Understanding Your Liver: 5 Vital Ways Your Liver Keeps You Healthy

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Elaine Gavalas, ND, PhD

May 20, 2024

The heart is synonymous with love, the brain with thought, and the lungs with breath. The liver, though, is an organ that doesn't get the attention it deserves. If your liver doesn’t work properly, your entire body will be affected. But what exactly does it do?

Your liver is basically the gatekeeper between you and anything you ingest. Whenever you eat or come in contact with anything, whether it is food, alcohol, medicine, or even chemicals, the liver processes it.

Here are five vital functions your liver performs to keep you healthy.

What is the Liver?

Your liver is your body’s second largest organ (with your skin being the first). On average, it weighs around three pounds in adulthood and is roughly the size of a football (1). It’s located on the right side of your abdomen, just below the lungs, and takes up most of the space in your rib cage.

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Your liver is made up of two separate sections or lobes: the larger right lobe and the smaller left lobe. These two lobes are made up of eight smaller segments that consist of lobules (liver cells). These lobules are connected to small ducts—or tubes—that connect with larger ducts to form the common hepatic duct. The common hepatic duct transports the bile made by the liver cells to the gallbladder and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine) via the common bile duct (2).

So, What Does Your Liver Do?

Unlike the heart or lungs, you can’t feel your liver working. You probably don’t even think about it until there is something wrong. But your liver is an incredible organ involved in over 500 different bodily processes. In fact, only your brain has more functions than the liver. Here are the five most important functions of your liver.

Role 1: Detoxification

If you’ve ever been to an airport, chances are you’ve had to go through TSA. Think of your liver like the TSA—scanning and removing harmful things from passing through 24/7.

Your liver works tirelessly, filtering your blood nonstop. At any moment, it holds around a pint of blood—that's about 13% of your body's total blood supply. Your liver filters over a liter of blood every minute, roughly 22 gallons per hour, and a whopping 250 gallons in a single day (3).

The liver removes harmful substances from your body by breaking them down into smaller byproducts. These byproducts leave the liver through bile or blood—byproducts in bile are removed from the body through feces, while those in the blood are filtered out by the kidneys and removed through the urine. 

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Role 2: Produces Bile

Your liver produces an estimated 800 to 1,000 milliliters (ml) of bile daily (4). 

Bile is a yellow-green acidic liquid that helps carry away waste and break down fats in the small intestine during digestion. Without bile, the body cannot digest fats or fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, D, E, and K. 

Bile also acts like a hormone that sends signals when certain nutrients are present. These signals activate proteins (called nuclear receptors) that are responsible for sensing substances like steroids, thyroid hormones, cholesterol, and vitamins (5). 

By sensing these substances, nuclear receptors help ensure that the body maintains healthy levels for various biological processes (think: the regulation of inflammation, metabolism, and growth and development).

Finally, bile is anti-bacterial, maintaining the delicate ecosystem of the gut microbiome. Without bile, the gastrointestinal tract becomes vulnerable to bacterial overgrowth and bothersome gut symptoms.

Role 3: Creates Essential Proteins

The liver is responsible for making 85-90% of the proteins that circulate in the blood (6). Some of these proteins include blood clotting factors, which help wounds heal. Without clotting factors, cuts and wounds wouldn’t stop bleeding. 

The liver also produces albumin, a protein that helps move small molecules through the blood and prevents blood fluid from leaking into tissues. Albumin also carries hormones, vitamins, and enzymes throughout the body (7).

Role 4: Stores Nutrients

If your body takes in more glucose (blood sugar) than it needs, it stores the excess in the liver. This storage form of glucose is called glycogen (8). If you skip a meal, your body will start to draw from these glycogen stores for fuel. In other words, the liver is an important backup organ that provides fuel for your body

The liver also stores vitamins and minerals such as iron, copper, vitamin B12, and fat-soluble vitamins (9). Because of this, animal liver is a very nutrient-dense food. But it's definitely an acquired taste.

Role 5: Regulates Cholesterol

Chances are you’re aware that eating too much of certain foods can lead to high cholesterol. But did you know that your body produces its own supply of cholesterol? In fact, you need cholesterol to survive. It performs several critical functions in your body, and it all starts in the liver, which makes cholesterol plus manages its level in your body.

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that circulates in your bloodstream. It helps to form protective layers, called cell membranes, around the cells in your body. It’s also necessary to make vitamin D, certain hormones, and bile, which helps you digest foods (10).  

The liver plays a crucial role in regulating cholesterol levels in the body. When cholesterol levels in the blood are too high, the liver responds by reducing its own production of cholesterol and increasing the production of bile acids, which help to break down and eliminate excess cholesterol from the body (11).

How Can I Keep My Liver Healthy?

We all need a healthy liver to live—it’s so essential that “live” is in the name. While your liver is a remarkably sturdy organ, there are some things you can do to help.

  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Stay hydrated
  • Limit alcohol consumption

Supplementation can also play a huge role in maintaining your liver health. N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is a modified form of cysteine—a sulfur-rich amino acid. While NAC is an efficient antioxidant in its own right, its ability to increase levels of a more powerful antioxidant: glutathione (12). 

Glutathione is commonly called the body’s “master antioxidant,” and exists in every human cell. It acts as the primary shield against oxidative stress caused by free radicals (the highly reactive and unstable molecules that can damage cells and cause aging and disease) which can damage your liver.

Native NAC is a unique formulation of 1,600 mg N-acetylcysteine (NAC) blended with 500 mg L-glycine as well as 500 mg L-taurine. It comes in a convenient powder form with a pleasant and natural Peach Ginger flavor. It contains zero sugar and, instead, is lightly sweetened with two natural, zero-glycemic sweeteners: monk fruit and stevia

Enjoy daily by mixing one scoop with 8 ounces of water.

As with any new supplements you are considering adding to your routine, it’s advisable to discuss this with your physician beforehand.

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Native NAC combines a potent blend of amino acids into one convenient scoop to promote liver health, cellular repair, and natural detoxification.

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Frequently Asked Questions About the Liver

The liver is truly an amazing organ in that it has the capacity to regenerate. This means that after an injury or surgery to remove tissue, the liver tissue can grow back to a certain extent.

The liver starts growing back by having the existing cells enlarge. Then, new liver cells start to multiply.

Within a week of removing two-thirds of the liver, it can return to its original weight (13). The liver has been able to regenerate completely after as many as 12 partial liver removal surgeries.

The Bottom Line

The liver is not only the largest internal organ but also among the most important. With over 500 functions, you can’t live without it.

Show your liver some much-needed love by maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine, and consider adding Native NAC to your supplement routine. 

Dr. Laurel Ash
Article by

Dr. Laurel Ash

Laurel Ash, ND, MS is an Oregon and Washington board-certified Naturopathic Physician. She earned her Doctorate in Naturopathy from the National University of Natural Medicine alongside a Master of Science in Integrative Mental Health.

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    Medical Disclaimer

    This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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