver. But there is no scientific proof that these detox diets work.  Besides, the liver is quite effective at filtering and eliminating most ingested toxins all by itself.  Instead, just eat a healthy diet providing your liver the nutrients it needs to do its many jobs.

5.  Alcohol can damage liver cells

When you have a drink of beer, wine, or liquor, the liver is in charge of processing this alcohol to eliminate it from the body and to detoxify the blood.  But when you overconsume alcohol on a regular basis, this makes your liver have to work much harder as it can only handle so much at a time. Drinking excessively can lead to destruction of the liver cells, along with a build-up of fat deposits in the liver (fatty liver) or, more seriously, liver inflammation (alcoholic hepatitis), permanent scarring (cirrhosis) or even liver cancer

6.  Too much acetaminophen is not good for the liver

Acetaminophen is the main ingredient in Tylenol and taking too much of it can cause serious liver damage.  Tylenol is not the only medication containing acetaminophen as it can be found in more than 600 other medications, including prescription drugs and many over-the-counter pain, cold, and cough remedies. 

It is recommended that adults limit their daily intake of acetaminophen to what is equivalent to six extra-strength Tylenol tablets from all sources combined.  Follow your doctor’s advice and read ingredients on all medications carefully. 

7.  Liver disease is a silent condition

Many people probably assume that is something was wrong with their liver, they would know about it right away.  Not true.  Liver disease can be silent with few symptoms for a long time.   Up to half of all people with liver disease have no symptoms whatsoever.  Possible warning signs one might have are often vague, such as being very tired and having achy muscles.  They may also experience itchy skin, swelling in the belly, dark urine, confusion, or yellowing of the eyes or skin.  If a person is having any of those symptoms, they should see their doctor right away for blood tests on the health of their liver.

8.  There is a vaccination against hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a contagious infection of the liver.  It can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious lifelong illness leading to scarring of the liver, liver failure and cancer with the possibility of being fatal.  The way it is spread is when people come in contact with the blood, open sores, or body fluids of someone who has the hepatitis B virus.

Hepatitis B can be prevented by getting vaccinated from it.  In the United States, the hepatitis B vaccine is given to all babies and children, as well as most adults as a series of three shots over 6 months.  The vaccine is considered safe and effective.  Since everyone is at some risk, all adults should seriously consider getting the hepatitis B vaccine for a lifetime protection against preventable chronic liver disease.

An interesting side note – the hepatitis B vaccine is also known as the first “anti-cancer” vaccine because it prevents hepatitis B, the leading cause of liver cancer worldwide.