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Digestive System


The liver is the largest organ in the body and plays a number of vital roles, including metabolizing the breakdown products of digestion, and detoxifying substances that are harmful to the body. The liver also provides a quick source of energy when the need arises and it produces new proteins. Along with the regulation of stored fats, the liver also stores vitamins, minerals, and sugars. The liver controls the excretion and production of cholesterol and metabolizes alcohol into a mild toxin. The liver also stores iron, maintains the hormone balance, produces immune factors to fight infections, regulates blood clotting, and produces bile.

The most common liver disorder in the United States and other developed countries is cirrhosis of the liver. The main cause for this disease is alcoholism. Cirrhosis is characterized by the replacement of healthy liver cells by fibrous tissue. The replacement process is gradual and extends over a period of 2-10 years to complete. There is no cure for the disease. Symptoms may not be noticed in its early development, but in its advanced stages there are a number of symptoms and the condition can lead to coma. Close medical attention is required to treat the disease.

The human digestive system. Illustration by Argosy. The Gale Group.

Another common liver disorder is hepatitis. It is an inflammation of the liver caused by viruses. The most noticeable symptom of this disease is jaundice, that is, the skin, eyes, and urine turn yellow. The nine viruses known to cause hepatitis include Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E; the recently discovered F and G viruses; and two herpes viruses (Epstein-Barr and cytomegalovirus).

Additional topics

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