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What does the liver do?

How much do you know about your liver? Like most people, the answer is probably only a little. Let’s start with some basic facts as we learn more about the body’s largest internal organ.

Basic facts about the liver

  • Location: Just under your ribcage on the right side of the abdomen
  • Shape: Half-moon with a mostly flat bottom, sort of like the side profile of a bike helmet
  • Texture & color: Spongy, dark reddish brown
  • Size: About the size of a football and weighs approx. 3 lbs
  • Structure: 2 lobes, the larger right lobe and smaller left lobe
  • Interesting facts:
    • At any given moment the liver holds one pint (13%) of your body’s blood supply
    • Not only an organ it is also considered a gland because it creates chemicals (proteins and hormones) that are needed in other parts of the body
    • It can regenerate! If ⅔ of your liver was removed within a week it would be regrown back to normal size

Medical issues related to the liver are called hepatic conditions and are treated by a hepatologist - a physician who specializes in the liver.

What does your liver do?

Did you know the liver literally has hundreds of jobs? That’s right, hundreds. Some of the most vital functions are:

  • Cleans harmful substances (toxins) out of the bloodstream
  • Breaks down old and damaged red blood cells
  • Proteins, carbohydrates and fats are metabolized for use by the body
  • Makes bile, a fluid that helps the small intestine digest food
  • Regulates the amount of blood in the body
  • Produces proteins that help blood clot
  • Stores glycogen, an energy source for the body, and other vitamins

Keeping your liver healthy

It’s pretty clear how important a role the liver has in the body so let’s look at ways to keep it healthy.

  • Drink alcohol in moderation
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Choose a nutritious diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid harmful substances such as smoking, illegal drugs, etc.
  • Don’t share personal items such as razors, needles, toothbrushes that can spread viruses
  • Practice safe sex to avoid hepatitis infections

Now that you know more about one of the body’s hardest-working organs, be sure to take a moment to read about the most common liver diseases.

This article has been medically reviewed by Maisha Barnes, MD