What are Liver Diseases?
The liver is the second largest organ in the body, and is often seen as the most important one. In traditional Chinese medicine, for example, a healthy liver is seen as the most critical element in the body's ability to fight disease and function optimally.
Amongst other important functions, the liver is responsible for eliminating and detoxifying the poisons that enter our blood stream. It also produces bile, which is essential in the breakdown of fats, and is the organ which stores Vitamin A, D, E, and K.
Environmental pollution, fast foods, drugs, alcohol and sedentary lifestyles all contribute to sluggish and diseased livers. The result of a diseased liver are depressed immune systems, constant fatigue, obesity, sluggish digestive systems, allergies, respiratory ailments, and unhealthy skin-- among many other health problems.
Composition of the Liver
The liver is comprised of two main halves or lobes which in turn are made up of thousands of these lobules. The lobules are connected to small ducts that connect with larger ducts to form the hepatic duct. The hepatic duct carries the bile produced by the liver cells to the gallbladder and duodenum, which is the first part of the small intestine.
The liver is located in the upper right-hand segment of the abdominal cavity, under the diaphragm and on top of the stomach, the right kidney and the intestines. The liver is triangular-shaped, spongy and a dark reddish-brown in appearance. It weighs about three pounds (1.36kg) in a healthy adult. The liver holds approximately one pint (13 percent) of the body’s blood supply at any one time.
Blood is supplied to the liver via circulation through two distinct sources: the hepatic artery and the portal vein. The hepatic artery supplies oxygen-rich blood from the aorta which is a major vessel from the heart. The portal vein supplies nutrient-rich blood from the small intestine. These blood vessels subdivide in the liver continuously, until they end up in very small capillaries. Each capillary leads to a lobule. Liver tissue is composed of thousands of lobules, and each lobule is made up of hepatic cells, the basic metabolic cells of the liver.
Function of the Liver
The liver has multiple functions. It regulates most chemical levels in the blood and excretes a product called bile, which helps to break down fats in the food you eat, preparing them for further digestion and absorption. The liver processes all the blood leaving the stomach and intestines. It breaks down the nutrients and drugs in the blood into forms that are easier for the rest of the body to use or excrete.
Primary Functions of the Liver
- Production and excretion of bile which helps carry away waste and break down fats in the small intestine during digestion.
- Production of certain proteins for blood plasma
- Production of cholesterol and special proteins to help carry fats through the body
- Metabolism of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates
- Conversion of excess glucose into glycogen for storage
- Regulation of blood levels of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins)
- Removal of ammonia from the body and production of blood proteins
- Storage of glycogen, vitamins A, D, E and K and minerals
- Enzyme activation
- Processing of hemoglobin for use of its iron content
- Synthesis of plasma proteins, such as albumin, and clotting factors
- Blood detoxification and purification (removal of drugs and other poisonous substances from the blood)
- Regulating blood clotting
- Resisting infections by producing factors to assist the immune system and removing bacteria from the blood stream
Diagnosing Liver Disease
There are many diseases that may affect the liver and they include:
- Liver cancer
- Fatty liver
- Wilson’s disease
The liver is responsible for so many of life’s vital functions, and we cannot live without our liver functioning at sufficient capacity. Alcohol and many pharmaceutical drugs can affect the metabolism of the liver, and if this continues for long periods of time, your health will be endangered. A common sign of a damaged liver is jaundice, a yellowness of the eyes and skin. Jaundice occurs when bilirubin, a yellow breakdown product of your red blood cells, builds up in the blood
Help for Liver Diseases
Prevention is the best and most important treatment for liver disease. Treatment involves addressing the underlying causes and minimizing further damage. There are vaccines available for hepatitis A and B, but these episodes can be prevented by avoiding the risk factors that lead to them spreading. Many specific medications may be prescribed, and in severe cases, surgery such as a liver transplant may be required.
Use Silybum marianus (Milk Thistle) to protect the liver from damage by viruses and toxins, including alcohol and drugs. It is also a potent antioxidant, and laboratory studies indicate it may have useful anti-cancer properties. Taraxacum officinale, more commonly known as Dandelion, has a beneficial effect on the liver and digestive system.
It is considered a very effective general tonic and is known to improve bile flow and reduce inflammation associated with hepatitis and cirrhosis. In addition, Verbena officinalis treats inflammation of the gallbladder and is also used for jaundice. It is also well-known for its ability to relieve tension, stress and mild depression.