a woman reads a book on how does the liver work

5 Interesting Facts About the Liver

The liver is an amazing and busy organ. It is estimated that the liver is responsible for around 500 different functions within the body!1 Now that is one impressive resume!

With a few hundred different skills it was not difficult to find some lesser-known and interesting tidbits. Let’s jump right in and look at some of the more unique, interesting, and surprising facts about the liver.

It is the largest internal organ

Your liver is a heavyweight. Literally. At any given moment your liver is holding approximately 13% of your blood supply.1 Which is impressive for an organ the size of a toddler’s foot. For my American friends, that is approximately 5.5 inches in a fully grown adult (14 cm for community members up North and abroad.)

While our skin is the largest organ in our entire bodies our livers hold the title for the largest and heaviest of our internal organs weighing approximately 3lbs (1.5 kg) and having a thickness of about 6 inches (15 cm.)2

The liver is our first heart

During pregnancy, the ways that our organs work and the functions they perform are very different from the roles they have once born. The main function of the liver in human fetuses is cardiovascular (meaning to do with the heart muscle, its functions, and the circulatory system.)1

Fetuses receive their nutrients from the umbilical cord rather than by using their own developing digestive systems. This leaves the liver with little work in its more well-known duties like filtering vitamins, nutrients, and toxic chemicals from our blood and bodies.

To compensate it plays vital functions in circulation and the creation of blood cells. Once born the liver transitions and begins performing more filtration, digestive, and metabolic functions.

A stem cell creating machine

During pregnancy, the liver plays an essential role in a process called ‘hematopoiesis,’ which is the name for the formation of blood and the different components that produce blood on a cellular level. Through involvement in this process during fetal development, the liver also plays a role in creating a niche environment that promotes hematopoietic stem cell growth and proliferation along with storing hematopoietic stem cells as they move along to their journey to their final destination in the bone marrow.3

It is super nutritious

There are two types of people in this world: those who get excited about the phrase ‘we're having liver and onions for dinner' and those who do not (I  am regrettably a part of the latter cohort.) I say regrettably because the liver is one of the most nutritionally dense foods out there!4

It is packed full of so many essential nutrients such as B vitamins, magnesium, iron, folic acid and is the food that boasts having the highest concentration of vitamin A.5 Vitamin A is essential for good eye health and plays a key role in reducing inflammation in several diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and even Alzheimer’s.6

The liver also contains a high level of protein while having a low caloric intake making this organ well deserving of the designation ‘superfood.’

A two-phase detox

One of the most well-known functions of the liver is the role it plays in filtering and eliminating toxic chemicals we ingest from our bodies. Alcohol, drugs, and additives in foods and beverages are all filtered and disposed of by our livers.7 The liver handles this task in a two-phase system, which are called Phase I and Phase II of the liver detoxification pathway.

The purpose of the first phase is neutralization: the liver uses a group of enzymes called the cytochrome P450 family7 to neutralize harmful substances and transform them into substances that are less harmful to our bodies. Once this has been completed the liver then enters Phase II of the detoxification pathway.

The toxins and chemical leftovers from Phase I will build up and can be dangerous to our health if not eliminated and removed from our bodies. The way that the liver does this is by producing a mixture of essential antioxidants and vitamins which make the toxins water-soluble (dissolves in water) in a process known as conjugation.

After the two phases are complete the toxins can now be excreted (removed naturally from the body) in our urine and feces.7

Liver health is so important

The liver plays a variety of critical roles all the way from the very beginning of our lives when we are only a small ball of cells to its day-to-day functions throughout our adult lives. With around 500 separate, and equally important jobs our livers play a primary role in our overall health and wellbeing.

When living with a liver-affecting chronic disease like hepatitis C the risks of developing life-ending liver disease and liver cancer is much higher than it is for persons without hepatitis. This makes ensuring we are doing all we can to increase our liver health is more important than ever and educating ourselves on all things liver is the first step!  

Do you know any interesting or unusual facts about the liver? Share them in the comments.

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