Thursday, February 11, 2010
ROCHESTER, Minn. — The liver, the largest internal organ, is the body's ultimate multitasker. While the liver is not glamorous or sentimental — there are no love songs about a broken liver — it simultaneously plays a key role in the body's metabolic, digestive and regulatory systems.
A Special Report in the February issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter offers comprehensive coverage of the liver, its function, types of liver diseases and treatments.
Some highlights from the report include:
A multitasker: Among its many functions, the liver helps regulate blood sugar levels, converts consumed fats into usable fuel for cells and transforms fats and sugars into protein building blocks. It converts cholesterol from the diet into bile acids, which help in digestion. It metabolizes hormones. And specialized cells in the liver trap bacteria and toxins that arrive in the bloodstream, break them down, render them inactive and secrete them into bile for elimination.
A regenerator: The liver — unlike other organs — can fully regenerate itself. This unique ability has led to a growing role for living-donor liver transplantation, where the donor provides a substantial portion of his/her liver to a recipient. After a successful transplant, the liver grows back to its full size in both the donor and the recipient within about two months.
Liver disease: There are many causes and types of liver disease. Symptoms often go unnoticed until the disease is advanced because the symptoms frequently mimic other, more benign ailments. Signs and symptoms may include fatigue, a general feeling of weakness or feeling unwell, loss of appetite, mild weight loss, nausea, fever, abdominal pain, dark-colored urine, or bowel movements that may be light colored, bloody or black. Specific tests sometimes are the only way to confirm liver disease. Untreated, liver disease can progress to liver failure.
Healthy-liver tips: Infectious liver diseases, such as hepatitis A, B and C are spread through contaminated body fluids or blood. Avoiding risky behaviors — unprotected sex and use of contaminated needles — reduces the risk of liver disease. Vaccines are available to prevent hepatitis A and B.
Another healthy-liver tip is to minimize exposure to toxins, including garden and household chemicals and cigarette smoke. Maintaining a healthy weight is important, too. A diet high in calories and saturated fats can overwhelm the liver's ability to process fats, in turn causing inflammation, an early stage of liver disease. Minimizing alcohol consumption benefits the liver. Excessive alcohol intake can flood the liver and prevent it from working efficiently.
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