The liver is the largest gland in the body. It weighs about 3 pounds in the average adult. The gland is situated in the upper part of the abdomen, beneath the lower ribs, and is divided into two main parts, the right lobe being larger than the left. It plays an important part in the good health of the body.
The liver is drained by tubes, called the bile ducts, which branch throughout it. These unite in a single canal which empties into the small intestine just a few inches below the stomach. The gallbladder, a pouch partway down the main bile tube, connects with the canal.
The bile drained from the liver is important in the digestion of foods, particularly fats and certain vitamins which can be dissolved in fat, but not in water. The bile secreted by the liver between meals is stored and concentrated by the gallbladder.
When food is eaten, the gallbladder contracts and forces out the reserve bile to aid in digestion. Absorption of part of this bile takes place and stimulates the liver to make much more.
Primary functions of the liver
The liver has its own blood supply. There is a special artery that brings blood rich in energy-giving oxygen to the busy cells which do the liver’s work. In addition, the blood that has passed through the walls of the stomach and intestine, picking up the products of digestion as it goes, is channeled to the liver.
The work of the liver can be summed up in 7 main categories:
- It takes the digested food products and works them over chemically into forms suitable for the body’s needs.
- It forms a storehouse for some of these energy and growth-promoting factors, releasing them as needed.
- It forms the bile from the products of the breakdown of old, worn-out red blood cells, together with certain other substances.
- It changes certain poisonous substances chemically, making them less harmful to the body.
- It remakes some waste products into useful body chemicals.
- It plays an important role in blood formation, manufacturing, storing up, and releasing certain vital substances. In addition, the liver makes important clotting chemicals: fibrinogen and prothrombin.
- As a by-product of these activities, it generates an impressive proportion of the heat which is so important in body temperature.
The liver and its associated structures do not always do their work perfectly. There are many common diseases that affect the liver, the gallbladder, and the tubes which drain the bile.
Inflammation of the gallbladder, liver, and bile ducts leads to the formation of gallstones. Organisms may enter the bloodstream from some hidden infection in the teeth, tonsils, appendix, or some other part of the body, and so reach the gallbladder, or they may be directly excreted by the mucous membrane of the gallbladder.
The inflammatory fluid is formed, and the bile is altered inconsistency and character, leading to the formation of mixed stones containing crystallized salts, pigment, and even bacteria. Inflammation then without a doubt is one of the most outstanding causes of gallbladder disease. It has been demonstrated that an inflamed gallbladder has a slower emptying time.
The gallbladder, unlike the liver in this respect, is not essential to life; but if it is healthy its presence is desirable. It has a function to perform in the digestive and protective mechanisms of the body. If removal becomes necessary the bile ducts become dilated to accommodate the continuous accretion of bile.
Besides serving as a reservoir for bile and mucous membrane the gallbladder excretes certain substances that reach it by way of the bloodstream; in fact, bacteria are removed from the blood and carried away in the bile.
Among the many diseases that attack the body some of the most common cause considerable damage to the liver. Syphilis, tuberculosis, cancer, amebic liver abscess, and numerous others have serious effects on it.
Poisons, especially mercury, lead, arsenic, phosphorus, and muscarin, which is found in various mushrooms, cause atrophy of the liver. Everyone knows of the serious effects of eating poisonous mushrooms.
Circulatory disturbances also have their effects on the liver. Cirrhosis, or hardness of the liver, can be of five varieties, alcoholic, toxic or poisonous, biliary or infective, pigmentary, due to blood pigment or metallic salts such as mercury, lead or iron, and syphilitic.
Alcoholic cirrhosis is often spoken of as a gin drinker’s cirrhosis, but authorities are not agreed as to the extent alcohol plays in the production of this form. It may be that bacteria are the direct cause and that alcohol is the secondary cause in lowering the resistance of the tissues. The alcoholic usually starves himself and the cirrhosis is often due to the lack of certain essential foods, particularly the vitamin B group.
Constipation is a factor in producing diseases of the liver and gallbladder by causing back pressure on these organs. The liver and gallbladder conditions are themselves somewhat to blame for constipation.
However, it is the cause of these conditions which must be treated, and the liver itself is not the cause of constipation. Chronic constipation, a condition due to faulty elimination is one of the commonest ailments of the present age. The great masses of humanity are living unnatural lives.
Overwork, tension, worry, wrong habits of eating, such as that common one of eating too hurriedly, neglect, disease conditions of the rectum and colon, hemorrhoids, fissures, colitis, and allied conditions, the habitual use of liver pills, and lack of fluids between meals – all these bring on constipation.
While it is true that “liver salts” and “bile salts” have a laxative action, nevertheless the fault lies in the habits which have been mentioned. Punishing your liver isn’t going to correct your own bad habits.