A Moment of Science

The Impressive Liver

Unless you've experienced problems with your liver, you may not appreciate the many important responsibilities of this pretty extraordinary organ.

a plastic model of human organs

Photo: Huy Vu

Your liver, located to the right of your stomach and underneath your ribcage, is the second largest organ in your body next to your skin.

Unless you’ve experienced problems with your liver, you may not appreciate the many important responsibilities of this pretty extraordinary organ.

First, your liver, located to the right of your stomach and underneath your ribcage, is the second largest organ in your body next to your skin. Of all the energy your body expends each day just to keep you alive, your liver requires the most, nearly a third of that total. That’s more than your brain and your heart combined.

What’s all that energy used for? For starters, the liver is indispensable in carbohydrate metabolism, fat metabolism, and protein metabolism. Its role in carbohydrate metabolism is to maintain blood glucose levels. If blood glucose concentration becomes excessive after eating, the pancreas secretes insulin which encourages the liver to take in glucose. It converts this glucose into glycogen, a reserve form of energy. When blood glucose levels lower, the liver converts glycogen back to glucose to be used by the rest of your tissues. Your liver has a back up plan for when it runs out of glycogen reserves, which occurs when you haven’t eaten in some hours or if you exercise intensely. The liver can create glucose out of such substances as amino acids and lactate.

Your liver’s job doesn’t end there. For instance, it produces bile which is essential in fat digestion, and it detoxifies substances in the blood, such as alcohol.

Further, the liver is one of few human organs that can naturally regenerate lost tissue. Within six to eight weeks after a recipient’s diseased liver is replaced with about half of a donor’s healthy liver, the transplanted liver will return to full size. Now that’s one impressive organ.

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