The liver and gallbladder
By Penelope A. Domogo, MD
Let’s review our biology and appreciate our wonderfully-made liver and gallbladder, just like the rest of our body. The liver is the largest and heaviest solid organ of the body weighing about 3 pounds in a 70 kilos person. It is located in the upper right abdomen just below the diaphragm and lungs and behind the ribs. Since it is a soft solid organ, it is well protected . How our body is designed to survive is really awesome.
The liver is also the only organ in the body that can regenerate completely as long as 25% remains. It can regrow to its original size! Really amazing. That’s how important it is. Meaning we may be able to live without the gallbladder but we cannot live without our liver. It is involved in at least 500 functions and science is still discovering more.
The liver is a factory of many essential substances in the body and I will mention a few:
1. Bile – I am sure many meat-eating people know this. This yellowish-green bitter fluid is manufactured in the liver cells and travels though network of bile ducts to the gallbladder for storage and concentration. (That is why even if the gallbladder is removed, a person can still digest and absorb nutrients but not in optimal capacity.) During a meal, the gallbladder releases bile into the small intestine to alkalinize the food and help digest and absorb fats and absorb fat soluble vitamins like Vitamins A, D, E, K.
2. Substances necessary for normal blood clotting and immune system.
3. Some enzymes – we discussed last week how enzymes speed up chemical reactions in the body to keep us alive and alert.
4. Cholesterol – yes, the liver makes cholesterol in the right amount that we need so any cholesterol you eat is excess. Cholesterol is an essential substance that our body needs for many function so the Creator made sure we have enough and built-in the cholesterol factory inside us. God sure loves everyone, including vegans.
The liver is a high tech industrial complex. It’s not only a factory. It is also a storage facility for sugar and some vitamins like Vitamin A. When it sees excess sugar (glucose) in the blood, it catches them and converts them into fat and stores them there so if even if you are eating a lot of sugary foods, you can develop fatty liver. Thus many women now have fatty liver due to excessive eating of refined flour products and sugar. The liver releases this sugar when it is needed thus you can fast for days and still live. This also means that you don’t have to eat at the first sign of hunger pangs because you have stored energy in your liver.
The liver also breaks down fats and proteins into smaller substances needed by the cells. You see, all the blood from the intestines pass through the liver for final digestion (this is why the liver is part of the digestive system) before this is released to the blood circulation.
It is also a regulating and waste management facility. It breaks down things in the blood when they are no longer needed. When it sees red blood cells that are old (lifespan is about three months), it breaks them down into bilirubin and other components. So if the liver is not working well like in hepatitis, there is build-up of this bilirubin seen in the yellow coloring of the eyes. It also detoxifies the body by breaking down poisons, medicines, alcohol and waste products. “It is the primary organ involved in the breakdown of every toxic substance your body encounters, whether you ingest,, inject, touch, breathe, or otherwise come into contact with it, preventing accumulation of waste products.” (Wilson W. Li, GI Society, Canadian Society of Intestinal Research)
It’s really mind-boggling how complex and intricate our liver is even with these functions mentioned above. What more if we discuss its other hundreds plus functions. You can google them, however, if you are interested to know more.
Common diseases of the liver are:
1. Hepatitis- inflammation of the liver generally caused by viral infection (like Hepatitis A,B,C,D) or toxins. In most cases, the liver can heal itself. Viral infections, as you know by now, go away by themselves so no need for medicines.
2. Fatty liver – there is fat build-up in the liver cells. As mentioned earlier, this is commonly caused by sugary diet. It is common in obese people.
3. Alcoholic liver disease – drinking too much alcohol over a long period of time can cause cirrhosis of the liver (liver becomes fibrotic like scar tissue)
4. Liver cyst – this is an abnormal sac in the liver containing fluid or cells. It is not cancerous and won’t usually cause symptoms and don’t require any treatment unless it becomes so large that it causes obstruction. However, don’t make it grow bigger by shifting to a healthy diet.
5. Liver cancer – Although rare, it is mentioned here. Most cancers in the liver come from other sites like in colon cancer. This is termed metastatic cancer.
6. Gallstones – usually caused by too much cholesterol and hardened by the refrigerator. I mean, aside from eating meat-egg-milk rich foods, you also drink and eat ice-cold so the cold curdles the cholesterol. Cholesterol is fat.
As mentioned earlier, the liver is a living industrial complex, manufacturing essential goods from food and managing wastes and excesses. But like any machine, it will bog down if it is overwhelmed by so much food and so much waste. Just imagine what would happen to your blender if you placed more food in it than its capacity. Or imagine your blender working 24 hours because it has to blend a lot of food. It will break down at some point. In the case of the liver, if we eat too much- too much of anything (protein, fats, sugars) then it will break down. And/or we are putting too much toxins for it to break down and clean up – from medicines, from artificial food and medicine additives like flavorings, preservatives, colorings, from synthetic household & personal products.
The good news is that anybody can make healthy life choices to make the liver working well and happy. It all boils down to basics- natural food, avoid unnecessary medicines and toxic chemicals (like pesticides and some synthetic household products can damage the liver), drink enough water, enough physical activity and have a grateful heart. This means we spend less and appreciate nature more. Happy Mothers’ Day!***
“ Come now and see what God has done, how awesome his works in man’s behalf.” Psalm 66:5