It’s pretty much impossible to overestimate the extent to which the liver is responsible for the proper functioning of the body. It acts as a battery, a filter, a warehouse, a processing plant, and a distribution point all at once. Similarly, hormones are indispensable to overall health- impacting how we feel, how we eat, how we look, how we age, how we exercise, and how we reproduce. While they may seem unrelated at first, the liver and hormones are interconnected.
The observed relationship between liver disease and hormonal issues led to the finding that the liver and hormones are tightly linked, and a healthy liver is the key to hormonal balance. Let’s take a closer look.
The Function of the Liver
In short, the liver acts as a filter between ingested substances coming in from the digestive tract, and the rest of the body. These substances flow through the liver carrying nutrients, medication, toxic material, and other chemicals in the blood such as hormones. Once they reach the liver, they are processed, stored, altered, detoxified, and either passed back into the blood or eliminated from the body [R].
The Liver and Hormones
The liver is heavily involved in homeostasis, or balance of hormones in the blood. The main hormones controlled by the liver are steroids, which include adrenaline, estrogen, testosterone, and cortisol. Steroids play a significant role in the body, regulating processes such as sexual functioning, libido, reproduction, mood, fat metabolism, and stress. These functions are highly dependent on a delicate equilibrium of hormones, defined by the liver. It was first discovered that certain steroid-related functions, such as sexual desire, were related to the liver when patients with liver disease also exhibited sexuality issues [R].
Interestingly, the relationship between the liver and steroids is not one-sided. The liver and steroids have a functional intertwine. That is, while the liver plays a significant role in balancing steroids and other hormones, the liver itself depends on their functions as well. Malfunction of either the liver or other hormones has a significant impact on the other and could lead to disease [R].
Hormonal Balance Defined by the Liver
How does the liver actually affect the levels of hormones in the blood? The liver participates in most steps of hormone regulation, starting with the production of cholesterol, which is one of the main components that make up steroids. The liver obtains cholesterol either by producing it or by processing cholesterol found in the blood.
The liver also metabolizes steroids by inducing structural changes to render them more or less active, depending on the body’s needs. For example, it provides steroids with carrier proteins, which then transport steroids from the liver to their target location in the body. Without these carrier proteins, steroids would be destroyed or excreted by the kidneys, and thus less functional [R]. Besides acting as transportation, carrier proteins can also make steroids biologically inactive when they are attached to them. In addition, the liver also couples steroids to certain chemicals that target them for excretion when less of a hormone is needed [R]. All these liver functions allow for hormone balance [R].
A Healthy Liver Leads to Hormonal Serenity
It should be no surprise then that a loaded liver or liver disease can lead to problems related to hormones. The extent to how the liver and hormones are intertwined is not yet fully understood, but we’re starting to have a pretty good idea that a healthy liver contributes greatly to hormonal serenity, which becomes especially relevant as we age.