What does your liver do?
The liver is a vital organ regulating the levels of many substances in the body. It excretes a substance called bile. The bile helps in carrying away the waste from the liver. The blood from the digestive system (stomach and bowel) passes through the liver. The liver removes toxins from this blood, produces vitamins, and breaks down the drugs taken to harmless substances. It has a vital role in protein, fat, and carbohydrate digestion. The liver weighs around 1.5 kilograms and performs over 500 vital functions in the body. Few of the important functions include the following:
- Bile production: The liver excretes bile. The bile helps carry away waste and break down fats in the small intestine during digestion.
- Production of proteins: The liver produces many important proteins, such as albumin and certain proteins, essential for immunity and blood clotting.
- Formation of cholesterol: The liver forms cholesterol and certain proteins that help carry fats through the body.
- Carbohydrate storage and breakdown: The liver converts excess glucose into a stable storage product called glycogen. Glycogen can later be converted back to glucose when needed.
- Amino acid level regulation: The liver regulates the blood levels of various amino acids (the building blocks of proteins).
- Iron metabolism: The liver breaks down hemoglobin to recycle its iron content. The liver also stores iron, which is released when the body requires it.
- Formation of urea: The ammonia produced during the protein breakdown in the body is highly poisonous. This is converted to urea by the liver. Urea is finally excreted in the urine.
- Removal of toxins: The liver helps clear the blood of drugs and other toxic substances.
- Blood clotting: The liver produces several factors important in regulating blood clotting.
- Immunity: The liver produces many immune factors and helps get rid of bacteria from the blood.
- Clearance of bilirubin: Bilirubin is produced as a result of hemoglobin metabolism. The liver helps clear bilirubin through the bile. Bilirubin can be toxic if it accumulates in the blood causing the skin and eyes to turn yellow (jaundice). Excess bilirubin can also harm the brain.
Can you live without a liver?
It is not possible to live without a liver. Liver failure is a life-threatening condition that needs urgent medical intervention. If the liver function is compromised, such as liver failure, you can get serious complications, such as:
Can I donate a part of my liver?
Yes, you can donate a part of your liver without harming your health. The liver is the only organ in the body that can regenerate or grow back if a part of it is removed. When you donate a part of your liver, the part remaining in your body grows back in six to eight weeks. Also, the part transplanted will grow in the recipient. Within a week of the liver donation, the liver function returns to normal.
If you want to donate your liver, you will be needed to complete a qualifying phone interview. The interview is followed by a complete in-person evaluation that includes blood tests and medical imaging, such as ultrasound, computerized tomography scan, and magnetic resonance imaging. To be eligible for the liver donation, you should:
- Be aged between 18 and -55 years. If the liver is to be donated to a child, the donor can be up to 60 years of age.
- Fit enough for surgery and recovery.
- Free from preexisting medical conditions, particularly the ones that affect bleeding or clotting.
- Not use recreational drugs. Although smoking does not disqualify a donor, however, you must quit smoking as soon as possible before liver donation.
- Understand the psychological and physical risks involved.
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