Did you know that an optimally functioning liver is essential to hormonal health, digestive health, our mood and even our aging process? Fortunately there is an abundance of liver wonder herbs that are known to Western and Traditional Chinese Medicine. The selection of a liver herb is based on the desired medicinal action, which may include protection and rejuvenation of liver tissue, detoxification support, or the stimulation of bile production and release. Here’s a quick look at some of the top performers that are used in naturopathic medicine:
Milk Thistle (silybum marianum)
Milk thistle contains a compound called silymarin, which is immensely protective and restorative to liver tissue. As such, it is used to protect and repair the liver from exposure to toxins and poisons, including excessive alcohol consumption and drug overdose. This herb is safe to use while breastfeeding, and also enhances the production of milk.
Schisandra (schisandra chinensis)
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), schisandra is regarded as a very special herb because it is said to encompass all 5 key flavours: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and pungent. It has been in use in TCM for over 2000 years, and yet we are still uncovering new medical uses for schisandra today. It has been studied for its liver protective effects, and an extract of the herb has been made into a medicine for Hepatitis C infections. Schisandra supports both of the two phases of liver detoxification, but it’s not just a liver superstar – it has adaptogenic properties. This means that it helps the adrenal glands adapt to whatever our physiology may require – whether that is to increase or decrease the production of adrenal hormones. If that weren’t enough, the herb is also a cough suppressant, it helps to regulate blood glucose and cholesterol, and tonifies (strengthens) the immune system and nervous system. Who knew one berry could do so much!
Chinese Thorax (bupleurum falcatum)
Known as Chai Hu in TCM, this herb has some serious aces up its sleeve! Like schisandra it supports both of the 2 phases of liver detoxification. In TCM, it is used to resolve “liver qi stagnation”, which can manifest as such symptoms as depression, irritability, severe menstrual cramps, and headaches. In Western understanding, these symptoms can be attributed to poor liver detoxification of hormones and other toxins. Chinese thorowax is one of the key ingredients in a formula called Xiao Yao Wan, which is highly effective at resolving premenstrual mood difficulties. It’s also been used as an ingredient in another formula that is commonly used in Japan (where it is known as sho-saiko-to) and China (where it is known as Xiao Chai Hu Tang) to treat hepatitis C and cirrhosis very effectively. In addition to supporting liver detoxification, Chinese thorowax tonifies and modulates the immune system, making it a powerful plant ally for anyone fighting a cold, or who has autoimmune disease.
Burdock root (arctium lappa)
Burdock has anti-inflammatory properties and is a potent detoxifier with specificity to the skin. As such, it is an excellent choice in the treatment of skin conditions such as eczema, acne, and psoriasis. It is also a bitter that helps to improve the production and release of bile and digestive enzymes. It is both soothing and stimulating to the digestive tract, resulting in a dose-dependent laxative effect.
Dandelion root (taraxacum officinale)
Dandelion root has very similar properties to burdock root, but deserves special mention because it is one of the few herbs that are considered safe when used to aid in the resolution of gallstones.
Turmeric extract (curcuma longa)
Turmeric is one of the most anti-inflammatory herbs (or spices) we know of! It’s also anti-oxidant, aids in the restoration of liver tissue, increases bile production, and has mild blood thinning properties. When cooking with turmeric, combine it with fat (as in a stir-fry with oil, or coconut milk in curry sauces or golden milk) to enhance your body’s ability to absorb it. An extract of turmeric – called curcumin – is far more potent than the whole spice, and is widely used as a supplement in naturopathic medicine in the treatment of any inflammatory condition (such as arthritis), for the prevention and adjunctive treatment of many cancers (except for lung cancer), to support the liver, mood and cardiovascular health.
Your naturopathic doctor can help you to determine whether your liver could benefit from botanical support, and knows how to select the herbs that are most suited to your unique needs, and which are safe for use in combination with other supplements or medications you may be using.
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