Getting to know your liver

When your liver is healthy, you probably never think about it. But when it isn’t, you’ll definitely know. Here’s a look at what you should know about this important organ:

The liver is the second largest organ in the body, and it’s located on the right side of the body right under the rib cage. Can’t quite visualize? The liver is shaped like a football that’s flattened on one of its sides.

In addition to being quite large, your liver plays a significant role in the body. The liver processes the things you eat and drink into nutrients and gets rid of harmful substances from your blood.

As part of that process, the liver stores some vitamins and minerals, controls the production of cholesterol and helps you digest your food. The liver also produces blood-clotting proteins, which help you heal when you’re injured.

In all, the liver performs more than 500 functions to keep the body running smoothly.

Understanding liver diseases

Because the liver plays so many important roles, the body can greatly suffer when the liver isn’t functioning properly. Diseases that impact the liver’s function are fairly common.

In all, there are 100 types of liver disease. Some are caused by viruses, while others result from damage to the liver caused by drugs or alcohol. Here are a few of the most common types:

  • Cirrhosis occurs when the liver slowly loses its ability to function due to some type of injury. Alcoholism is the second most common cause of cirrhosis.
  • Hepatitis A is caused by a virus that causes liver inflammation. The virus can be transmitted through eating contaminated food or coming in direct contact with someone who has the virus.
  • Hepatitis B is caused by a virus that attacks the liver and leads to both acute and chronic liver disease. It is transmitted through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person.
  • Hepatitis C is caused by a virus that can cause both acute and chronic liver disease. It is transmitted by exposure to the blood of an infected person.
  • Liver cancer will be newly diagnosed in more than 39,000 Americans in the year 2016, according to the American Cancer Society. This type of cancer typically begins in another part of the body and metastasizes to the liver.

How to keep your liver healthy

The keys for maintaining a healthy liver are the same as those for a healthy lifestyle in general.

  • Eat a healthy diet, filled with fruits and vegetables, and limit fatty foods.
  • Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week.
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation — no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. Excessive alcohol consumption can damage liver cells.
  • Talk with your doctor or pharmacist about medications that can impact the liver. Carefully stick to the daily maximums of over-the-counter medications, including acetaminophen.

A healthy lifestyle also includes regular checkups. Need a doctor? Find one here.