Let’s get to know your liver

Your liver. Just the name itself is quite innocuous, isn’t it? It may not be the most glamorous organ in your body, but it’s one of the most hardworking.

Think of your liver as a powerful engine Ninja Turtle2. It’s responsible for lots of functions, from detoxification and producing bile, to controlling the way fat and amino acids in your body work.

Large and in charge

Your liver is the largest internal organ in your body*. It is crucial in keeping your body functioning properly. This powerhouse sits in the upper right-hand side of the abdomen, just underneath your ribs. Amongst its many jobs:

  • Processing the body’s nutrients.
  • Regulating blood clotting.
  • Breaking down potentially toxic substances for the body to use or get rid of.

Overworked and underpaid?

Yes, your liver, thanks to its hundreds of functions, can overwork itself to a standstill, and all manner of illnesses and sickness can attack. In fact, there are over a hundred diseases that can affect your liver, so it’s not surprising that there’s a wide range of symptoms when it comes to liver disease. These symptoms differ in intensity and severity. It’s important to know that some people are born with liver problems, while others develop problems later in life.

Potential liver problems include:

  • Cirrhosis: This is fairly common in South Africa with alcoholism as a leading cause of the problem. In this condition, dead or damaged cells are replaced by fibrous tissue, causing fibrosis.
  • Hepatitis: This is when your liver becomes inflamed. In South Africa, we have three viruses that create hepatitis; A, B and C. In fact, these three viruses are completely unrelated to one another, but they all happen to target the liver during an infection.
  • Liver cancer: People with liver disorders need to pay special attention to diet for the liver to function optimally.
Read  Medication and your liver


Watch out for:

  • Jaundice. The whites of your eyes and your skin can turn yellow because of an excess of bilirubin in the system. This is caused by malfunction of the liver.
  • Pain and swelling of the legs and abdomen. Fluid accumulates within the abdomen and the legs, causing swelling.
  • Enlarged liver.
  • Skin problems. The skin can become itchy and spiderlike blood vessels can form on the face and chest.
  • Bleeding in the oesophagus and stomach. (You may see blood in your sputum, or vomiting up blood – signs to see a doctor ASAP!)
  • Bruising easily.
  • Blood abnormalities. A decreased number of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Excessive bleeding and easy bruising can be the result of these abnormalities.
  • Hormonal abnormalities. Decreased fertility in women and erectile dysfunction in men.
  • Confusion. This is the result of a deterioration of brain function because of a build-up of toxic substances in the blood.


Good liver guide

  • Alcohol is NOT your friend if you want a healthy liver. Keep those drinks to a minimum.
  • Avoid infection through hepatitis. You can get immunised against hepatitis A and B.
  • Safe sex – always!
  • Know what medications you’re taking and how to manage them properly. Mixing medications or taking the wrong types can do your liver immense harm. Make sure you always follow the dosage instructions. If you’re taking more than one medication, ask your doctor about the potential side-effects.

*Your skin is the largest organ in the human body.