The liver, a three-pound sponge full of blood that is lodged just around the lower right ribs, is our tireless defender. It daily throws itself in front of a barrage of chemistry, coming from inside our bodies, from our food, and from the world around us, and helps to process and safely eliminate it before it can harm our heart, blood vessels, joints, nerve tissue, and skin. But the liver is also a wise regulator of metabolism: it takes the carbohydrates, fats, and proteins we consume and coordinates their storage, converts them like currency one into the other as needed, and packages lipids and cholesterol for shipping to long-term storage in our adipose tissue. As such, it is exquisitely sensitive to insulin, and takes care of clearing sugars from the bloodstream after we eat. It also has the ability to create cholesterol from scratch, produces bile, and synthesizes a range of important molecules used to clot blood and ensure optimal immunity. Needless to say, we owe our lives – and much of our quality of life – to the liver.
For all these reasons, healthy liver function is one of the herbalist’s primary goals. We aim to support its defensive role by ensuring that the liver is producing antioxidants like glutathione at optimal levels. We pay attention to the liver’s insulin sensitivity, helping it react to this important hormone in a healthy, balanced way so that it can fulfill its role in blood sugar management. And when working to keep healthy cholesterol levels in their normal range, herbalists turn to liver support first.
There are many plants that can support liver function. Perhaps one of the best known is the seed of milk thistle,Silybum marianum1. Adding this botanical into a comprehensive protocol for liver health makes great sense, though you have to consume substantial doses of the ground seed or focus on concentrated extracts for optimal effects, and extraction tends to be complex and requires high concentrations of alcohol2. For this reason, herbalists often consider other botanicals for daily liver support.
We’ve known for a while, through the work of Nora Rozengurt, Catia Sternini, and others that the bitter taste activates the liver in a few different ways: first, through nerve connections from the tongue stimulated by a bitter flavor, and second, via the presence of bitter taste receptors in the liver itself3. So it makes great sense to choose plants that taste bitter to support optimal liver function. The question is – which ones?
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is an obvious choice. It’s been the focus of a lot of research on its ability to support excellent liver function4. But the intensely bitter leaves of artichoke (Cynara scolymus) seem to address liver function in a unique way: organic acids such as cynarin, not present in other plants5. Artichoke supports healthy cholesterol levels that are already in the normal range, keeping blood lipid levels where they should be6 (makes sense, given its profound effects on the liver)7. And, like all good bitters, artichoke of course helps with the digestive irregularities we can sometimes experience: occasional gas and bloating, heartburn, nausea and upset stomach8. But artichoke may go even further, and when added as part of the diet can help maintain healthy blood sugar levels. This particular bitter plant truly loves your liver.
When considering the liver’s metabolic function, healthy cholesterol production, and normal sensitivity to insulin, another bitter and aromatic plant is at the top of the herbalist’s charts: fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum)9. Additionally, it has a pleasant maple-syrup-like flavor that makes it a good aromatic for rounding out the classic bitter formula template10: bitter, aromatic, and a little sweet to balance things out.
Used consistently, these bitter herbs really help ensure optimal liver function every day. When you consider how many important functions the liver carries out, this is really saying a lot! And knowing how hard this crucial organ works for us, it’s not surprising that every herbalists you talk to will tell you the same thing: give your liver a little love, and you can’t help but notice the benefits.
The post Detox and Metabolism: Supporting the Liver’s Crucial Role in Health appeared first on Urban Moonshine.
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