…and must be punished. If you’ve visited Key West and walked the walk (Duval Street in other words), you’ve likely seen a t-shirt in a window with those words emblazoned on it. The implication, of course, is that you should drink yourself into a stupor (many do here, unfortunately) while intoning “bad liver bad liver” repeatedly.
In truth, you should do the opposite. The liver is so not evil. In fact, it does so many things to keep you functioning (alive in other words) that you should be showering it with gifts, lighting candles in its honor, and saying, repeatedly, “if there’s anything you need or want, anything at all, your wish is my command.”
I came to this conclusion after reading Natalie Angier’s article “The Liver: A ‘Blob’ That Runs the Body” in today’s New York Times. She begins by telling us that the Mesopotamians thought our souls and emotions lived in the liver. The Elizabethans purportedly called the king or queen “the liver of state” and thus woe to anyone who was monarch and “lily-livered” at the same time.
Fun stuff aside, Angiers explains that the liver’s to-do list is second only to the brain (and that it can regenerate whereas that slouch the brain cannot). That list comprises over 300 hundred items. Here are a few primary ones:
- “Reworking” food into something useful for cells, etc.
- Neutralizing harmful substances (such as the agent of punishment noted above)
- Generating hormones, clotting factors, enzymes, and immune molecules
- Controlling blood chemistry
The liver is so vital to us that if it fails, nothing can take over for it except another liver via transplant. It is our largest organ (no wonder they thought the brain was subservient to it), weighing in at around three-and-a-half pounds. Angiers describes it as looking like a “beached sea lion” nestled in our abdominal cavity. It contains 13 percent of the body’s blood supply at any one time.
If all those things weren’t enough, the liver also keeps time. Well, not really. It just swells around 50 percent after dark as its protein production increases and then shrinks the same amount when the sun comes up and protein destruction occurs.
So the upshot of all this is, again, the liver is not evil, far from it. It should be treated with respect. In fact, Angiers suggests, should anyone every ask you “What am I? Chopped liver?” your response should be “Yes, you are and you should pleased as punch about that.”
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