Liver disease ranks as the fourth leading cause of death—a sign that we’re being subjected to more toxins than our livers are meant to handle. As the body’s main detoxification system, the liver needs all the help in can get to do its job efficiently. Here are three safe and natural, proven effective substances to help protect, support and revitalize the liver.
One of the earliest known liver remedies, milk thistle is the “top-choice herb for all kinds of liver ailments,” according to James Duke, PhD, North America’s foremost authority on herbs. A complex of bioflavonoids called silymarin is thought to drive the main therapeutic activity of milk thistle. Silymarin is a potent antioxidant that can both prevent and repair damage to liver cells caused by toxins including drugs, chemicals, heavy metals and alcohol. In studies, hepatitis patients given milk thistle extract actually showed a reversal of liver cell damage! Milk thistle also increases the body’s levels of glutathione and superoxide dismutase, two natural antioxidants, by as much as 35 per cent. Glutathione is critical in the liver’s ability to detoxify the blood.
While relatively new on the scene in North America, schisandra has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries as a kidney tonic. However, recent research has focused on schisandra’s ability to protect the liver from damaging toxins. Schisandra was even reported to help regenerate liver tissue in an animal study. Schisandra contains active ingredients called “schisandrins” that protect liver cell membranes and help the liver properly metabolize drugs and other toxins. Other studies show the herb may be helpful in certain types of hepatitis—a potentially deadly liver disease.
This relative of the amino acid cysteine is a powerful antioxidant that also helps protect the liver against the damaging effects of toxins. The liver requires antioxidants to properly “neutralize” and protect itself from the constant barrage of free radicals. NAC helps provide this protection by replenishing stores of the body’s own antioxidant compound glutathione. Like milk thistle and schisandra, NAC may even help regenerate the liver once damage has occurred. NAC is currently used for emergency treatment of liver toxicity caused by acetaminophen overdose or other poisoning.
Consider using these liver herbs and nutrients alone or in combination to provide safe, natural support for liver function. Of course, if you have serious concerns about your liver function, consult with a health professional.
Sources: The Green Pharmacy by J Duke, St Martin’s:1997; Natural Liver Therapy by C Hobbs, Botanica:1997; Dietary Supplement Information Bureau