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The liver is the largest internal organ of the body, weighing about 3.5 - 4 pounds in an adult. It is positioned beneath the diaphragm on the right side of the abdomen and is reddish brown in color because of its great vascularity.
The liver has many important responsibilities. It filters the blood to remove toxins and waste products. It makes bile, an alkaline liquid that assists in the digestion of fats. It stores sugars, several B vitamins, vitamins A and D, iron and copper. It makes important proteins like those involved in blood clotting, and it breaks down and recycles red blood cells, among many other functions. An inflamed or infected liver can impair these functions.
The following herbs can help benefit the liver, but it is also important to eat a healthy diet and avoid abusing alcohol. Malnutrition and alcoholism are the two most common causes of liver damage.
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Milk thistle contains silymarin, a mixture of flavonoids, and is one of the most potent substances known to protect the liver. It acts as a direct antioxidant and free radical scavenger. It increases the levels of glutathione and superoxide dismutase, intracellular antioxidants that fight free radicals - damaging compounds that can cause cell death. It inhibits the formation of leukotrienes, a natural substance involved in inflammation, and it stimulates hepatocyte (liver cells responsible for detoxification) regeneration.
In Europe, silymarin preparations are widely used and concerns about toxicity are low. It has been shown to be effective in the treatment of hepatitis, cirrhosis, inflammation of the bile duct and alcohol induced fatty liver.
Silymarin is found in the seeds. It is only partly water soluble, so to get the most benefits, you should add about 10 drops of an alcohol-based tincture of this herb to each cup of milk thistle tea (do not use the tincture if you are suffering from alcoholism or acute liver inflammation). To prepare a cup of tea, pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of crushed seeds, cover and steep for 20 minutes.
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Licorice is another beneficial herb for the liver that has been found to neutralize toxins. A key component of licorice, glycyrrhizin, has shown excellent results in treating acute and chronic hepatitis.
Side effects include potassium depletion, water retention and high blood pressure. Following a high-potassium, low-sodium diet may help prevent the side effects. People with high blood pressure should avoid licorice.
To prepare a cup of tea, add 1 teaspoon of root powder to 1 cup of hot water.
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Green tea is rich in flavonoids, including catechins - the most abundant being epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). EGCG is a potent antioxidant and may help reduce inflammation. According to animal research involving mice, EGCG was shown to protect the liver from free radicals generated by the exposure to a toxic chemical solvent called carbon tetrachloride. In another study, green tea was shown to prevent liver damage in rats that were chronically intoxicated with alcohol over a four week period.
To prepare a cup of tea, pour 1 cup of hot water over 1 teaspoon of dried leaves, cover and steep for a couple of minutes.
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Dandelion, a common weed you may have growing in your backyard, is rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that can benefit the health of the liver. The roots are used to promote liver detoxification, stimulating the flow of bile which helps cleanse the liver of harmful toxins. It has been used to treat liver disorders such as hepatitis and jaundice.
To prepare a cup of tea, pour 1 cup of hot water over 1 teaspoon of dried roots, cover and steep for five minutes.
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The last on this list of herbs for the liver is turmeric, which has been used for thousands of years in traditional Ayurvedic medicine to cure liver diseases. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown to reduce toxic substances from the liver. In one study involving rats, those that were fed turmeric had a significant increase in levels of two important liver detoxification enzymes: glutathione-S-transferase and UDP glucuronyl transferase.
To prepare a cup of tea, pour 1 cup of hot water over 1 tablespoon of root powder.
You can also buy the above herbs in the forms of tea bags and capsules. Organic products are best. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, have a medical condition (including a problem with the liver) or are taking medications, consult your health care provider before taking any herbs.
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University of Illinois Medical Center: liver disease - http://uimc.discoveryhospital.com/main.php?id=3307
Michael Murray, N.D. and Joseph Pizzorno, N.D. "Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine" Prima Publishing 1998
WHFoods: Green tea - http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=146
WHFoods: Turmeric - http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=78
Photo by schlag! / Flickr
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