pYour liver is an amazing organ. It produces more than 500 vital functions. It is a massive organ responsible for so many biological processes and functions that I’ve been intimidated to write about it. All hail the mighty liver! Your liver filters and detoxifies your blood, stores glycogen, stores several years worth of nutrients, produces blood coagulation factors like fibrinogen, synthesizes glutathione, decomposes red blood cells, produces hormones, synthesizes cholesterol, produces bile to digest fats and synthesizes amino acids and degrades proteins. Holy smoke!! Am I missing anything? Probably.
Its easy to see that if something goes wrong with its functions, there can be any number of problems.
While known primarily for its detoxification capacities, your liver actually serves several powerful functions. Being the primary organ of detoxification, the liver filters all of your blood continuously. Your liver’s detoxification pathways are known as Phase I and Phase II, respectively. These 2 phases of detoxification involve several processes. Phase I involves the cytochrome P450 enzymes.
Cytochrome P450 is a family of 50 different enzymes found in all tissues of the body. Cytochrome P450 is found in the highest concentration within liver cells and is essential during phase I of liver detoxification. The key actions of cytochrome P450 enzymes are:
- To function within phase I Liver Detoxification
- To detoxify xenobiotic sources of toxicity, chemicals, alcohols and carcinogens, converting them into water and oxygen
- To assist endogenous sources of waste such as Bilirubin
- To assist in the synthesis of Vitamin D
- For hormone synthesis: To effectively convert cholesterol into pregnenolone which then gets converted into other hormones like estrogen, testosterone, cortisol and DHEA
- For the synthesis of bile and bile acids, which are necessary for the assimilation of fat soluble vitamins. Bile also contains many of the toxins conjugated in the liver, which then get dumped into the bowels for proper elimination
In phase II Liver Detoxification, the liver conjugates glutathione, the body’s most ubiquitous antioxidant. Glutathione powerfully scavenges free radicals, including heavy metals and chemicals. Glutathione is conjugated primarily through the 3 amino acids: cysteine, glutamine and glycine.
Therefore, protein is essential for liver detoxification.
Glycogen & Nutrient Storage
Your liver stores and releases glycogen. Glycogen is the long term storage form of energy that gets put away into the tissues. The amount of glycogen stored depends on intermittent fasting and the basal metabolic rate. Therefore, eating frequently between meals works against normal glycogen storage and release.
Your liver also stores several nutrients. Your liver can store between 1-4 months worth of vitamin D, 1-2 years worth of vitamin A, as much as 3 years worth of vitamin B-12 and the liver also stores copper and iron for hemoglobin formation.
Blood Clotting Factors
The liver also produces clotting factors such as fibrinogen and thrombocytes. These clotting factors prevent us from bleeding to death, and are also involved strongly in internal blood clotting. Heavy, excess amounts of fibrinogen for example can increase blood viscosity and reduce flow.
Produces Hormones & Synthesizes Cholesterol
Cholesterol is synthesized in the liver, and from it, hormones are made. Your liver also sends out LDL particles which carry cholesterol to the tissues so that cholesterol can perform all of its vital functions. HDL transports cholesterol back to the liver so that it can be re-used or broken down. Calling LDL ‘bad’ and HDL ‘good’ is terribly misleading and incorrect.
There are basically 6 types of steroid hormones: mineralcorticoids, glucocorticoids, androgens, estrogens, progestagens and Vitamin D. The three steroidal hormones that are produced by the adrenals are:
It is the family of 50 powerful enzymes known as Cytochrome P450 that is responsible for converting cholesterol into the ‘master’ steroid hormone, pregnenolone. I choose to call pregnenolone a ‘master hormone’ because it is converted into numerous other vital hormones.
Without cholesterol which in synthesized in the liver, pregnenolone cannot be made. Drugs that inhibit the liver’s production of cholesterol may have a very damaging effect upon the cascade of hormones of the endocrine system.
Consider the vitally important functions of the 6 steroidal hormones, all of which are derived from cholesterol:
- Glucocorticoids are vitally important for the metabolism of carbohydrates. The most important glucocorticoid is cortisol, a powerful adrenal hormone that has multiple functions in the body. Cortisol is also a powerful anti-inflammatory hormone that opposes immune hyperfunction.
- Mineralcorticoide hormones such as aldosterone are hugely responsible for water/electrolyte dynamics through the control of sodium and potassium.
- Adrogenic hormones such as DHEA and testosterone are critical for libido, as well as maintaining bone density. Studies have shown that low levels of DHEA correlate with poor bone density and osteoporosis. DHEA is also critical for memory and anti-aging,
- Progestagens such as progesterone are vitally important for regulating women’s menstrual cycles and are the ‘gestation’ hormones.
- Estrogens such as estradiol are critical for sexual development and have various functions for bone and brain health.
- Vitamin D is technically a sterol, but functions as a steroidal hormone. Vitamin D is converted in the liver and has hundreds of vital immune supporting functions. Vitamin D is also critical for calcium regulation in the blood.
Bile’s primary purpose is for the digestion and emulsification of fats. Bile also is necessary for the assimilation of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. These vitamins are of massive importance to the human body in numerous ways.
In addition to this, bile also contains bilirubin, the waste product of hemoglobin, which is broken down in the liver. Bile will also neutralize food after it has been acidified by the stomach’s acid. Like hydrochloric acid, bile will sterilize food as it passes into the small intestine.
Without adequate bile, most fats are not properly digested, and will be excreted through the feces.
Synthesis of Amino Acids
With the liver’s production of urea, amino acids can be synthesized. Numerous amino acids assist the liver in a number of ways. Citrulline detoxifies ammonia. Methionine is a sulphur rich amino acid which is heavily involved in phase II methylation. L-Arginine assists lipid metabolism. Serine helps to store glycogen.
Testing Liver Function
Currently there are a number of testing methods which can identify liver function. Please email me to learn more.