Liver, gallbladder and pancreas

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Learn how the liver, gall bladder and pancreas help the body digest food.

Key points

  • The liver digests food by producing bile to break down fats, removing toxins and breaking down and storing some vitamins and minerals.
  • The pancreas produces enzymes to help break down proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
  • The gall bladder stores the bile that is produced by the liver. When needed, bile passes into the small intestine, where it breaks down fat.

The liver, pancreas and gall bladder are called accessory organs. This means they work with the GI tract to break down food.

Liver

The liver is the largest gland in the body, weighing about 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) in an adult. The liver has many roles in the digestive system. For example, it:

  • produces a green fluid called bile, which breaks down fats
  • removes wastes and toxins from the body
  • breaks down nutrients and stores some vitamins and minerals.
Accessory organs of the digestive systemIdentification of liver, gallbladder and pancreas

Pancreas

The pancreas is located below the stomach. It produces a mix of enzymes that together are called pancreatic juice. This juice helps neutralize the very acidic chyme when it enters the small intestine. Pancreatic juice also helps us to digest proteins, fats and carbohydrates.

Gall bladder

The gall bladder is a pouch-shaped organ that stores the bile produced by the liver. The gall bladder shares a vessel, called the common bile duct, with the liver. When bile is needed, it moves through the common bile duct into the first part of the small intestine, the duodenum. It is here that the bile breaks down fat.

Last updated: September 27th 2013