Originally published: 16.OCT.2019
Last updated: 22.AUG.2023

The liver is your largest internal organ but it's probably the most understimated. While you would be right to associate it with removing toxins or harmful substances from the body, it is responsible for so much more than that! In fact, the liver has nearly 500 vital functions in total.

Let's cover some of the major functions of the liver to help you stay in the know about your liver health. Plus, learn about how you can help maintain a healthy liver.

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Where is the Liver Located in the Body?

The liver is located in the upper right-hand part of the abdomen, just above the stomach, right kidney, and intestines, and below the diaphragm. It is the largest internal ‘solid organ’ in the body and weighs around 3 pounds.

What is the Function of the Liver?

As mentioned, the liver is involved in so many bodily functions. Most of these can be divided into the following five categories:

  • Filtration
  • Digestion
  • Metabolism and Detoxification
  • Protein synthesis
  • Storage of vitamins and minerals

Let’s dive into the five major functions of the liver, including how it carries out each of its tasks.

#1 Filtration

Filtration is one of the liver’s most important functions.

  • The liver filters the blood and breaks down harmful substances. The by-products are excreted into the bile or blood.
  • When harmful substances are broken down into bile, they are incorporated into the stool and leave the body.
  • When the waste products enter the bloodstream, they are filtered in the kidneys and leave the body in the urine, in the form of urea.

#2 Digestion

Digestion refers to the process of breaking down and absorbing nutrients from food.

  • The liver plays a role in digestion by secreting bile. Bile is a fluid produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder.
  • The gallbladder is a small sac that sits under the liver and is connected to the intestines.
  • When we eat food, bile is transported from the gallbladder into the intestines to help with the breakdown of fats in the body.

#3 Metabolism and Detoxification

Detoxification refers to the removal of toxic substances from the body.

  • The liver ensures that substances that shouldn’t be in the body, such as drugs, alcohol, and even foreign substances are safely removed from the blood before it reaches the digestive tract.
  • The liver uses enzymes as a mode of detoxification.
  • The liver also detoxifies the body by changing a foreign or harmful agent to urea or bile and excreting it from the body via stool or urine.
  • Liver cells convert ammonia to a less toxic substance called urea. Urea is transported in the blood to the kidneys, urea makes up a significant component of urine.
  • In severe liver damage, the level of ammonia in the blood can rise and cause many side effects, including confusion, behavioral changes, and in extreme cases, coma.

Metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins takes place in the liver. The liver is also the primary organ responsible for drug activation and metabolism.

  • Paracetamol (also called acetaminophen) is metabolized in the liver and the break-down products are then excreted by the kidneys.

#4 Protein synthesis

Protein synthesis is a vital function carried out by the liver. Protein synthesis is the process whereby the body’s cells make proteins that are necessary for cell structure and function.

  • Liver cells play a role in protein synthesis and amino acid metabolism and are involved in the production of ammonia.
  • The liver is also involved in the production of clotting factors, which are necessary to prevent bleeding, and a protein called albumin, which helps to keep the correct balance of water in the bloodstream and prevent excess fluid from leaking into the surrounding tissues.

#5 Storage of vitamins and minerals

The liver is responsible for the storage, production, and release of vitamins and minerals into the blood.

  • Vitamins are responsible for pulling out vital elements from the foods we consume. These elements are essential for normal growth, the development of healthy red blood cells, hormones, genetic materials, and the nervous system.
  • The liver stores certain minerals such as iron and copper, and releases them into the blood if a deficiency exists.
  • The liver also stores vitamin K which is used in the process of blood clotting, this allows for the body's ability to prevent bleeding and allow the blood to clot.
  • It also stores Vitamins A (to maintain healthy vision), B12 (for growth and development in every cell in your body), and D (to absorb calcium and other minerals).

How to Keep Your Liver Healthy

Following a healthy and active lifestyle is one of the best ways to take care of your liver and your overall health. However, this can sometimes be easier said than done. These are just some of the most important steps you can take toward keeping your liver healthy.

  • Drink alcohol in moderation: The liver can moderate small amounts but excess use can cause damage.
  • Avoid illicit drugs: These contain toxins that the liver must filter out which can cause long-term damage.
  • Practice safe sex: Use protection consistently and regularly check in on your sexual health to avoid contracting infections such as hepatitis C.
  • Exercise regularly and eat a nutrient-packed diet: This will help promote general health for your liver and every organ!

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