The liver is a large organ located under the right side of the rib cage. There is a gall bladder under the liver and the whole organ cannot be felt under normal circumstances. The liver performs very important functions in the body. These functions include filtering of the blood that comes from the gastrointestinal tract before it goes into the general circulation. Other functions of the liver are detoxification of chemicals and toxins that accompany digested food from the intestine, metabolism of drugs and production bile that aids in digestion of fats.
The liver also produces certain proteins that function in blood clotting. Also, minerals like copper and iron, Vitamin B12 and the fat-soluble vitamins A, D E and K are stored in the liver and red blood cells are produced in the liver. In all these functions of the liver, it is at risk of damage by the chemicals, toxins, drugs and microorganisms that it handles. There are vitamins, minerals (co-factors and trace elements) and fibre that assist the liver in all its functions. Together with these, are antioxidants that neutralize free radicals that are released in the liver as it performs its functions.
Whatever passes through the stomach, food, water, beverages, alcohol and drugs have to be carried in the blood after absorption, first to the liver for detoxification. Specifically, the blood from the intestines to the liver is loaded with the following items: nutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats), toxins from the intestines; and toxins stored in fat tissues and other toxins generated by the metabolic processes that take place in the body. The toxins that are stored in the fat tissues can be released during exercises, fasting and stressful moments in ones life. The need to store toxins in fat tissues is the genesis of obesity and one who is obese may have to contend with liver problems as a result of excess toxins in circulation. Other items coming from the intestines to the liver will include microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. These could be coming from contaminated water and food prepared in unhygienic conditions. Along with the bacteria are bacterial endotoxins, antigen-antibody complexes and other toxins.
How the Liver Detoxifies
The liver detoxifies by a complex series of chemical and enzymatic reactions, which are beyond the scope of this article. Be that as it may, the bottom line is for the liver to convert the fat-soluble toxins to water-soluble forms that are less harmful and easily excretable through the urine and bile.
There are three major pathways by which the liver detoxifies. Firstly, it does so by the filtration of the blood from the intestines. As the blood passes through the liver in the first passage, more than 90 per cent of the toxins and chemicals are filtered off. In its passage through the liver, it is estimated that about 100 gallons of blood pass through the liver daily. Secondly, the liver detoxifies by the production and secretion of bile and cholesterol into which the fat-soluble toxins dissolve. These bile-cholesterol-toxin complexes are transported to the intestine where they are absorbed by fiber and excreted in the stools.
Thirdly, the liver directly neutralizes chemicals and toxins by enzyme action in two phases. In Phase 1, the liver neutralizes the toxins or changes them into intermediates that can be further neutralized by one of several steps in Phase 2. At the end of the processes in phase 2, the wastes are either eliminated through the skin as sweat, through the intestines as stools and through the kidneys as urine.
In the process of detoxification in the liver certain vitamins, minerals, co-factors and coenzymes are involved. The liver itself is at the risk of suffering some damage during detoxification. To protect the liver from such damage, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and nutrients are needed. We shall be considering these in next week Thursday’s edition of The Guardian Newspaper.