The liver is the most important organ in relation to metabolism and nutrition. Its functions are vital to health and life. It is an efficient laboratory when it is not impaired by disease.
Following are a number of its functions:
(1) It aids in the digestion of food. It produces bile, which it pours into the intestines, to aid in the digestion of fats and other nutriments. It receives from the intestines the digested foods, which are acted upon by it. There are certain sugars, levulose and galactose, which are changed by the liver into dextrose. The liver also destroys a certain amount of proteins which cannot be utilized by the body economy. It changes them into urinary products for elimination by the kidneys.
(2) The liver is a storehouse for food supplies which are not immediately needed by the system. Digested sugars and starches are transformed into glycogen and stored in the cells of the liver until needed by the body for energy. As soon as the body needs dextrose for energy, the liver converts glycogen into this blood sugar, and sends it to the muscles and other tissues that need it for their dynamic functions.
(3) The liver is a storehouse for iron. In infancy particularly, the liver contains the iron required for the first six to nine months of the infant’s life. Nature has provided this safeguard to prevent anemia in the newborn because milk is a food that is poor in iron.
(4) The liver may store metallic poisons such as lead and mercury. This property of the liver causes it to become damaged in some cases. There are certain drugs that contain these metallic compounds. Some food products may be contaminated by metallic poisons. When such is the case the liver is impaired by the storage of such poisons.
(5) A most important function of the liver is to neutralize certain poisons which are manufactured in the body or received by it. The nicotine of tobacco smoke is neutralized by the liver to a degree and prepared by it for elimination by the kidneys. Some of the poisons that are contained in certain medicines and in tea, coffee, cocoa, alcohol, are acted upon by the liver and turned into neutral or harm-less compounds for elimination by the kidneys. Certain waste products of intestinal origin which are not eliminated by the colon are trans-ported into the liver for detoxication and finally for kidney elimination.
One such intestinal waste poison is a sulphur-containing gas compound called indol. This gas originates in the colon. It is a by-product of incomplete digestion of protein of eggs, meat and beans. When an excess of protein is eaten or when the body cannot utilize a certain amount of protein, indol is generated. In the liver it combines with certain minerals to form indican, a blue dye which can be detected in the urine. Indican is found in the urine of healthy people who eat excessive amounts of protein. It shows up in diseases when the body does not require or cannot assimilate proteins. It is often found in the urine in such wasting diseases as the late stages of cancer.
(6) Biliousness results when the liver is overcrowded with excessive amounts of stored wastes and unutilized foods. This condition is one sign of organic disease. It is therefore characterized by a general feeling of malaise, headache, fatigue, lack of appetite, weakness, nausea. In this condition, the liver cells that produce bile are inflamed and congested, and over-produce this vital secretion.
The bile is one of the most important biochemical products of the liver. Normal bile is highly poisonous. It is alkaline in reaction. It contains certain enzymes which help in the digestion of foodstuffs. The bile is also an antiseptic or bactericide; when it is normal in quality it weakens or destroys germs with which food may be contaminated.
One of the important functions of the bile is to act upon the stomach contents that are poured into the intestine; the bile neutralizes their acidity. If the stomach contents were not neutralized after they pour into the intestine, the delicate inner membrane of the intestines would be damaged by the acidity of the gastric contents, thus producing erosion or ulceration. People who suffer from ulceration of the intestine may have brought it on by disturbed balance between the various processes of the digestive system.
The pancreatic digestive secretions are activated by the bile before they act on the food. The pancreas is a gland of external and internal secretion. Its external secretion is a composite product consisting of a number of enzymes which act on proteins, fats, and carbohydrates to complete their digestion and prepare them for absorption by the intestinal wall into the blood and lymph. The internal secretion of the pancreas is the vital product insulin.
In some diseases of the liver its chemistry is perverted. The biliary tracts, or channels leading to the gall bladder and into the intestine, may become obstructed by precipitated liver wastes, commonly called “gallstones.” Gallstones are abnormal products that are produced only when this vital laboratory, the liver, is impaired by inflammation and degeneration.
Modern habits of eating and living, including the use of tobacco and liquor and excessive amounts of proteins and fats, cause the diseases of this organ. Gallstone formation, acute and chronic inflammation of the liver, cancer of the liver, cirrhosis of the liver, fatty infiltration, and fatty degeneration of the liver are all pathological conditions that can be prevented by rational habits of eating and living.
Some people have abnormally yellowish skin. This chronic jaundice is produced by absorption of bile into the blood; this causes the yellow pigmentation and sickly look of the skin.
This vital organ, the liver, can be regenerated by proper diet even when it is impaired to a dangerously pathological extent. A diet consisting of fresh raw fruitssuch as grapefruits, lemon juice with water, fresh raw pineapples and little elsefor a month to six weeks will do much toward regenerating the liver from any of the pathological states mentioned above. Anyone who suffers from liver impairment will do well to live on raw fruits until free from pains and aches, malaise and abnormally pigmented skin, poor appetite, nausea, etc.