The liver is involved in thousands of biochemical mechanisms making it second only to the brain in importance and complexity. Environmental pollutions, chemicals, excessive fat intake, pesticides, hormones, and stress have detrimental effects on the liver.
The functions of the liver are diverse, complex, and absolutely necessary for human metabolism. As one of the primary organs of detoxification, the liver is exposed to a vast array of chemicals, drugs and pollutants, especially in our modern world. Traditionally, the following herbs have been used to promote the flow of bile, cleanse, detoxify, and restore the liver: N-Acetyl Cysteine, Dandelion Root, Silymarin, Turmeric
The liver is the primary metabolizer of fats and cholesterol, so it is particularly important to keep these substances circulating freely. Lipotropic agents function to mobilize lipids and remove excess fats from the liver. Choline, Inositol
In the process of its metabolic and detoxification functions, the liver generates and is exposed to many free radicals. The following antioxidant compounds protect the protein, lipid and DNA of the liver from free radicals. Vitamin E and coenzyme Q10 are active in cell membranes, while vitamin C and lipoic acid function in the intracellular fluid.
The liver synthesizes the antioxidant, glutathione, and the antioxidant enzyme, glutathione peroxidase, perhaps the most important antioxidants made by the body. Glutathione peroxidase contains four selenium atoms. It catalyzes the oxidation of glutathione, present in all animal cells at high concentration. Cysteine is the rate-limiting factor for glutathione synthesis. These two molecules safeguard cells against oxidation and maintain the integrity of red blood cells. N-Acetyl Cysteine, Selenium, Vitamin B-2
The liver requires a tremendous amount of energy to perform its diverse metabolic functions, which include maintaining a normal blood glucose concentration, forming cholesterol and phospholipids, and synthesizing amino acids, plasma proteins and other important compounds. In addition, this vital organ converts vitamins into their active co-enzyme forms and breaks down and excretes drugs and hormones. The following nutrients are required by the liver for its energy needs. Coenzyme Q10, alpha-Lipoic Acid, Magnesium, Potassium, Vitamins B-1, B-2, B-5, B-6 and B-12, Folic Acid, Niacin, Niacinamide
The liver has an almost miraculous ability to biochemically transform, break down, store, eliminate, and build up the plethora of chemicals to which it is exposed. Many botanicals have a very specific effect of modifying these biochemical processes. Some botanicals can enhance the liver's phase I (cytochrome P450) and phase II (glutathione conjugation) detoxification processes, promote the flow and production of bile (one means of eliminating toxins), inhibit the attachment of viruses or chemical antagonists to hepatocytes, strongly enhance the liver's powerful antioxidant systems, or promote the regeneration of liver tissue-the liver being the only organ in the body except the skin able to regenerate itself. Many botanicals have been used historically for promoting liver health. Today, modern research is confirming these benefits while shedding light on their mechanisms of action. Following is an overview of a number of these botanicals.
The extract of the seeds of milk thistle is perhaps the most well researched of all the liver supportive botanicals. Part of its benefit has been in its ability to scavenge free radicals and to stimulate the regeneration of hepatocytes. In Germany, it is the botanical extract of choice for use in supporting a healthy liver. Typically, an extract yielding a minimum of 70% silymarin (a specific class of flavonoids) is used clinically at a dose of approximately 420 mg of the extract daily (Morazzoni and Bombardelli 1995).Andrographis (Andrographis Paniculata)
In Ayurvedic medicine, there are 26 different formulations containing AP that are used to treat liver disorders. AP's four related medicinal compounds were tested for a protective effect against liver toxicity produced in mice by giving them carbon tetrachloride (a cleaning solvent), alcohol, or other toxic chemicals. These chemicals damage the liver by causing lipid peroxidation. This is a process whereby free radicals (reactive molecules) produced by the chemical attack and destroy cellular membranes that surround liver cells. When the AP compounds were given to animals three days before the toxic chemicals, there was a significant protective effect in the liver. This effect was attributed to the antioxidant ability of the AP compounds, which was effective as silymarin (another plant antioxidant from milk thistle).
In another study, andrographolide from AP was shown to produce a significant increase in bile flow. Bile is produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder and aids in digestion. When a chemical, paracetamol, was given to animals pretreated with andrographolide, the usual decrease in bile production seen with this chemical was prevented. In this case. andrographolide was more potent than silymarin.
In India, a study was conducted to evaluate the effect of AP in infective hepatitis, an acute inflammatory condition of the liver. There was marked improvement in the majority of patients tested, when given a decoction or infusion of AP. Appetite improved on the fifth day of treatment, jaundice (yellow color of conjunctive of the eye and skin) gradually diminished and completely disappeared within 24 days, and fever subsided after 7 days on average. Other indications of effectiveness of AP included improvement in liver function tests. The researchers concluded that AP was a useful remedy for treatment of infective hepatitis.
The andrographolides present in AP are potent stimulators of gallbladder function. In animal experiments, those that received andrographolides for seven consecutive days showed an increase in bile flow, bile salts, and bile acids. These increases are beneficial and result in enhanced gallbladder function. Use of AP might, therefore, decrease the probability of gallstone formation and might also aid fat digestion. The andrographolides also prevented decreases in the amount of bile that are caused by acetaminophen toxicity.Schizandra (Schisandra chinensis)
Schizandra, known as bei wu wei zi in China, is one of the most widely used tonics of Chinese herbalism. Its original use was to support the health of the heart, kidneys and lungs and as a longevity tonic. Modern research has focused attention on its role as an adaptogen and for supporting a healthy liver. Adaptogens are substances that positively affect overall health by reducing stress mechanisms which can contribute to a number of biochemical reactions that can be detrimental to health. While the mechanism of action of adaptogens has not been definitively determined, the existing literature suggests they work endocrinologically through the pituitary and adrenals and substantially reduce the negative effects that stress has on the system (Wagner et al. 1994). In China and Japan, the modern use of schizandra has focused on its benefit in those in need of liver support. In one review of its pharmacological activity, stabilization of liver enzymes was reported in more than 5,000 people. The benefits were experienced within 20 days of administration of schizandra with 75% of patients returning to normal values (Chang and But 1986). A limited number of controlled studies similarly reported on the beneficial effects of the equivalent of 1.5 grams of schizandra for reducing elevated liver enzymes (Liu 1991).
There are three primary mechanisms of action of schizandra reported with regards to its ability to support a healthy liver: 1) its ability to reduce lipid peroxidation induced by a number of different antagonists (antioxidant activity); 2) induction of hepatomicrosomal cytochrome P-450; 3) stimulation of protein biosynthesis and liver glycogen (Liu 1991). Such mechanisms make schizandra ideal as a liver-supportive botanical that is underutilized in the West.