Updated: Jan 10
The health and vitality of every organ, gland, and cell are dependent upon the liver. Even our intelligence, attitudes, emotions and vitality are largely related to the liver. Our ability to repel disease or recover from disease is very much associated with this incredible organ. The liver, along with the heart and brain, are the most important organs in our bodies. However, even the heart and the brain are dependent on the liver. No one can be healthy without a strong, clean liver.
Notice - Live-er. The name itself gives us an idea of how important this organ really is. Yet, we often give little thought to it. In the news there is often advice about maintaining cardiovascular health; or ways we can reduce or minimise the risk of getting dementia or Alzheimer’s; or you might be regularly called in for an asthma / COPD check. Our hearts, brains and lungs seem to get all the attention.
However, we have an internal organ that is the largest in our body, weighing from 3 to 4 pounds. It is almost a foot long and parts of it vary from one to three inches in thickness. It doesn’t beat as does our heart and it doesn’t expand and contract as do our lungs. It is hidden away under the protective cage of our ribs with the lungs overlaying the upper portion and the lower portion overlapping the intestines and stomach. Being close to other organs is ideal as they depend on it for their functions. However, if it stopped functioning you would be dead in less than a day.
It is far from being a delicate organ, its regenerative powers are actually amazing. Should part of it be removed, even up to 80 percent or more, it could keep us going until it grows new tissue. In a few months it would be back to normal size!
This amazing organ is our liver.
Our liver is an extremely complicated and versatile chemical laboratory with more than 500 functions including storage and release of blood, vitamins, minerals and nutrients as needed. It manufactures over 1000 different enzymes to promote chemical conversions and participates in practically everything that we and other organs in our body do. To put this in perspective, the liver performs tasks so complex that it would take a large chemical company with acres of plant to accomplish even some of its simpler jobs and they just couldn’t carry out some of the more complex assignments! These all take place without us ever being aware that something rather amazing is going on within our body.
Any description of the many, various and complex biochemical reactions that take place within the liver would be an extreme simplification. However, let us look at a few simplified examples:
The heart. The liver regulates the blood flow to it. Should there be a temporary surge of blood, being a vascular sponge, it swells, absorbing the excess that might smother its pumping action. It then releases the blood gradually so the heart can handle it. It can soak up some three pints of blood, or it may hold as little as a few ounces.
Our food. The food we eat passes from our stomach to our intestines, where it is broken down, and usable materials are sent into the bloodstream. The liver is situated so that these materials come to it first via the large portal vein, which connects with the network of intestinal veins. The portal vein serves as a ‘port’ or ‘gateway’ through which food materials must pass before reaching the tissues of the body and since the portal vein flows into the liver, it is able to monitor all of these materials, converting them into a form usable by the cells of the body.
Bacteria. The liver’s strategic position also allows it to protect us from harmful bacteria absorbed into the portal bloodstream. It has what are called “Kupffer cells”, which act somewhat like scavenger white blood cells, capturing, engulfing and destroying bacteria as they pass through the liver. This protection helps prevent serious infections that might develop somewhere in our body.
Toxins. The liver also protects us from other toxic substances, such as caffeine and various drugs. If you were to inject either of these into the exit blood vessel that leads to the heart, we might be dead in minutes, but since they must first pass through the liver, we are protected. As a demonstration of the liver’s importance as a poison control centre an experiment was conducted on dogs. Two dogs were given an equal dose of poison, one of the dogs receiving it in an ordinary vein and the other in the portal vein. The first dog died, but the second, having the poison rendered harmless by the liver, remained unaffected. In fact, the dose of poison had to be multiplied several times before the second dog was affected.
Our own body itself makes poisons that could kill us. For example, if we run up a flight of stairs or do some other exercise, our muscles burn glucose, a body fuel, to produce energy and in the process the muscles make lactic acid, which would poison us if it were allowed to accumulate. The liver comes to the rescue, turning the lactic acid into a form that can be utilized as fuel again. Another example involves ammonia which is constantly being formed as our body cells burn protein. If it were allowed to accumulate in our body, we would die. Instead, the ammonia is absorbed into the portal bloodstream and comes to our liver where it is converted into urea and then passed along to the kidneys for elimination.
Hormones. The liver also regulates our supply of hormones, keeping a proper balance. Too many hormones from our thyroid gland could harm us but I destroy the dangerous excess. We are also protected from over-accumulation of adrenal and sex hormones.
Blood sugar control. The liver receives sugar by way of portal blood in the form of glucose. This serves as fuel for your body, but if too much is fed into the bloodstream you will go into a coma and die. The liver plays a role in seeing that this does not happen. If there is sufficient glucose in the bloodstream, it converts the excess glucose it receives in to glycogen. This is a convenient, compact form of storage for glucose which, in its own form, would take up too much room. Then as the body needs fuel throughout the day, the liver changes the glycogen back to glucose and sends it out bit by bit. Such transformation, one doctor writes, “involves a highly interrelated and complex sequence of enzymatically controlled events.” Yet for the liver it is a simple, basic procedure.
Amino acids. The liver receives amino acids that intestinal enzymes have broken down from proteins. If these are passed on in the form they are received, they would be as deadly to us as cyanide! So, the liver “humanizes” them, changing them to a form of protein that our body can use to build tissue.
Blood. The liver also produces the fibrinogen and prothrombin that clot our blood without which we might bleed to death from a minor cut! Yet, at the same time, heparin is manufactured, which keeps the blood from getting fatally thick. One doctor likened this action of the liver to making atom bombs and fuses simultaneously, without an accident or fatal explosion. Somehow these two processes are kept separate.
Chemical production. Another substance the liver makes is albumin which keeps fluid from leaking out of your blood vessels into surrounding tissues. To provide us with resistance against infectious disease I make globulin, which contains immune bodies. Another of the liver’s marvellous productions is bile - that bitter, green-yellow liquid that is formed continuously, up to a quart a day, dribbling it into our nearby gallbladder for storage. It’s amazing what goes into bile! Each second ten million of your red blood cells die and as they pass through the liver, they are picked out, parts salvaged for making new blood cells, then some of the debris used for bile production! By means of bile the liver expels unwanted materials from our body. The bile is discharged into the intestinal tract and from there it finds its way out of our body. At mealtimes bile is passed into our intestinal tract, being important in the digestion of fats and it aids in the absorption of fat particles and vitamins from the intestinal tract into the bloodstream. So, the liver makes and delivers bile to our intestinal tract so that important nutrients can be released and sent back to it by way of the bloodstream!
The liver is a nutrient processing plant. After it finishes processing food materials, producing the nutrients your body needs, it may send them immediately into our bloodstream. This nutrient-laden blood goes up to our heart, from where it is pumped to every cell of our body. Or, if not needed immediately, they are stored for later use. Nutrients can also be converted from one form to another, sugars into fats or fats into sugars, as and when they are needed by our body.
Looking after our Liver
According to the British Liver Trust, every day over 40 people die from liver disease in the UK. Shockingly, liver disease is the biggest cause of death in those aged between 35-49 years old. It is the third leading cause of premature death in the UK. However, 90% of liver disease is preventable.
So what can we do to look after this wonderful organ?
The skin and lungs are the body’s first line of defence against toxins; the bowel is next, then the liver. Physiologically, we develop liver weakness when the bowel is overburdened with the wrong foods (over-processed, refined, acid-forming) which gradually weakens our digestive system. Everything that is absorbed from our intestines goes directly to the liver, by way of the portal vein and it is the liver that has to filter any toxins and waste. The liver and bowels deal with all the harmful chemicals and poor food that we put in to our body. Even pain killers like paracetamol are actually toxic to the liver, being a reason thousands of people each year in the UK end up in hospital. It kills several hundred and is a major cause of the need for liver transplants (1). According to Professor Sir David Carter of Edinburgh University, one in ten liver transplants is due to damage caused by paracetamol overdose (2). The British Liver Trust points out that paracetamol overdose is one of the leading causes of liver failure. For parents, it is tempting to frequently resort to Calpol for the many and varied childhood minor ailments, but just remember - it is not a sweet!
For the above reasons, cleansing the bowels would be one of the first steps in helping to rejuvenate the liver. Eat healthily and as a guide follow the Healthy Eating Plan. Cut right back on alcohol, watch your weight and get sufficient exercise. All these things will help rejuvenate and revitalise our liver.
Not to be forgotten is the fact that more than any other organ, the liver is affected by negative thoughts and feelings. Anger, resentment, fear and all their emotional tributaries can also harm it. This is why when people cleanse or take herbs to cleanse and strengthen the liver, strong emotions surface. When these cleansing reactions occur it is a sign that repair is taking place.
Homeopathy has proved to be very helpful in restoring the liver to health. Along with dietary adjustments a professional homeopath can use constitutional treatment and liver supporting remedies. Please contact Pauline if you would like help with this.
(1) K. Hawton, 'UK legislation on Analgesic Packs: Before and After Study of Long Term Effect on Poisonings', British Medical Journal, vol. 329 (7474), 2004, p.1076
(2) L. Hunt, 'Ban Pain Drug, Says Leading Surgeon', Independent, 1 October 1996
This blog is for information purposes only. Taking responsibility for your own health does not mean abandoning good sense or standard medical care. The information provided is not to be used for diagnosing, treating, curing, mitigating or preventing any type of disease or medical condition. Before beginning any type of natural, integrative or conventional treatment regimen, if you have a persistent or recurring complaint, it is advisable to seek the advice of a licensed healthcare professional. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 111 (UK).