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23 August 2014
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You are here: BBC Science > Human Body & Mind > The Body > Organs
Fact files

Organs - Liver

System: Digestive

Location: Under your diaphragm, more to the right side of your body

Physical description: Wedge-shaped, spongy organ

Function: To get rid of toxins, to regulate your blood sugar levels and to produce bile

Largest internal organ

Your liver is your largest internal organ. A big blood vessel, called the portal vein, carries nutrient-rich blood from your small intestine directly to your liver.

Chemical processing factory

Hepatic cells make up about 60 percent of your liver tissue. These specialised liver cells carry out more chemical processes than any other group of cells in your body. They change most of the nutrients you consume into forms your body cells can use. They

  • Convert sugars and store and release them as needed, thereby regulating your blood sugar level
  • Break down fats and produce cholesterol
  • Remove ammonia from your body and produce blood proteins, including blood clotting factors

Other functions of your hepatic cells are to

  • Detoxify drugs and alcohol
  • Produce bile, which breaks down fats in the food your eat

Security guard

A second important group of liver cells are the Kupffer cells. They

  • Remove damaged red blood cells
  • Destroy microbes and cell debris

Essential for life

Because your liver fulfils so many vital functions, you would die within 24 hours if it stopped working. A common sign of a damaged liver is jaundice, a yellowness of your eyes and skin. This happens when bilirubin, a yellow breakdown product of your red blood cells, builds up in your blood.

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