The liver is the largest internal organ, located behind the ribcage on the right side of the abdomen. It weighs approximately three pounds in the average-sized man and is about the size of a football.
The liver has four lobes or sections. Each lobe is made up of lobules, which contain the working liver cells. The liver has blood coming into it from many different sources. It gets oxygen-rich blood from the heart through the main artery leading into the liver called the hepatic artery. Another source, called the portal vein, is oxygen-poor blood, but the blood contains nutrients, poisons, and other substances that come from the intestines.
The liver is responsible for some 500 vital functions. It processes virtually everything you eat, drink, breathe, or absorb through the skin. The liver converts food into energy and the building blocks for muscle tissue, hormones, clotting factors, and immune factors. It stores glucose (sugar) and many vitamins and minerals for later use. Liver cells produce bile, which helps digest food (especially fats) and absorb nutrients. The liver also detoxifies substances that are harmful to the body including everything a person eats, breathes, or absorbs through the skin. The liver changes the food you eat into energy for the body, stores this energy, and makes blood proteins. The liver also removes bacteria and poisons from the blood.
Unlike other body tissues, the liver can regenerate itself; as much as three-quarters of the liver can be removed and it will regenerate or expand back to its original size within a few weeks.
Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. This may be caused by viruses, toxic chemicals or drugs, heavy alcohol consumption, or other factors. The most common types of viral hepatitis include hepatitis A virus (HAV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), and hepatitis C virus (HCV). These three viruses are unrelated, other than the fact that they all affect the liver.
Healthy Liver Tips
- Healthy people: No more than one alcoholic drink a day for women; two alcoholic drinks for men
- People with liver disease should avoid alcohol
- Follow a healthy balanced diet based on the diets found at www.choosemyplate.gov
- Talk with your doctor or nurse about taking acetaminophen (brand name Tylenol; paracetamol). Ingesting too much acetaminophen or mixing it with alcohol can lead to liver failure and death
- Stress has a negative impact on the liver, body and mind. Consider exercise, meditation, prayer or any other practice that will help to reduce stress
- Exercise is great strategy for improving overall health (including the liver) and controlling stress—talk with a doctor or nurse about an exercise program
- Stay well-hydrated—drink plenty of water