What It Is
An organ (about the size and shape of a semi-deflated football) on the right side of the body, under the ribs
What It Does
Breaks down toxins in the blood from the air we breathe, the food and drink we consume, and the drugs we use; produces bile and clotting factors; stores vitamins, minerals, and sugar until they're needed
Why It's Important
Without it, the body couldn't digest food, heal wounds, or survive a round of hot toddies.
Although resilient, the liver has its limits. Signs that it's had enough include:
These can stem from nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), in which fat builds up in the liver; high cholesterol and obesity raise the risk. NAFLD often causes no problems, but it ups the odds of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Such symptoms can point to hepatitis A, B, or C -- infections that inflame the liver. The first is spread by contaminated food; B and C can be sexually transmitted.
When the liver fails to process bilirubin -- a by-product of its filtering system -- the yellow substance can build up in the body.
The liver demands 25% of the blood pumped by each heartbeat.
... aside from not binge drinking, that is
Workouts alone may not be enough to ward off NAFLD. University of Missouri researchers found that eating healthily and being active throughout the day are also key. One more reason to skip the elevator and take the stairs.
Consumption of more than 16 mg (about 24 IU) of vitamin E per day from foods (like almonds, olive oil, and spinach) was associated with a 51 percent lower risk of liver cancer, Vanderbilt University research showed. Vitamin E may support the immune system and DNA repair.
The liver processes any drugs taken, converting them into a usable form or shunting them away for elimination. Follow medication instructions carefully, as wrong doses or combinations can be damaging, says Nancy Reau, M.D., a liver specialist at the University of Chicago.
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