Immunity and Liver Connection
The liver is an important organ in the body. Unlike the external parts of our bodies like the head and limbs which we learn about very early in life, most of what we know about the liver is picked up on the path to growth. Isn’t it surprising how we take very little notice of otherwise important parts of our bodies until they begin to malfunction? The liver plays very vital roles in our wellbeing. Some of these functions protect us from harm.
Functions of the Liver that Give Immunity
- Detoxification of Poisonous Substances: One of the ways in which the liver protects us is by converting toxic substances in our bodies to harmless ones which the body eventually excretes. These substances include drugs and other chemicals that may find their way into our bodies. The liver has a system of enzymes that break down those substances into smaller molecules that are then excreted in the urine. The detoxification function of the liver is so important such that drugs prescribed especially when the liver is impaired must be taken with caution.
- Production of Antibodies: The liver is also a site for synthesis of proteins. These proteins include some antibodies of the immunoglobulin class which fight against infections in the body. These immunoglobulins are not housed in the liver alone after production. Rather, they are released into the blood and circulate around the body to sites that are prone to infections. The liver also has another group of protective cells called macrophages. These are produced in large numbers when a foreign body enters your body. They gather round the invading substances and literally eat it up. These macrophages are strategically positioned along the path of blood flow in the liver. As blood from your gut – with nutrients, toxins and harmful microorganisms – flows through the liver, they identify foreign bodies and attack them.
- Destruction of Blood Cells Containing Parasites: In certain disease conditions, parasites invade the body and reside in the red blood cells. A common example of this phenomenon occurs in malaria in which members of the Plasmodium species invade and occupy the red blood cells. As these parasitized blood cells move around the body, they get to the liver’s reticuloendothelial system which is made up of tiny capillaries lined with white blood cells that fight foreign bodies. Apart from these white blood cells attacking the parasitized cells, the tiny capillaries prevent the blood cells from passing through them, thereby essentially filtering away those infested by parasites. These parasite-infested blood cells are then destroyed in the liver.
- Production of All Classes of White Blood Cells: The liver is involved in the formation of new blood cells in foetuses and new-born children. This function reduces with age as the bone marrow takes over blood formation in adults.
- Helping to Carry Antibiotics Round the Body: The liver produces a protein called albumin. Albumin is circulated in the blood and acts as a transporter of substances including drugs. When a person who has an infection takes an antibiotic, the ability of the antibiotic to be circulated around the body depends on how well it can bind to albumin.
How Liver Disease Affects Immunity
Given the numerous functions that the liver performs, infection control is usually a big task in persons down with liver diseases. As the liver disease progresses and a significant fraction of liver function is lost, the person’s immunity becomes compromised. The person easily comes down with infection and develops fever more frequently than usual. With a reduction in the production of antibodies and other white blood cells, the person’s protection at sites of entry like the gut and the eyes become vulnerable to infections.
With a functional liver, it takes certain high concentrations of toxins in the body to bring down a person with symptoms. However, when the liver is diseased, a person can come down with symptoms of toxicity even at much lower concentrations.
An example is those with cancer of the liver often tend to develop complications in their brain called encephalopathy. Microorganisms in the bowel act on the stool thereby, producing ammonia. Ammonia produced this way in healthy individuals is converted by the liver to a form which the body can easily excrete. Without a functional liver, however, ammonia travels in the blood and gets access to it’s victim’s brain. Its presence in the brain leads to problems like irrational talk, drowsiness, loss of consciousness and even death.
Since the liver is this important, you should strive to protect your liver from undue harm. Consumption of large volumes of alcohol, mouldy grains and high doses of drugs can damage your liver. Also infection with the hepatitis group of viruses especially hepatitis B and C, can cause damage to your liver.