About the Liver

The liver, located behind the lower right part of your ribs, is the largest organ in your body (weighing about 3 pounds). Your liver performs more than 500 functions, including storing nutrients, filtering and processing chemicals in food, and producing bile, a substance that helps digest fats and eliminate waste products.

All the blood leaving your stomach and intestines passes through the liver. The liver processes this blood and breaks down the nutrients and other substances (such as drugs) into forms for use by the rest of your body.

A healthy liver performs the following functions:

  • Processes most of the nutrients absorbed by your intestines during digestion and converts those nutrients into forms that can be used by your body, including the amounts of glucose (sugar), protein, and fat that enter your bloodstream.
     
  • Removes or neutralizes poisons from your blood that are the normal by-products of your body’s metabolism. This includes, for example, bilirubin, which is a by-product of the breakdown of red blood cells) and ammonia, which accumulates in your blood when your body metabolizes (breaks down) proteins.
     
  • Metabolizes (breaks down) alcohol and many medications.
     
  • Produces bile, which helps digest fats and absorb fat-soluble vitamins.
     
  • Produces cholesterol and special proteins (known as lipoproteins) to help carry fats through the body.
     
  • Produces substances that help blood clot, and certain important proteins, such as albumin.
     
  • Stores some nutrients, such as sugar, vitamin A, iron, and other minerals. For example, your liver converts excess glucose (sugar) in your blood into glycogen for storage—glycogen can later be converted back to glucose for energy, as needed by your body.
     
  • Produces immune agents to help control infections, and removes germs and bacteria from your blood.

After your liver has broken down harmful substances, they are excreted into the bile or blood. The substances in the bile enter your intestine and ultimately leave your body as part of your feces (stool). The substances excreted into your blood are filtered out by the kidneys, and leave your body in the form of urine.

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Last modified on: 30 June 2015

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