How the Liver Works
Anatomy of the liver
The liver is located in the upper right-hand part of the abdominal cavity. It is under
the diaphragm and on top of the stomach, right kidney, and intestines. The liver is a
dark reddish-brown, triangle-shaped organ that weighs about 3 pounds. The liver has
There are 2 distinct sources that supply blood to the liver:
The liver holds about 1 pint (13%) of the body's blood supply at any given moment.
The liver has 2 main parts (lobes). Both of these are made up of 8 segments that consist
of a thousand small lobes (lobules). These lobules are connected to small tubes (ducts)
that connect with larger ducts from the common hepatic duct. The common hepatic duct
transports the bile produced by the liver cells to the gallbladder and the first part
of the small intestine (duodenum). It does this through the common bile duct. Bile
is a clear green or yellow fluid that helps break down the food you eat.
Functions of the liver
The liver regulates most chemical levels in the blood and excretes a product called
bile. This helps carry away waste products from the liver. All of the blood leaving
the stomach and intestines passes through the liver. The liver processes this blood.
It breaks down, balances, and creates the nutrients. It also breaks down medicines
into forms that are easier for the rest of the body to use. More than 500 vital functions
have been identified with the liver. Some of the more well-known functions include:
Production of bile. This helps carry away waste and break down fats in the small intestine
Production of certain proteins for blood plasma
Production of cholesterol and special proteins to help carry fats through the body
Conversion of excess glucose into glycogen for storage (This glycogen can later be
converted back to glucose for energy.)
Balancing and production of glucose as needed
Regulation of blood levels of amino acids. These form the building blocks of proteins.
Processing of hemoglobin for distribution of its iron content (The liver stores iron.)
Conversion of poisonous ammonia to urea (Urea is one of the end products of protein
metabolism that is excreted in the urine.)
Clearing the blood of drugs and other toxic substances
Regulating blood clotting
Resisting infections by making immune factors and removing certain bacteria from the
Clearance of bilirubin. An accumulation of bilirubin will turn the skin and eyes yellow.
When the liver has broken down harmful substances, their by-products are excreted
into the bile or blood. Bile by-products enter the intestine. They leave the body
in stool. Blood by-products are filtered out by the kidneys and leave the body as