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The liver is the largest gland in the body, with a respectable weight of 1.5 kg. This gland carries out important metabolic exchanges and is closely related to the blood and circulation. Here we will talk about two of the main functions of the liver: the production of bile, which is the role of the liver in digestion, and
the function of purification or detoxification of the blood, by the liver cells.
Liver and gallbladder
The liver and gallbladder are intimately linked. The first is responsible for the production of bile (0.5 l every 24 hours), while the second is the place dedicated to its storage. Contractions of the gallbladder during digestion cause the secretion of bile in the intestine, where it can exert its action. Bile is essential for the digestion of fats, because it contains, among other things, emulsifiers that disperse them to form an emulsion easily attacked by digestive enzymes. As we will see shortly, insufficient bile production or gallbladder emptying problems have important consequences on digestion.
Liver and blood circulation
Blood circulation passes much of the blood through the liver. Some important metabolic processes take place in this gland. The composition of the blood is in fact changed by the action of the liver cells (hepatocytes) it passes through. The liver takes glucose nutrients and amino acids from the blood, for example, and stores glucose in the form of glycogen, to return it to the blood when the glucose level drops. The amino acids, on the other hand, are assembled to form various proteins, such as albumin or prothrombin, essential for coagulation.
The liver is inactive and purifies the blood of numerous species, such as waste from the catabolism (degradation) of hemoglobin, or ammonia, a very toxic residue from protein catabolism. It also inactivates some hormones and various drugs.
Liver and alcohol
Everyone knows, more or less, that the liver is important for the breakdown of alcohol and that an excess of alcohol harms this gland (the famous cirrhosis of the liver). The liver actually has a specific function in the elimination of alcohol: it is in this gland that acetic aldehyde, a product of alcohol degradation, is formed and subsequently eliminated.
Liver diseases include hepatitis, mostly of viral origin (hepatitis A, B and C), but which can also be caused by substances such as toxins from poisonous mushrooms, alcohol or certain drugs.
Cirrhosis of the liver, on the other hand, is a chronic liver disease. Chronic hepatitis can progress to cirrhosis, but the most common cause of cirrhosis is alcohol abuse. Consuming 60 g of alcohol per day (about 7 dl of wine) for a prolonged period is believed to cause liver damage. Cirrhosis is a serious disease that can eventually lead to liver failure, hepatic coma and death.
All liver diseases have various consequences on digestion and health in general. Affected people have difficulty digesting fats, because they don’t produce enough bile, and they tolerate alcohol and smoking poorly. Cases of difficult digestion can also be caused by problems with the gallbladder, or by an obstruction of the biliary tract (gallstones). Typical symptoms are flatulence, a feeling of fullness and loss of appetite.
Drugs that act on the hepato-biliary system
The therapeutic arsenal for treating liver disease is relatively limited. For viral hepatitis A or B, vaccines are available that effectively protect the population. However, if the disease is already established, practically nothing remains but to propose a support treatment, waiting for the body to overcome it. The body does not always make it and hepatitis can become chronic (in the case of hepatitis B and C). Only some substances synthesized by genetic engineering, such as interferon, can improve the state of people suffering from chronic hepatitis.
Herbal medicine (which cures with medicinal plants) offers remedies to support the deficient functions of the liver and gallbladder. We can mention, for example, the milk thistle, the artichoke, the boldo or the dandelion. These plants act directly on liver cells, which protect against toxins, or activate the production of bile (choleretic properties) or bile secretion in the intestine (cholagogue properties). Medicines based on these plants are recommended both for the treatment of chronic liver diseases, and for the treatment of digestive disorders.
Traditional Indian medicine
In addition to herbal medicine, another sweet medicine, Ayurveda, offers a product that acts specifically on the liver. Ayurveda is traditional Indian medicine, which, for over 3500 years, has been treating according to a therapeutic approach that rests on the harmony between the conscious and physical functions.
For functional liver disorders, Ayurveda has developed a plant-based drug, with a healing and protective action at the same time. Various clinical studies have highlighted the positive effects of this preparation in inflammatory, acute or chronic liver diseases. It is therefore recommended for the treatment of functional disorders resulting from these diseases, such as the feeling of fullness and flatulence.
Parallel to plant-based and sometimes mineral-based medicines, Ayurveda also seeks to favor the self-regulatory mechanisms of the human body. In Ayurvedic medicine, not only nutrition plays an essential role, but also various types of massages and yoga, Indian gymnastics par excellence.
Like other organs or glands, the liver functions best when it is not overstressed. In this sense, moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages and a healthy and light diet are naturally recommended. Exposure to hepatotoxic substances, whether of synthetic or natural origin, must also be avoided.
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