Optimal Health Begins with the Liver
The liver is one of your body’s hardest working organs, and your well-being depends on it working at its best, every day. When the liver is healthy, it can effectively counter many threats, including poor diets, environmental toxins, overconsumption of alcohol, and the use of common over-the-counter drugs.
But over time, those challenges can add up, so your liver needs nutrients to restore its strength. Three botanicals—milk thistle, andrographis, and grape seed extract—are up to the task.
Protect Liver from Damage
If you’re thinking about taking supplements to restore healthier liver function, you’ve probably heard of milk thistle (Silybum marianum). One of milk thistle’s key compounds, silybin, has been shown to prevent the formation of free radicals, turn off pro-inflammatory signals, and inhibit fibrosis, an accumulation of scar tissue in the liver that can ultimately result in liver failure.
Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata) has been used in Ayurvedic practice for thousands of years and is especially valued for its role in supporting the liver.
Andrographis boosts the activity of some of the most powerful antioxidants generated by the body—glutathione and superoxide dismutase. It also increases the activity of a protein called Nrf2, which reduces cellular degradation and premature aging of tissue throughout the body.
Grape (Vitis vinifera) seed extract is well known for heart health, but also protects liver cells from oxidative damage and shows great promise for people suffering from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) by reducing the accumulation of fat deposits in the liver. I prefer a grape seed extract that is tannin free with small, easily absorbed oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs). Low-molecular weight OPCs are considered the most beneficial compounds in grape seed extract. Tannins, another form of OPC, are not readily absorbed and therefore, cannot protect your liver.
Promote Detoxification and Restore Liver Function
Milk thistle, and specifically its compound silybin, inhibits beta-glucuronidase, an enzyme that would otherwise loosen the binding between glucuronic acid and any toxins you may have in your system, so it prevents those toxins from being set free inside your body. Instead, milk thistle ensures toxins are safely shuttled out of your system through your digestive tract.
Some of the most famous cases of milk thistle’s effectiveness have been its lifesaving effects in detoxifying the poison of the Death Cap mushroom (Amanita phalloides). When these mushrooms are accidentally consumed, the mortality rate is about 30 percent. In one instance, an Italian family was admitted for care three days following accidental ingestion of Amanita mushrooms. Initial conventional therapy didn’t improve the intensive liver damage, but after intravenous administration of silybin, they recovered.
Another clinical study found that in cases of hepatitis C, milk thistle reduced levels of harmful liver enzyme activity, inhibited markers of liver fibrosis, and greatly improved the patients’ quality of life.
It protects against toxins and pesticides that induce liver fibrosis or dysfunction, reduces marker enzymes associated with liver damage, restores antioxidant enzymes, and inhibits cell-damaging lipid peroxidation by as much as 48 percent.
Grape seed extract protects against lead-induced liver injury by improving the way the liver detoxifies poisonous minerals from the body.
Enhance Nutrient Metabolism and Normalize Blood Sugar
When the liver is damaged, it can’t properly produce adequate bile to help us digest foods and transport toxins out of the body. And that can lead to a variety of other issues, including how well you metabolize nutrients and how your body processes sugars and carbohydrates. Fortunately, these botanicals can help.
For example, a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical study of patients with type II diabetes found that milk thistle reduced high glucose and triglyceride levels and helped normalize A1C levels in four months.
Scientific studies show that andrographis also restores normal blood glucose levels and reduces insulin resistance, making it a good partner with milk thistle.
Clinical and scientific studies have found that grape seed extract reduces postprandial (after eating) blood sugar levels after a high carbohydrate meal and alleviates the effects of a high fat diet that can lead to the accumulation of fat, especially in the liver that leads to fatty liver disease.
This action was due, in part, to an increase of adiponectin, a protein responsible for regulating blood sugar levels, insulin metabolism, cholesterol levels, and inhibiting the activation of NF-kB and other inflammatory markers. In one case, the adiponectin level of the grape seed group increased 61 percent compared to the control group.
Improve Liver Health and Overall Well-Being
The liver is unique among the body’s organs; even if 75 percent of the liver is damaged, it can reproduce new tissue from the remaining healthy cells. But sometimes that ability is not always helpful.
When a liver is chronically stressed, its own efforts at wound healing can cause fibrosis as the liver kicks up production of tissue to an unhealthy level. But this doesn’t have to be an inevitable outcome. Research published in the journal PLoS One shows that andrographolide from andrographis can stop the over-proliferation of cells that can lead to cirrhosis.
In addition to its well-known liver-supporting actions, milk thistle also protects against UV damage, kills potential skin cancer cells, and stops inflammatory enzymes that could otherwise lead to lung tumors.
Grape seed extract may also one day help those undergoing radiation treatment, which frequently causes unintentional liver damage. Fortunately, research has found that grape seed extract protects liver cellular membranes from radiation-induced damage and restores natural antioxidant levels.
A scientific study using a specific combination of andrographis (EP80) and French grape seed extract (VX1) found these extracts shrink tumors, kill cancer cells, and prevent future tumors from developing. Like milk thistle, they could make conventional chemotherapy more effective at lower doses, and as a result, less dangerous for patients undergoing treatment.