Understanding the Liver’s Role in Digestion

Understanding the Liver’s Role in Digestion

December 23, 2020

Understanding the Liver’s Role in Digestion

The liver is the body’s second-largest organ, second only to the skin. This approximately 3-pound, football-sized organ plays an important role making sure our bodies are functioning properly. Some of the liver’s most important roles in digestion include cleansing the blood, storing energy, and helping with digestion.

The Digestive System

The digestive system is made up of several organs:

  • Mouth: When food is first consumed (or even smelled), the salivary glands activate in order to break down the food. This allows food to be swallowed and absorbed by the body.
  • Esophagus: The esophagus is where the food goes when it is first swallowed. From the esophagus, the food is delivered to the stomach.
  • Stomach: The stomach is considered storage space for food as it continues the breakdown process and mixes with stomach enzymes. Once the food is thoroughly processed, it is sent to the small intestine.
  • Small Intestine: The small intestine breaks down food even further using chemicals released from the pancreas and liver. The liver’s role is absolutely crucial during this stage. Read on to learn more about the part this organ plays.
  • Large Intestine (Colon): The large intestine, also known as the colon, helps to process waste by removing water from the stool. It also stores digested materials until they are ready to be emptied into the rectum.
  • Rectum: The rectum connects the colon to the anus. When stool reaches this section of the digestive system, a message is sent to the brain to signal that it is ready to be released.
  • Anus: The anus is the final destination for materials leaving the digestive system. Contents are released from the body in the form of stool in this organ.

The Liver’s Role In Digestion

While the liver (along with the pancreas and gallbladder) isn’t officially part of the digestive system, it plays an important role as food is digested and makes its way from top to bottom (literally).

“Anything that is eaten or consumed, whether it’s food, alcohol, medicine or toxins, gets filtered by the liver,” says Hellan Kwon, M.D. clinical assistant and professor of hepatology at the University of Michigan. “Once we ingest food, it is digested by the stomach and intestine, gets absorbed into the blood, and goes to the liver.”

Within the digestive system, the liver’s main role is to process materials absorbed by the small intestine and create the necessary chemicals. Essentially, the liver is the body’s chemical factory. It processes nutrients so that they can be used by the rest of the body. It also creates albumin, a blood protein which transports hormones, drugs, and fatty acids through the body.

In addition to its role as a chemical factory, the liver is also a sort-of fat factory. When fats are consumed, the liver breaks them down. It also creates bile, which converts excess carbohydrates and proteins and stores them for later use. Bile is absolutely necessary for digestion. It helps the body absorb fat into the bloodstream and helps to carry unusable waste products and toxins out of the body through the stool.

Regulation, Detoxification and Elimination

The liver also breaks down toxic substances like drugs, alcohol, and medicines. It removes them by excreting waste into the blood which is then cleansed by the kidneys. Waste that is filtered by the kidneys will then be removed from the body through the urine.

Another role of the liver is to ensure a healthy level of blood sugar by removing sugar from the blood and storing it as glycogen. When blood sugar levels are low, the liver will convert the glycogen to glucose, adding an energy boost to the bloodstream. When blood sugar levels are high, the liver can remove glucose from the blood as needed to keep the sugar levels constant.

Keeping your organs healthy is a lifestyle choice that affects your overall health. Check out our blog titled Seven Ways to Keep your Organs Healthy for more information.