So just a few more body systems to go through to give you a very brief and simplified view of how bodies work. Again, the purpose is to give a better understanding of how things are supposed to work so we can know what’s supposed to happen and ultimately how to help optimize the function of the body. Also, when things aren’t working well, by knowing what the correct or ideal function is supposed to be, we know when we are going in the wrong direction and need to get back on track. If you haven’t had the chance to read the previous emails, I suggest you do so as it all ties together and helps explain the basic purpose of a body, which is to move. To recap the hierarchy or order of importance of the various body systems, go back and review the respiratory, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and neurological as well as the gastrointestinal systems.

So, the next thing on the hierarchy list to go over very briefly (and I mean VERY briefly) is the hepatobiliary system. This consists of the liver, the gallbladder and bile ducts. Hepatic means relating to the liver. It comes from late Middle English: via Latin from Greek hēpatikos, from hēpar, hēpat- ‘liver.’ Bile is a substance produced by the liver from the breakdown of old red blood cells that is used in the digestion of fats. Bile is stored in the gallbladder and released when a person ingests fats.

The liver is an extremely important part of the body. It is located on the right side just underneath your ribs and diaphragm (the muscle that helps with breathing). The liver receives EVERYTHING that you eat or drink from the stomach and intestines as things are digested along the gastrointestinal tract. All blood leaving the stomach and intestines passes through the liver. Almost everything you put in your mouth (some things such as fiber are not digested and taken directly into the body) will go to your liver for processing and in some instances metabolizing. To metabolize means to break down all the nutrients or substances we get from food into the basic forms that can be used by the body. This is done on a cellular level by liver cells or hepatocytes through various enzymes within the liver cells.

The liver has several essential functions that are necessary for life. Honestly, there are too many functions that the liver handles to go over in one article. The final digestion or metabolization of nutrients, detoxification of blood, storage of essential vitamins are some things the liver does. The more chemicals a person ingests, the more work the liver must do.

One concept I really want to get across is that one of the liver’s main purposes is to metabolize the macronutrients or the things bodies need in large quantities (carbs or carbohydrates, proteins and fats) as well as the micronutrients or things the body needs in very small or trace amounts(vitamins and minerals). Ingesting massive quantities of macronutrients as well as taking in too many micro-nutrients can be toxic to the liver. The old saying or viewpoint that, “if some is good, more is better” does not always work when it comes to the liver.

A very simple way your doctor can check how your liver is doing is to do a blood test to check for the level of free liver enzymes in your blood. Remember your liver cells (or hepatocytes) have several enzymes that help process or metabolize the macro and micronutrients that are ingested. Here’s how it works. When something is toxic to the liver cells it can cause the liver cells to break or lyse or pop and release these enzymes into the blood. When we see that the level of liver enzymes in the blood are too high and above the normal range, we know that more liver cells are breaking open and the liver is being damaged. Alcohol for example has this effect on liver cells. Ingesting high levels of certain vitamins as well as certain medications can also be toxic to the liver as well.

The next time your doctor orders labs, ask to see how your liver is functioning when you review the results with them.

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