Quick, how many organs do you have -- 5? 12? 75?
There’s no universally agreed upon definition of an “organ,” so it’s hard to say definitively.
As kids, a lot of us learned only the organs most essential for survival: the brain, heart, kidneys, liver and lungs.
However, if you Google “internal organs” you’ll see lots of charts pointing out a variety of different body parts. Wikipedia lists 79 different organs, but there may be more.
So what is an internal organ, anyway?
Biologically speaking, an organ is a "body part adapted to a certain function." At its most basic level, an organ is a group of tissues that function alike.
The building blocks of the human body are cells, tissues, and organs. Tissues are made up of individual cells that look and act differently depending on their purpose. Tissues designed to perform a specific function make up an organ.
Organs help us do what we need to do to survive--breathe, pump blood, think, process energy, and more. Your eye is an example of a highly complex organ. Your skin also qualifies as an organ.
Meet Your Digestion BFFs: Liver & Pancreas
The liver and the pancreas work together to help maintain blood glucose levels, by secreting hormones at just the right time, day and night.
The liver is the largest organ in the human body, which is fitting given that it’s got such a big job to do. As the body’s primary detox tool, the liver helps filter your blood and metabolizes macronutrients, among other roles.
The liver has been associated with more than 500 vital functions.
Just a few of the liver’s most beneficial functions are to:
- Clean your blood.
- Clot blood to stop bleeding as needed.
- Make bile to digest food and escort waste and toxins out.
- Serve as a source of energy to maintain blood glucose, creating glycogen stores for later release as needed.
- Regenerate itself like a boss -- better than any other organ in the human body.
As you can see, the liver has a key role in digestion. As you digest food, the liver sorts the useful food materials -- like vitamins and minerals you want to keep -- from harmful substances like alcohol, chemicals, cholesterol, pesticides, and pollution.
It also stores glucose to be released as needed, depending on what it learns from hormones created within the pancreas.
And, it’s true, that much of the liver can amazingly regenerate much of itself. Some percent of healthy cells will return to normal function when you treat it well.
Note how the long, flat pancreas gland can be seen behind the stomach in this illustration.
You’ve likely at least heard of the pancreas… but may still wonder what exactly it does. It’s crucial to helping you control blood sugar and regulate certain hormones related to appetite.
The pancreas is a long, relatively flat gland located by the liver and the stomach, deep in the abdomen. Most of us don’t think about it often, since we can’t feel or see it. We don’t tend to talk about it as much as other major organs.
Technically, the pancreas creates pancreatic juice (digestive enzymes and bicarbonate ions) and delivers this juice to the duodenum (small intestine). So, the pancreas serves as an important part of digestion, too, and it serves to control blood sugar levels.
The pancreas makes the pancreatic enzymes called lipase, protease, and amylase. It also produces hormones--insulin, glucagon, gastrin and amylin--that regulate appetite and tell your stomach when to make stomach acid and empty itself.
When the pancreas secretes hormones like insulin and glucagon, these help tell the liver what to do so that you can avoid blood sugar spikes or dips. This is one way the pancreas and liver work symbiotically.
Another view of the pancreas. Image by BruceBlaus. https://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/WikiJournal_of_Medicine/Medical_gallery_of_Blausen_Medical_2014#/media/File:Blausen_0698_PancreasAnatomy.png
Common problems of the liver and pancreas
If not treated well, and as we age, the liver and pancreas organs may become negatively affected.
Over time, the liver may become damaged by viruses, alcohol use, and obesity. Liver scarring, or cirrhosis, can lead to liver failure, which is life-threatening. The liver sometimes becomes infected with hepatitis, cancer, or other concerns.
It’s common for the pancreas to become affected by diabetes, pancreatitis, or pancreatic cancer.
Those are just some of the reasons why we recommend taking a preventative, proactive approach to treating your internal organs well.
Befriending your internal organs
You’ve probably heard, “It’s what’s inside that counts.” We wholeheartedly agree (and our liver and pancreas concur)! What’s inside matters, literally at a cellular level.
To support your internal organs -- particularly the liver and pancreas functions -- drink plenty of water, take in a lot of high-fiber foods especially fruits and vegetables, consume foods with probiotics, and get enough dietary protein.
Lifestyle modifications can also help. Look for relaxation techniques that will help put you into a more optimal state to rest and digest. Evidence-based acupuncture can further support the body’s nervous system and even affect the primary detox organs responsible for greater balance within you.
While you may or may not be thinking about your internal organs at any given moment, it's clear that they’re doing a lot for you. It’s time to befriend those internal organs. Give yourself a squeeze. Thank your body for all it does for you.