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The main liver diseases and how to take care of them

The liver is the largest solid organ and the largest gland in the human body. It fulfills more than 500 essential tasks. Classified as part of the digestive system, the role of the liver includes detoxification, protein synthesis, and the production of chemicals that help digest food. This article covers the main functions of the liver, how the liver repairs itself, what happens when the liver isn’t working properly, and how to keep the liver healthy.

A few facts about the liver

The liver is classified as a gland.
This vital organ performs more than 500 functions in the human body.
It is the only organ that can regenerate.
The liver is the largest solid organ in the body.
Alcohol abuse is one of the leading causes of liver problems in developed countries.

structure of the liver

The liver is one of the most versatile and important organs. Weighing between 1.44 and 1.66 kilograms, the liver is reddish brown with a rubbery texture. It is located above and to the left of the stomach and below the lungs. The skin is the only organ heavier and larger than the liver. The liver is roughly triangular in shape and consists of two lobes: a larger right lobe and a smaller left lobe. The lobes are separated by the falciform ligament, a band of tissue that keeps it anchored to the diaphragm. A layer of fibrous tissue called Glisson’s capsule covers the outside of the liver. This capsule is also covered by the peritoneum, a membrane that forms the wall of the abdominal cavity.

This keeps the liver in place and protects it from physical damage.

blood vessels

Unlike most organs, the liver has two main sources of blood. The portal vein carries nutrient-rich blood from the digestive system and the hepatic artery carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart. Blood vessels divide into small capillaries, each ending in a lobule. The lobules are the functional units of the liver and are made up of millions of cells called hepatocytes. Blood is drained from the liver through three hepatic veins.

liver functions

The liver is classified as a gland and is associated with many functions. It’s hard to give an exact number as the organ is still being researched, but the liver is thought to serve 500 different functions.

The main functions of the liver are:

Bile Production: Bile helps the small intestine break down and absorb fats, cholesterol, and certain vitamins. Bile consists of bile salts, cholesterol, bilirubin, electrolytes and water.

Absorb and Metabolize Bilirubin: Bilirubin is formed by the breakdown of hemoglobin. Iron released from hemoglobin is stored in the liver or bone marrow and used to form the next generation of blood cells.

Promoting Blood Clot Formation: Vitamin K is necessary for the formation of certain clotting agents that help blood to clot. The bile is essential for the absorption of vitamin K and is formed in the liver. If the liver does not produce enough bile, clotting factors cannot be produced.

Fat metabolism: The bile breaks down fats and makes them easier to digest.

Carbohydrate Metabolism: Carbohydrates are stored in the liver, where they are broken down into glucose and released into the bloodstream to help maintain normal glucose levels. They are stored as glycogen and released when a quick burst of energy is needed.

Storage of vitamins and minerals: The liver stores vitamins A, D, E, K and B12. It retains significant amounts of these vitamins. In some cases, it keeps vitamins in reserve for several years. The liver stores iron from hemoglobin in the form of ferritin, which is ready to make new red blood cells. The liver also stores and releases copper.

Helps in protein metabolism: Bile helps break down proteins for digestion.

Filters the blood: The liver filters and removes compounds from the body, including hormones like estrogen and aldosterone, and compounds from outside the body, including alcohol and other drugs.

Immunological function: The liver is part of the mononuclear phagocyte system. It contains a large number of Kupffer cells involved in immune activity. These cells destroy any pathogens that might get to the liver via the intestines.

Albumin Production: Albumin is the most common protein in blood serum. It transports fatty acids and steroid hormones to maintain proper pressure and prevent leaky blood vessels.

Synthesis of angiotensinogen: This hormone increases blood pressure by constricting blood vessels when alarmed by the production of an enzyme called renin in the kidneys.


Due to the importance of the liver and its functions, evolution has ensured that it can regenerate quickly as long as it is kept healthy. This ability is found in all vertebrates, from fish to humans. The liver is the only visceral organ that can regenerate. It can fully regenerate as long as at least 25% tissue remains. One of the most impressive aspects of this feat is that the liver can regain its former size and capacity with no loss of function during the growth process.

If two-thirds of the liver is removed in mice, the remaining liver tissue can return to its original size in 5 to 7 days. In humans, the process takes a little longer, but regeneration can still occur in 8-15 days, an incredible feat given the size and complexity of the organ. Over the next few weeks, the new liver tissue will be indistinguishable from the original tissue.

This regeneration is promoted by a number of compounds, including growth factors and cytokines. The most important links in the process seem to be:

Hepatocyte Growth Factor
transforming growth factor-alpha
epidermal growth factor
interleukin 6

The main liver diseases

There are a number of diseases that affect the liver. An organ as complex as the liver can have a whole range of problems. A healthy liver works very efficiently. However, in the case of a diseased or dysfunctional liver, the consequences can be dangerous and even fatal.

Here are some examples of liver diseases:

Fascioliasis: This disease is caused by the invasion of a parasitic worm called liver fluke, which can lie dormant in the liver for months or even years. Fascioliasis is considered a tropical disease.

Cirrhosis: Scar tissue replaces liver cells in a process known as fibrosis. This condition can be caused by a number of factors, including toxins, alcohol, and hepatitis. Eventually, fibrosis can lead to liver failure as liver cells become unable to function properly.

Hepatitis: Hepatitis is the term for a generalized infection of the liver. It can be caused by viruses, toxins, or an autoimmune reaction. It is characterized by liver inflammation. In many cases, the liver can heal itself, but in severe cases, liver failure can occur.

Alcoholic Liver Disease: Drinking too much alcohol over a long period of time can lead to liver damage. It is the most common cause of cirrhosis worldwide.

Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC): PSC is a severe inflammatory disease of the bile ducts that leads to their destruction. There is currently no cure and the cause is currently unknown, although the disease is believed to be autoimmune.

Fatty Liver Disease: It usually occurs at the same time as obesity or alcohol abuse. In a fatty liver, fat vacuoles form in the liver cells. When the disease isn’t caused by alcohol abuse, it’s called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

It’s usually caused by genetics, medication, or a high-fructose diet. It is the most common liver disease in developed countries and is associated with insulin resistance. Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is a condition that can develop as NAFLD worsens. NASH is a known cause of liver cirrhosis.

Gilbert’s Syndrome: This is a genetic disorder that affects 3 to 12% of the population. Bilirubin is not completely broken down. Mild jaundice may occur, but this condition is harmless.

Liver Cancer: The most common types of liver cancer are hepatocellular carcinoma and cholangiocarcinoma. The main causes are alcohol and hepatitis. It is the sixth most common type of cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death.

Liver health: how to take care of it

Below are some recommendations to help your liver work the way it should:

Nutrition: Since the liver is responsible for digesting fat, excessive consumption can overload the organ and distract it from other tasks. Obesity is also linked to fatty liver disease.

Moderate alcohol consumption: Avoid having more than two drinks at a time. Excessive alcohol consumption eventually leads to cirrhosis of the liver. When the liver breaks down alcohol, it produces toxic chemicals like acetaldehyde and free radicals. It takes a man the equivalent of a liter of wine a day for 20 years for serious damage to occur. For women, the threshold is less than half that amount.

Avoid illegal substances: Medications can overload the liver with toxins.

Beware of Mixtures of Drugs: Some prescription drugs and natural remedies can adversely affect each other when mixed. Mixing drugs with alcohol puts a lot of pressure on the liver. For example, mixing alcohol and acetaminophen can lead to acute liver failure. Be sure to follow the directions on each medication.

Protection from Airborne Chemicals: If you paint or use strong cleaning or gardening chemicals, the area should be well ventilated or you should wear a mask. Chemicals in the air can cause liver damage because the liver has to process all the toxins that enter the body.

Travel and Vaccinations: Vaccination is essential when traveling to an area where hepatitis A or B could be a problem. Malaria grows and multiplies in the liver, and yellow fever can lead to liver failure. Both diseases can be prevented with oral medications and vaccinations.

Safe sex: There is no vaccine against hepatitis C. Caution is therefore required with safer sex, tattoos and piercings.

Avoid contact with blood and germs: Consult a doctor if you are exposed to someone else’s blood. It’s also important not to share personal hygiene items like toothbrushes and to avoid dirty needles.

Despite its ability to regenerate itself, the liver must be healthy to do so. The liver can be protected primarily through lifestyle and dietary measures.

* Presse Santé strives to convey health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE can the information given replace the advice of a doctor.

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