Thirty per cent of the blood pumped through the heart in one minute passes through the body’s chemical factory, which is called the liver. The liver cleanses the blood and processes nutritional molecules, which are distributed to the tissues. The liver also receives bright red blood from the lungs, filled with vital oxygen to be delivered to the heart. The only part of the body which receives more blood than the liver is the brain. The liver is located at the top of the abdomen, just below the diaphragm and has two main lobes. It is the largest gland in the body, weighing 2.5 to 3.3 pounds. When we eat, more blood is diverted to the intestines to deal with digestive processes; when not eating, three-fourths of the blood supply to the liver comes from the intestines. It also produces about two and one-half pints of bile in its ducts, which is delivered to the gallbladder through a small tube called the “cystic duct” for storage. “Liver” is probably an appropriate name for this gland, which makes the important decision as to whether incoming substances are useful to the body or whether they are waste. The liver is an extremely important organ and has multiple functions. The liver detoxifies blood cells by mixing them with bile and by chemical alteration to less toxic substances, such as the alteration of ammonia to urea. Many chemical compounds are inactivated by the liver through modification of chemical structures. The liver converts glucose to a storage form of energy called glycogen, and can also produce glucose from sugars, starches, and proteins. The liver also synthesizes triglycerides and cholesterol, breaks down fatty acids, and produces plasma proteins necessary for the clotting of blood, such as clotting factors I, III, V, VII, IX and XI. The liver also produces bile salts and excretes bilirubin. A “lily-livered coward” was someone whose liver contained no blood. The Greeks and Romans sacrificed animals to the gods before going into battle. When the liver was examined, if it was healthy and the blood was bright red, a victory was promised; if it was diseased or the blood was pale, defeat was predicted.

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