Why the Liver?
by Mark J Kaylor
As I sit down to begin the writing of this article it seems appropriate that it is over the New Year. This is a time of year we often associate with new beginnings, renewal, getting healthy, trying to bring more balance into our year/lives and a time many begin some sort of cleanse. All of which brings to mind the liver. So what is it about the liver? Why do we hear so much about it in “alternative” medicine circles? What does the liver do? As the largest organ in your body, the liver is directly or indirectly involved in every physiological process that occurs. This bears repeating, every physiological process.
What this means to you is that nothing happens in your body without your liver’s involvement. Just some of the jobs that your liver performs are fat metabolism, blood sugar level maintenance, inactivating hormones and regulating sex hormones, digestion, assimilation, blood filtering (at a rate of 1500ml per minute), bile production, creation of immune substances, nutrient storage, and possibly most importantly, filtering and neutralization of toxins leading to removal. In fact, if your liver stopped the detoxification processes you would poison yourself from your own metabolic activity. Now do you see why you liver is so valuable and in need of help? (Enlarge Image)
Before getting into specific remedies it is important to note that while the liver has a natural ability to regenerate itself, this may become impaired when the liver is damaged or overburdened, so it is essential to liver health that you nourish the liver properly and decrease the toxic load on it.
Overlooked and ignored frequently for the more exotic and unusual herbs, several medicinally potent and nutritionally rich “weeds” have tremendous benefits for liver health. Milk Thistle has a long history of use in Greek and European medicine for liver related issues and is backed as well by modern science’s recent investigation exploring its regenerating, protecting, and free radical fighting actions. In fact, Milk Thistle’s liver protecting abilities are so pronounced that it is considered a remedy against dangerous and deadly liver toxins, including the aptly named “deathcap mushroom”. Other compelling liver benefits of this weed are:
• Protecting against chemical induced live damage
• Balancing liver enzymes
• Increasing activity of liver protecting anti-oxidants (SOD and Glutathione Peroxidase)
• Lowering risk for developing hepatitis
• Partially correcting alcohol liver damage.
As a tonic, Milk Thistle’s amazing gifts are best fully experienced if taken for the long term although one clinical study showed liver enzyme improvements in just five days. Simply put, if you have any liver concerns, you must give Milk Thistle a try.
Numerous medicinal mushrooms have been used for centuries for a variety of liver related conditions. Of special note is the remedy that I have termed the “Tonic for the 21st Century”, Reishi. A liver and whole body tonic Reishi has demonstrated dramatic effectiveness for chronic hepatitis of 70 to 98% in 2-15 weeks. This magical mushroom is useful for prevention, liver regeneration, and Hepato-protection. Other synergistic actions are the reduction of free radicals and inflammation, both of which are causal and contributing variables in liver imbalances. The delicious Shiitake mushroom is beneficial for liver protection, viral inhibition, and speeding up the processing of cholesterol in the liver, which may lower total cholesterol levels. And they taste great. Somewhat surprisingly, the Maitake mushroom, which most know only as an immune booster, has recently shown benefits for protecting and regenerating the liver as well as usefulness in hepatitis, showing even stronger effects than some of the traditional “liver” mushrooms.
Utilizing herbs that come out of possibly the oldest healing tradition on the planet, Ayurveda, comes a thoroughly tested formula, called LiverCare (aka Liv.52). Ayurveda, which translates as “life knowledge” takes a holistic and integrating approach to healing and it is no surprise then that this formula does as well. Its basic actions are to improve functional efficiency of the liver, stimulate renewal of liver cells, encourage the detoxification processes, and protect healthy cells from a wide range of toxins, including alcohol, acetaldehyde, and a variety of drugs. So effective in protecting the liver, LiverCare has displayed success in protecting it from damage resulting from the powerful and toxic therapies of radiation or chemotherapy. Just some of the other research shows LiverCare useful for liver disorders during pregnancy, hepatitis A and B, improved appetite and weight gain in malnourished and anorexic children, and hangover symptom reduction – a far too common occurrence over the New Year. An indication of its holistic benefits and of the inter-connectedness of the liver is seen in a report from a doctor in a busy Psychiatric Department of a major hospital in India. Approximately half of his patients on psychotropic drugs were taken off these medicines after Liv.52 was introduced into their programs. (Warning: These are delicate and chemically altering drugs that one should not just remove oneself from without the aid and supervision of your doctor.)
Of special note are three herbal allies all benefiting the liver in slightly different ways, Artichoke, Turmeric and Schizandra. European herbalists have long used the delicious Artichoke, like its thistle cousin, Milk Thistle, as a remedy for jaundice. Liver regenerating and protecting actions have also been confirmed as demonstrated in a study looking at Polish workers exposed to toxic fumes in the workplace.
Over a two-year time period, workers who took the artichoke extract did not show the same toxic damage that those who did not take the extract did. Artichoke may also decrease liver congestion and help in treating hepatitis by helping to reduce bile levels in the liver. Another edible powerhouse is the spice Turmeric, one of the key ingredients in curry blends. Used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine to treat liver dysfunctions, recent research has focused on its liver protecting actions as a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent as well as effectiveness for hepatitis B.
Like Artichoke, Turmeric increases bile production while it stimulates bile release from the gall bladder, benefiting the digestion of fats and helping reduce clogged hepatic ducts. Famed Ayurvedic practitioner, Dr. Vasant Lad says: “Turmeric gives the energy of the Divine Mother and grants prosperity. It is effective for cleansing the chakras, and purifying the channels of the body. It helps stretch the ligaments and is, therefore, good for the practice of hatha yoga.”* Gives you a good idea on how highly prized this herbal ally is. Coming at it from the traditional Chinese Medicine approach, Schizandra is also said to be good for all the (energetic) channels of the body. These adaptogenic berries have a protective and normalizing action on the liver as seen in several studies where it normalized liver enzymes, particularly with hepatitis B.
And for a taste of how highly valued Schizandra is here is a quote from a several thousand year old Chinese medical text on its benefits: “Prolongs the years of life without aging.” (*The Yoga of Herbs, pg 150, Dr. Vasant Lad, Lotus Press)
Your liver, in many ways, exemplifies the holistic nature and fundamental need of the body for balance, harmony, and wholeness. As an inter-connected system within itself and with the world outside, your liver plays a central and primary role in both your health maintenance and virtually all healing processes. Making the right choices to optimize liver health and functioning is not only essential for healing from disease and cleansing, but is essential in optimizing your overall health and functioning. Remember, your body wants to be healthy, give it what it needs to nourish itself, on all levels, and assist the liver in doing its hundreds of jobs and enjoy your walk down the path to radiant health.