Fratellone Medical Associates

Herbs and the Liver

Since alcohol is an ever-increasing problem especially among young teens, I want to discuss the plants/herbs that can help the liver. Since the liver is about 3 lbs, you can imagine the amount of functions it performs in the body. It has a unique quality of regeneration (hepatic) cells. The organ bears the brunt of detoxifying the body of toxins and waste. In addition to detoxification, there are other functions of the liver. One function includes the manufacturing of clotting factors. The liver produces many of the clotting factors necessary to clot the blood. These factors depend on Vitamin K. The endocrine functions include the activation of Vitamin D. In addition, it converts a thyroid hormone T4 (thyroxine) to T3 (triiodothyronine). The metabolic functions include storage and release of carbohydrates. The liver maintains our glucose stability. In addition to storage of carbohydrates (the breads, pasta and cake), the liver stores and converts fat. It also breaks down protein to form the basic building blocks of protein, the amino acids. The digestive function includes synthesizing or making bile, which is then stored in the gallbladder. How many of you still have a gallbladder? The liver is the first organ to absorb substances after they leave the gastrointestinal tract (basically the stomach and small intestines). The liver also has a unique circulation called the portal circulation. Did you know that cholesterol was made in the liver? Well, it was. Its major role is detoxification. Therefore, if the liver gets damaged by alcohol, hepatitis or a liver tumor, then these toxins will accumulate and cause illness and disease. These toxins are eliminated in the bile. The liver also stores some very important vitamins including A, D, B12 and K. In addition to the vitamins, there are two major minerals it stores–iron and copper.In regard to the liver, herbal treatment involves bitters, liver tonics, cholagogues and purgatives. Yellow discoloration of the eyes and skin is called jaundice. This is due to the high level of bilirubin in the blood stream. There are many diseases that cause jaundice. These include hepatitis and the obstruction of the bile ducts by a tumor, usually a cancer, which then will cause excess bilirubin production.

Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. It has many causes, the primary one being a virus. There are different types of hepatitis. These include A, B and C, which are caused by a different DNA virus. These types are distinguished by their transmissions. Hepatitis A (HAV) is generally contracted through fecal-oral route. There is fecal contamination of water. Therefore, you can get hepatitis A by eating seafood like clams and mussels or drinking contaminated water. There is a complete recovery from Hepatitis A. Both hepatitis B and C are contracted through direct blood and sexual transmission. This route of blood transmission is seen with use of needles (intravenous drug use) or transfusions and about 50% of those who contract Hepatitis C will progress to significant liver damage.

Another common condition of the liver is cirrhosis. This is where the liver organ gets damaged, scarred and replaced by non-functioning tissue. This starts to effect all the functions of the liver that were discussed above. The major causes of cirrhosis include chronic alcohol abuse, obstruction of the biliary tract, usually by a tumor, and viral hepatitis (especially Hepatitis B and C).

Cholagogues are generally the bitters, which stimulate the release of bile from the liver and gallbladder. These herbs increase intestinal digestion of fats and increase the liver’s elimination processes.

Cynarin, an active chemical constituent in Cynara, causes an increased bile flow. The majority of the cynarin found in artichoke is located in the pulp of the leaves, though dried leaves and stems of artichoke also contain cynarin.

This diuretic vegetable is of nutritional value because of its exhibiting aid to digestion, strengthening of the liver function and gall bladder function and raising of HDL/LDL ratio. This reduces cholesterol levels, which diminishes the risk for arteriosclerosis and coronary heart disease. Aqueous extracts from artichoke leaves have also shown to reduce cholesterol by inhibiting HMG-CoA reductase and having a hypolipidemic influence, which lowers blood cholesterol.

Detoxification and Liver herbs are essential in assisting the quality of other organs.

Berberis, the barberries or pepperidge bushes, is a genus of about 450-500 species of deciduous and evergreen shrubs from 1-5 m tall with thorny shoots, native to the temperate and subtropical regions of Europe, Asia, Africa, North America and South America. Indian folk medicine used this herb to treat diarrhea, reduce fever, improve appetite, relieve upset stomach and promote vigor as well as a sense of well-being. Today, it is widely used for medicinal purposes in treating biliary disorders (such as gallbladder disease) and heartburn. Barberry (Berberis species) and goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) are often used for similar medicinal purposes because both herbs contain the chemical berberine. Barberry is used to ease inflammation and infection of the urinary (bladder and urinary tract infections), gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts (sore throat, nasal congestion, sinusitis, bronchitis) as well as candida (yeast) infections of the skin or vagina. Barberry extract may also improve symptoms of certain skin conditions including psoriasis and eczema. Barberry may also be an effective treatment for diarrhea (including traveler’s diarrhea and diarrhea caused by food poisoning). I would always use probiotics when taking barberry. Barberry is available in capsules, fluid extracts, tinctures, and as a topical ointment. I prefer to use tinctures. I recommend 3 – 6 mL (1/2 to 1 1/2 tsp 3 times daily). All herbs are drugs and interact with other herbs or conventional medications. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider. Barberry can interfere with antibiotics, blood thinners, sugar medications and anti-histamines.

Chelone glabra (white turtlehead) is a plant in the family Plantaginaceae (the plantain family). Chelone glabra is a herbaceous plant found in wetlands and riparian forests of eastern North America with opposite, simple leaves on stout, upright stems. The flowers are white and bloom in late summer and early fall.Other common names for this plant are Balmony and Turtlehead. The herb has derived its botanical name from the Greek term denoting tortoise, primarily owing to the fact that the flowers of the herb appear like a tortoise’s head. Indigenous Americans consumed the bitter leaves of balmony because it possesses aspects of an effective purgative. In addition, the balmony leaves have also been conventionally used to cure worms in the body. Present-day herbal medicine practitioners prescribe balmony for its ability to stimulate the functions of the liver. In fact, the herb serves as an effective liver tonic. It has a variety of other uses.

The balmony leaves are medicinally very useful as they are anti-nauseous, able to eliminate parasitic worms in the body, act as a cleansing agent and possess a tonic or stimulating property. Elements enclosed in the balmony leaves have an unusual action on the liver and hence the leaves are normally utilized for eating as well as to cure conditions such as indigestion or dyspepsia, weakness or debility, jaundice and liver disorders. The natives of North America have been using the herb to cure several ailments and since long it has been considered to be an effective and popular tonic, purgative and laxative.Two more herbs that are cholagogues are Figwort (Scrophularia spp) and Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis). These cholagogues stimulate the release of bile from the liver and gallbladder. They increase intestinal digestion of fats.

Scrophulariaceae, the figwort family, is a family of flowering plants. The plants are annual or perennial herbs with flowers. Members of the Scrophulariaceae have a cosmopolitan distribution, with the majority found in temperate areas, including tropical mountains. The family name is based on the name of the included genus Scrophularia L..The family includes some medicinal plants.
These below are the medicinal plants

  1. Leptandra, black root, Culver’s root
  2. Rehmannia, Chinese foxglove,
  3. Scrophularia, figworts
  4. Verbascum, mulleins

In both eastern and western traditions, figwort (S. nodosa) is a very cleansing herb. Other names for this plant are Carpenter’s-square, Figwort,Rose-noble,Scrofula Plant ,Square Stalk, Stinking Christopher, and Throatwort. In the past, figwort was known as the scrofula plant (hence the botanical name) and used to treat abscesses or scrofula (tuberculosis of the lymph glands in the neck). Like its close relative foxglove, figwort contains a cardio-active substance that strengthens the heart and slows its beat. Figwort is an herb that supports detoxification of the body and may be used as a treatment for various types of skin conditions. Taken internally as an infusion or applied externally, figwort is of value in treating chronic skin diseases such as eczema and psoriasis. Applied externally, figwort will also help speed the healing of burns, wounds, hemorrhoids and ulcers. Figwort contains saponins, cardioactive glycosides, flavonoids, resin, sugar and organic acids.

Goldenseal (Orange-root, Orangeroot; Hydrastis canadensis) is a perennial herb in the buttercup family Ranunculaceae that is native to southeastern Canada and the northeastern United States. It may be distinguished by its thick, yellow-knotted rootstock. The stem is purplish and hairy above ground and yellow below ground where it connects to the yellow rhizome. Goldenseal has been ascribed the following herbal properties (whole herb): bitter, hepatic, anticatarrhal, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and laxative. I have used it for eczema, hemrrhoids and boils. For sore throats, I use 1 1/2 to 3 teaspoons two to three times a day. For boils, I have applied it as a paste to the infected area.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) possesses liver-healing properties. Dandelion is also considered to help the flow of bile from gallbladder and liver. Dandelion has an extremely high vitamin-A content, higher than that of carrots. Vitamin A in high doses is toxic. Dandelion may contain iron and should, therefore, be avoided by people with iron-overload diseases.
Blue Vervain is edible and medicinal. Vervain had many uses in Native American culture as food and medicine. The leaves and roots of Blue Vervain are a valuable alternative medicine used as an antidiarrheal, analgesic, anthelmintic, antiperiodic, astringent, diaphoretic, emetic, emmenagogue, expectorant, sedative, tonic, vermifuge and vulnerary. It is useful in intermittent fevers, ulcers, pleurisy, scrofula, gravel, easing pain in the bowels and expelling worms.

Blackroot ( Veronicastrum virginiana) is also known by other common names such as Beaumont Root, Bowman’s Root, Brinton Root, Culver’s Physic, Culver’s Root and Whorlywort. The American Indians used Black root first, while the Seneca Indians used it to induce vomiting. In regards to liver disease, Blackroot’s root has the ability to increase the flow of bile from the liver. Herbalists employed dried black root in the treatment of liver disorders and for chronic indigestion and other conditions thought to arise from liver dysfunction.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is a perennial, herbaceous flowering plant native to eastern North America from Nova Scotia, Canada southward to Florida, United States. It is the only species in the genus Sanguinaria, and is included in the family Papaveraceae and most closely related to Eomecon of eastern Asia. Some may know the name bybloodwort, red puccoon root and sometimes pauson. Bloodroot produces morphine-like benzylisoquinoline alkaloids, primarily the toxin sanguinarine. The alkaloids are transported to and stored in the rhizome.