It is clear that we cannot avoid all chemicals in our environment. Mammals are equipped to handle this as long as the chemicals do not exceed a specific threshold. How does the body do this? The liver is the largest solid organ in the body situated on the right side within the rib cage. It is also the only human organ that can regenerate in an adult. It is commonly referred to as the “clearinghouse” for all chemicals, whether foreign or toxic molecules produced by the body. The liver is a multi-tasking organ carrying out the function of detoxification, excretion, storage, regulating glucose, clearance of poisonous substances and also storage in addition to many others. The liver is always working to detoxify the chemicals that are found in the body. It does this by a number of ways:
- Rearranging chemicals to change their structure from harmful to benign
- Combining chemicals with other constituents that change their harmful nature. These constituents can be oxygen or hydrogen-oxygen atoms. It is similar to how a harmful alkali that can burn would be turned harmless by mixing it with an acid
- Many chemicals dissolve well in fatty solutions. Such chemicals can pass very easily into cells, which are made of a fatty membrane. The liver changes these chemicals so that they can only dissolve in water. This way, they can be excreted in the urine or bile without being able to pass back into the cells.
- When we eat foods rich in anti-oxidants, such as fruits and vegetables, these work with the liver in detoxification. This is the reason we hear the call to eat healthy. To keep the liver healthy, one should avoid smoking, limit alcohol and take only prescribed dosage of medication. These are intentional habits that give our livers more work.
- The kidneys. Chemicals are transported in the blood, go to the kidneys and are then passed through a special sieve called the glomerulus. Once passed, they end up in the urine, which may be stored in the bladder for a short while before they are finally passed out in the urine.
- The skin. When we sweat we loose water. Some chemicals are excreted in the sweat.
- The intestines. Some harmful chemicals ingested in food can be removed without absorption. Others are directly removed by being combined with bile, which is then passed into the intestines and finally out as part of stool. Bile is what gives stool its brown color.