My fight against Biliary Atresia
How important is the liver?
The liver is a vital organ. Without it we would not be able to live. Apart from the brain, it is the most complex organ in the body. It has a wide range of functions and acts very much like a factory. One of its most amazing features is its regenerative power. Some 9/10ths of the liver can be cut away and provided the remaining 1/10th is healthy, the liver will grow back to its original size.
The liver is a processor
The food that we eat passes into the stomach via the esophagus (gullet). The food is broken down by the action of the stomach and the small intestine. The nutrients from the food are then absorbed into the blood via the vessels in the walls of the intestines. These drain to veins which lead into the portal vein which carries the blood into the liver. The nutrients are processed in many different ways in the liver. This processing of the food is known as metabolism. The final products made are used by the body for energy and growth.
The liver is a manufacturer
The liver produces a number of different substances which are vital in order for healthy growth and development. For example: 1. The liver cells produce substances which assist with the clotting of the blood, e.g.Prothrombin. 2. The liver cells make proteins which are carried in the blood. These have many functions. Albumin, for example, helps to control the distribution of fluid in all parts of the body and transports many substances to and from the liver and kidneys to other parts of the body.
The liver is a storage depot
The liver stores energy in the form of glycogen (sugar). It also stores a number of other substances, e.g. copper, iron and vitamins.
The liver is a controller
The liver plays an important part in controlling: 1. The correct level of many hormones within the body. 2. The blood sugar (glucose) levels. The liver stores glucose in the form of glycogen when there is too much glucose in the blood and releases it when the blood sugar level falls. 3. The amount of fluid the body retains and its distribution throughout the body. 4. The concentration of cholesterol which it converts into bile salts. 5. The action of many drugs
The liver is a filter
The liver removes many unwanted substances from the body. It plays an important role in controlling the harmful effects of some drugs and products of metabolism by changing them chemically before excreting them into the bile. Bilirubin (unconjugated or indirect) is produced when old red blood cells break down. The average life of a healthy red blood cell is 120 days. This bilirubin is carried in the blood stream, attached to albuimin, to the liver where it is altered into a different form (conjugated or direct bilirubin) which is then: 1. Excreted in the bile. 2. Transferred into the bile which passes via the bile ducts into the intestine and appears as brown pigment in the stool. Bile is continuously produced by the liver cells mainly by the action of bile salts. It collects in and passes out through the network of bile ducts into the intestine. Bile salts play an important role in the digestion of fats.
The liver is a defender
The liver plays an important role in fighting many types of infection. In particular, protects the body against infection which arises in the gut. With so many different and complex functions, it is not surprising that more than 100 types of liver diseases have been identified in babies and children