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Digestive Functions of Liver


  • Liver: Body’s largest gland.
  • Weight: ~3lbs (1.3 to1.5 kgs).
  • Multiple vital functions in metabolism, regulation and digestion (Betts et al., 2016).
  • Digestion: production and secretion of bile.
  • Additionally, processes the absorbed nutrients in the small intestine (Cleveland Clinic, 2018).

Bile formation and secretion

  • Bile is formed by the liver cells (hepatocytes).
  • Modified by the epithelial cells of the bile duct lining (cholangiocytes).
  • Hepatocytes initially secrete bile in the conjugated form into the hepatic canaliculi.
  • Hepatocytes canalicular membrane: primary apparatus for bile secretion.
  • The hepatic canaliculi releases the bile into cholangioles (ductules) where its modification takes place (Hundt, Basit & John, 2019).

The duct systems of the accessory organs: liver, gall bladder and pancreas

Functions of bile

  • Bile consists of bile acids: fats digestion and absorption.
  • Digestion and absorption of certain vitamins soluble in fats.
  • These processes occur in the small bowel.
  • Activation of lipases in the small bowel/intestine.
  • Small micelles as a result of fats breakdown (emulsification).
  • Identical to the process of oil breakdown by soap.
  • Bile helps eliminate few waste products such as bilirubin (VIVO Pathophysiology, n.d.).

Liver cirrhosis

  • Scar tissue replaces the severed healthy liver tissue.
  • Multiple factors including alcohol abuse and certain infections (Cleveland Clinic, 2019).

Effects of Liver Cirrhosis

  • Cirrhosis reduced the liver’s capability of processing substances.
  • Alleviated production of substances produced by liver, such as certain proteins.
  • Prevents liver from properly functioning.
  • Since cirrhosis affects the liver, jaundice is a common symptoms.
  • Loss of liver cells and impaired functioning of the liver (Cleveland Clinic, 2019).

Causes of Liver Cirrhosis

  • Chronic liver infections such as Hepatitis B and C
  • Fatty liver: caused due to obesity and diabetic complications.
  • Heavy drinking (alcohol abuse).
  • Anything that can damage the liver including cystic fibrosis.
  • Blocking of the bile ducts, which carry bile formed in the liver to intestine (Cleveland Clinic, 2019).

References for Digestive Functions of Liver

Betts, J. G., Desaix, P., Johnson, J. E., Korol, O., Kruse, D., Poe, B., Wise, J., Womble, M. D., Young, K. A. (2016). Anatomy & physiology. USA: OpenStax College, Rice University.

Cleveland Clinic. (2018). The Structure and Function of the Digestive System. Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/7041-the-structure-and-function-of-the-digestive-system#:~:text=The%20liver%20has%20many%20functions,digesting%20fat%20and%20some%20vitamins.

Cleveland Clinic. (2019). Cirrhosis of the liver. Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15572-cirrhosis-of-the-liver

Hundt, M., Basit, H., & John, S. (2019). Physiology, Bile Secretion. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL), USA: StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470209/

VIVO Pathophysiology. (n.d.). Secretion of bile and the role of bile acids in digestion. Retrieved from http://www.vivo.colostate.edu/hbooks/pathphys/digestion/liver/bile.html

What-when-how. (n.d.). The digestive system (structure and function) (Nursing) part 3. Retrieved from http://what-when-how.com/nursing/the-digestive-system-structure-and-function-nursing-part-3/

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