by Kimberly Davidson CNP
If asked what the most important organ of the human body is, usually the brain or heart are first to come to mind. No doubt we could not survive without either of these, however today I nominate the liver as the most important organ of the body.
The liver is responsible for over five hundred different functions in the body. Yes, I said hundred. The liver is the body’s major metabolic organ and plays a vital role in digestion. In digestion, the liver synthesizes bile which is the primary product required for digesting fats. Bile output, which is stimulated by the hormone secretin, is necessary for the absorption of fats and fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K). During absorption, nutrients travel in the blood first to the liver via the hepatic portal vein, so that the liver can have “first pick” of the nutrients. Being that it is the liver that processes the many vital substances responsible for the body’s overall health and well-being, amino acids, fatty acids and glucose are removed and stored or processed in various ways. Just from amino acids, the liver can synthesize lipoproteins, cholesterol, enzymes, blood proteins such as albumin (the most abundant protein in the blood) and clotting factors such as prothrombin and fibrinogen. Gluconeogenesis is an example of an important bodily function occurring in the liver. Because the brain and red blood cell production are dependent on steady levels of glucose, stores must be maintained. Also, the liver will synthesize glucose when notified that glycogen stores are low. In the absence of insulin, fructose, which is hydrolyzed from sucrose, is able to enter muscle cells and adipocytes. Fructose is metabolized primarily in the liver.
Although the largest, this modest organ is often overlooked, probably much due to its association with being called ‘the filtration plant of the body’. None of us really want to know what goes on at a filtration plant, however we all recognize that we cannot live without one. The liver is similar to this. As mentioned above, the liver is responsible for so many vital functions that determine our survival, however it is the detoxification process that is most impressive. Everything that enters the body must pass through the liver via the hepatic portal vein. It is the liver cells that remove all nutrients from the blood, as well as any bacteria, microbes or pathogens that have entered the blood stream. If you stop to think about how many toxins we are exposed to everyday, we then realize the importance of our liver. From the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink and the products we use daily, it is no wonder why our liver is probably the most over worked organ in our body. The reason why the human body can withstand such dangerous exposure is due to the liver’s evolved neutralizing abilities. Within the bile that it secretes, the liver contains enzymes that chemically modify the toxins and then properly dispose of them. If the liver is at all compromised, the detoxification process therefore is also compromised. Many studies have shown strong connections between a malfunctioning liver and cancer. It is well known that environmental pollutants (cigarette smoke, herbicides, pesticides, car fumes etc.) are precursors to cancer as well as other illnesses. A body that is unable to protect itself against exposure to these toxins is therefore at greater risk for these diseases.
Fortunately, for those with compromised livers, proper dietary measures, special supplements and herbs along with bi-annual detoxing, the liver can repair itself. Because of the many vital roles that the liver does, nature has provided a surplus of liver tissue. If ever the liver experiences damage or must undergo surgery to have part of it removed, this miraculous organ is actually capable of regenerated itself to where it can function again at 100%!!! This is not to say we can do what we please and not worry about the consequences; quite the opposite. Now knowing the importance of our liver and all it does to protect us from illness, the answer seems pretty obvious. Love your liver and it will love you!!!
*Please stay tuned for Part II – How to Properly Detox , which will be featured in April’s Healthy Hotties blog.
Michael Murray, N.D and Joseph Pizzorno, N.D, Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, 2nd Edition, Three Rivers Press, 1998
Elson M. Haas, M.D, Staying Healthy with Nutrition, 21st Century Edition, Celestial Arts, 2006