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The Benefits and Limits of Botanical Medicine for Liver Health

written by: BStone • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 6/9/2011

Certain herbs can help to support the liver. Learn how to use herbal remedies for liver problems safely and understand what exactly plant medicine can and cannot do.

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    Taking Care of Your Liver

    The liver has several vital roles in the body. It secretes bile for the break-down of fats and the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. It acts to store some nutrients until they are needed, to synthesize fatty acids and to produce lipoproteins and cholesterol. Proper liver function is important for metabolism, energy production and blood sugar regulation. The liver is also a major organ of elimination, helping to eliminate toxic substances from the body, filtering three pints of blood per minute.

    Artichokes are Excellent for Liver Health Maintaining a healthy liver is in your best interest. When well-functioning it supports digestion, healthy energy levels and overall well-being. Eating a healthy diet is essential for this organ but using herbal medicine for liver health can be beneficial as well. Herbs can support the natural cleansing process, aid the digestive process and simply tone the organ. Using them properly supports liver function, aiding in health and longevity. While botanical healing is a natural remedy for a sluggish, over-worked liver it is important to keep in mind that taking herbs is not a substitute for regular medical care and if serious problems are present herbal remedies should only be used under supervised professional care.

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    Common Problems

    The liver is important but why would it require the support of herbal medicine? The liver can easily become over-worked, leading to poor functioning. The common causes of minor liver problems are part of everyday life for many people. Eating too many high-fat, processed and sugary foods while not eating enough fresh fruits and vegetables can burden the liver. Alcohol consumption and the chronic use of prescription drugs also taxes this organ. The exposure to chemicals and pollutants from the environment, from the food we eat, the air we breath and the water we drink, all cause the liver to work harder.

    Common signs that this organ is not functioning efficiently include:

    • Poor digestion
    • Mild depression, melancholy
    • Low energy levels
    • Skin itching and minor skin problems such as adult acne
    • Bad breath
    • Unusual weight gain
    • Constipation
    • Congestion
    • Liver spots

    Herbal remedies in conjunction with a healthy, high-fiber, high-nutrient diet and regular exercise can help to prevent and address these problems that may be due to a liver that could use some support.

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    Beneficial Botanicals

    So which are the best herbs to use for common liver problems? The following is a list of beneficial botanicals to help tone the organ and stimulate proper functioning. Do not use all of these herbs at once but choose one or two to focus on for two to three weeks to help get your liver back on track.

    • Milk thistle stimulates the production of new liver cells and protects the liver from toxins. This herb has poor water solubility so use in supplement or tincture form.
    • Artichoke extract will support liver and gallbladder functioning.
    • Dandelion root or leaves both help support liver function. Dandelion can be safely used on a regular basis to cleanse the liver and to support the functioning of the digestive system. You can find dandelion tea available in most health food stores.
    • Burdock root is a natural detoxifying herb that also acts to stimulate the digestive system and the secretion of bile. Burdock is very Herbal Tea good for restoring both liver and gallbladder function. Avoid during pregnancy and talk to your doctor before use if you have any cardiovascular conditions. Take in supplement form or brew an herbal infusion. Simmer one teaspoonful of the dried root in one cup of boiling water for ten minutes. Strain and drink.
    • Wormwood is a bitter plant and is beneficial for the digestive system in general. It acts as a general tonic for the liver. Wormwood should only be used on occasion and should be avoided during pregnancy. It has a very bitter taste and may be better suited in powdered capsule form.
    • Yellow dock is a cleansing herb, helping to detoxify the blood and to manage mild constipation. It also promotes the flow of bile. Yellow dock can be taken as an herbal infusion; simmer one teaspoonful of the dried root in one cup of boiling water for ten minutes. Yellow dock blends well with dandelion and burdock root. Do not consume the leaves as they are high in oxalates.
    • Vervain supports healthy liver and gallbladder functioning. It contains bitter glycosides, volatile oil, tannin and mucilage. This herb is also useful for alleviating mild cases of depression. It can be made into an herbal infusion, steeping two teaspoons of the dried herb in one cup of boiling water for ten minutes. Avoid vervain during pregnancy.
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    Herbs to Avoid in Cases of Poor Liver Health

    If you have liver disease or for any reason this organ is in poor condition, avoid the following herbs. If unsure about taking certain herbs always talk to your doctor or a medical professional that has experience with herbal medicine first.

    • Kava kava
    • Coltsfoot
    • Licorice
    • Valerian
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    The Limits of Herbs

    Herbal medicine can be helpful for liver health but it has its limits. In cases where the common signs of a sluggish liver are present making changes to diet and lifestyle are the most important steps. Drinking a cup of dandelion tea each day but continuing to eat an unhealthy diet and expose yourself to unnecessary toxins is not going to do that much for this organ. Eating a diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, drinking plenty of water, getting some physical activity each day and supplementing with beneficial herbs will help.

    While botanical medicine is helpful for liver support it is not a solution for serious health conditions such as liver disease or cirrhosis of the liver. Natural remedies can be a part of your path to wellness but they are not necessarily a full solution. Be sure to see your doctor and to discuss all your health care options and decisions. Also, always talk to your doctor first before taking any herbs if you are taking any type of medication, have a health condition or are pregnant.

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    References

    Karr, Tammera J. MSHN, CNC, BCIH, CNW, CNH. Liver Simply Amazing. Holistic Nutrition for the Whole You. http://yourwholenutrition.com/blog/category/liver-health/

    Balch, Phyllis A. "Prescription for Nutritional Healing." Fourth Edition (Penguin Books, 2006).

    Page, Linda. "Healthy Healing: A Guide to Self-Healing for Everyone, 11th Edition" (Traditional Wisdom, 2003).

    Hoffmann, David. "The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal: A Safe and Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies." (Element Books, 1996).

    photo by Itinerant Tightwad/flickr

    photo by Khairil Zhafri/flickr

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    Disclaimer

    Please read this disclaimer regarding the information contained within this article.