Liver an important organ for many functions

Jim Surrell, MD

Our liver is a vital organ that performs many functions in our body. The liver is one of the largest organs in our body, and the average healthy human liver weighs about 3 pounds. It is located in the upper right side of our abdomen just under or lower right ribs. If one could look at the human liver from the outside, we would see a larger right side of the liver and a smaller left side. These two sides are anatomically called the right lobe and the left lobe of the liver. These two lobes are separated by a band of connective tissue that anchors the liver to the abdominal cavity. The gallbladder, where the bile manufactured in the liver is stored, is found on the underside of the liver.

Our liver performs many functions and it is a very important organ with regard to our digestive system.

When we eat or drink something, it goes into the stomach where it is mixed with hydrochloric acid and the process of digestion begins. This food and drink then goes into our small intestine where it is broken down further to be absorbed into our blood stream. This blood coming from our intestines now goes into our blood vessels attached to our intestines. This blood now flows into our large abdominal portal vein to promptly flow up to our liver.

This blood flowing to the liver in our portal vein is now carrying our nutrients, any medications we may be taking, and also possible toxic substances. Our liver will convert many of the nutrients we consume as food and drink in our diet into substances that our body can now use to maintain healthy nutrition. The liver will then store these substances, and then supplies them to our cells when they are needed. Equally important, our liver will also recognize toxic substances that we may take into our body, and it will then convert them into harmless substances, and then make sure they are released from our body.

Be aware that our liver plays a major role in the process of digestion in our body. Our liver is key in the digestion of fats. Our liver produces and uses bile to break down fats and produce energy. Our bile may be temporarily stored in our gallbladder, and will ultimately be passed into our small intestine where it is used for the breakdown and absorption of our dietary fats. Recall that fats are necessary for our health and nutrition.

Our liver plays a very key role in the digestion of carbohydrates. It helps to ensure that our blood glucose stays constant. For example, if our blood sugar levels increase, the liver removes sugar from blood in our portal vein and stores it in the form of glycogen. If someone’s blood sugar levels are too low, the liver breaks down the stored glycogen and releases sugar into the blood. Our liver also stores vitamins and minerals and releases them into the blood when needed.

The liver also plays an important role in the digestion of proteins. Our liver breaks down our proteins into amino acids so that they can be used to produce energy, or to make carbohydrates or fats. A breakdown product from our protein digestion is ammonia, and ammonia is a toxic substance. Our liver then converts ammonia to urea. This urea is then safely passed out of our body in our urine.

Our liver is also very important with regard to blood clotting. With the help of vitamin K, our liver produces proteins that are essential to allow our blood to properly clot when needed to prevent excess bleeding. Our liver is also one of the organs that will break down and remove old or damaged blood cells.

As noted above, our liver is a very key part of our digestive health system that performs many functions to keep us healthy. The bottom line is that we need to take good care of our liver, and it will continue to take good care of us.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Jim Surrell is the author of “The ABC’s For Success In All We Do” and the “SOS (Stop Only Sugar) Diet” books. Requests for health topics for this column are encouraged. Contact Dr. Surrell by email at