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The liver

Men and women discussing liver cancer

This page tells you about the liver. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

The liver

The liver is the second largest organ in the body after the skin. It is found below your right lung and is protected by the lower ribs on that side. The liver is divided into 2 main lobes, the larger right lobe and smaller left lobe.

The liver is the chemical factory of the body. It performs many important jobs including

  • Storing some nutrients
  • Converting fats to energy when the body needs it
  • Producing bile - a substance that helps the digestion and absorption of food
  • Making proteins
  • Helping the blood to clot
  • Making other substances the body needs
  • Breaking down harmful substances including alcohol, many drugs, and waste products from normal body processes

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The liver

The liver is the second largest organ in the body after the skin. It is found below your right lung and is protected by the lower ribs on that side. The liver is divided into 2 main lobes, the larger right lobe and smaller left lobe. At the back of the right lobe are 2 smaller lobes. The 2 main lobes are further divided into 8 segments.

Diagram showing the parts of the digestive system

 

What the liver does

The liver is the chemical factory of the body. It performs many important jobs including

Storing nutrients

The liver receives its blood supply from both the hepatic artery and the hepatic portal vein. Just before it reaches the liver, the blood in the portal vein comes through the gut (digestive system). As it flows through, it picks up the carbohydrates, proteins, fats and vitamins that the digestive system breaks down from the food that we eat. The blood then carries these nutrients to the liver. The liver can store extra nutrients such as glucose and vitamins until the body needs them.

Diagram showing the two lobes of the liver and its blood supply

Converts fats to energy when the body needs it

The liver uses chemicals to convert some foods containing carbohydrates and fat so that they can be used for energy.

Producing bile

The liver also produces bile, a substance that helps the digestion and absorption of food. Bile is stored in a small sack below the liver called the gallbladder. The bile passes into the intestines through the bile duct, a tube that goes from the liver to the small intestine.

Diagram showing the position of the liver and the gallbladder

Producing proteins

The liver has a vital role to play in other functions of the body. It produces albumin. Albumin is a protein found in blood that helps to keep a balance of fluid between the body's tissues and the bloodstream.

Helping the blood to clot

The liver produces substances that help the blood to clot. These substances help to control bleeding when you cut yourself.

Making other substances the body needs

The liver is able to make many substances in the body that are essential for the production of bone and tissues. It also makes cholesterol, which is an essential part of the walls of cells.

Breaking down harmful substances

The liver breaks down harmful substances so that the body can get rid of them in the urine or faeces. This includes alcohol, many drugs, and waste products from normal body processes. So if the liver is not working properly, harmful substances can build up and cause problems with the normal functions of the body.

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Updated: 14 May 2013