Exceptional Self-Healing AbilitiesAs our body's largest internal organ, the liver possesses a remarkable capacity for self-repair. Even after up to 90 percent removal, it can regrow to full size and resume normal function. Furthermore, transplanted partial livers grow to completion within weeks.
How Does the Liver Get Its Regeneration Capability?The liver's regenerative abilities stem from its unique cellular structure and internal division into lobes, Dr. Brian Kessler, who specializes in sports medicine, pain management, and rehabilitative medicine, told The Epoch Times.
Liver Parts Can Regrow IndependentlyThe liver contains four lobes—left, right, caudate, and quadrate—and each can regenerate independently.
Liver Cells Divide to Repopulate Damaged TissuesThe liver's lobules, the building blocks of the liver tissue, reveal another secret behind the organ's renewable powers. Lobules comprise hexagonal arrangements of hepatocytes (liver cells) clustered around a central vein. Each lobule has three zones with distinct roles.
Growth Factors Stimulate Cell GrowthThe liver's regeneration capacity also relies on specialized growth factors that are released when the organ is injured, according to Dr. Kessler.
Other Supporting SystemsThe liver relies on several other supporting systems to regenerate itself.
For instance, the liver's extensive blood vessel network heavily influences its ability to regenerate, which relies on the creation of new blood vessels. Platelets accumulating in the liver post-injury contain growth factors. The blood-clotting protein fibrinogen signals platelets to accumulate, and its levels may predict regeneration success.
How Does the Liver Regenerate Itself?Liver regeneration occurs in two scenarios.
Partial Liver ResectionPartial hepatectomy removes part of the liver to treat tumors or cancer or to obtain a partial liver for transplant. The goal is to regenerate the total hepatocyte count and mass through cell proliferation and enlargement.
In a living-donor transplant, the recipient's diseased liver is replaced with part of the donor's healthy liver.
Liver Cell Activation for Tissue RepairLiver injuries from toxins, viruses, or immune attacks trigger inflammation and activate immune cells to release cytokines and growth factors, initiating regeneration. Near the injury, hepatocytes rapidly divide to replace lost cells.
The Liver Knows Just When to Grow and ShrinkThe liver can precisely control its growth and size, even shrinking when needed.
When Is Damage Irreversible?Certain diseases and toxins can overwhelm repair mechanisms and cause permanent damage despite the liver's regenerative capacity.
Even though the liver metabolizes medications and toxins, some drugs taken excessively or with alcohol can harm the liver beyond its ability to heal. These include NSAIDs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, amiodarone (for heart rhythm problems), birth control pills, statins, anti-seizure medications, and high-dose niacin (vitamin B3).
Repeated severe injury causes accumulating scar tissue, called fibrosis, which can advance to cirrhosis—permanent damage impairing liver function.
How to Help the Liver Regenerate"To speed up your liver regeneration, whatever the cause of the damage, you need to stop damaging it first," Dr. Kessler said. Adopting a healthy lifestyle in the following ways helps:
- Avoid alcohol: "Limiting alcohol consumption is crucial, as excessive alcohol intake can lead to liver damage and impair the regenerative capacity of the liver," Dr. Saurabh Sethi, a Harvard- and Stanford-trained hepatologist, told The Epoch Times.
- Avoid smoking: Smoking increases the risk of fatty liver disease, the most common chronic liver condition.
- Avoid illegal substances: Using substances such as amphetamines, cocaine, and khat (an herbal stimulant) can cause liver disorders ranging from mild dysfunction to sudden failure.
- Manage weight: Excess weight increases the risk of fatty liver disease, affecting up to 90 percent of those with severe obesity.
- Eat healthy: Adopting a healthy lifestyle is essential for maintaining a youthful liver, Dr. Sethi said. "This includes consuming a balanced diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains." Garlic also has compounds that improve liver health.
TherapiesEmerging therapies to enhance liver regeneration include the following:
- Liver tissue engineering: This regenerative medicine approach aims to repair, regenerate, or replace damaged tissue to re-create liver function and treat acute or chronic liver diseases.
- Small molecule drugs: These assist transplanted hepatocyte repopulation by promoting proliferation, overcoming their limited engraftment. This is a potential treatment option for end-stage liver disease.
- Yamanaka factors: These help make liver cells younger, accelerating healing. These embryonic stem cell factors can make liver cells younger by in vivo cellular reprogramming.
- Stem cell extracellular vesicles: Stem cells release biological nanoparticles known as extracellular vesicles, which reduce damage and boost repair.