The liver is the second largest organ in the human body. It performs a large number of functions that are essential to the health of all body systems. The liver aids in metabolism and digestion, and is a major detoxifying organ, breaking down and neutralizing harmful toxic substances. The liver plays a role in the production of blood-clotting substances and produces much of the body’s cholesterol, which is required for the synthesis of hormones and the maintenance of healthy cell membranes. The liver also aids in controlling blood sugar levels by releasing stored glucose when blood sugar levels fall too low. This vital organ is susceptible to many diseases and conditions that can impair liver function, some of which include cirrhosis, hepatitis, and cancer. Some causes of liver damage and disease include alcohol, environmental pollutants, medications, and viral infections.
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) herb is well-known for its liver-supporting effects. Milk thistle seed contains a phytochemical known as silymarin, which, when ingested, concentrates in liver cells. Silymarin acts as a potent antioxidant and has been found to stimulate the regeneration of liver cells. Silymarin increases glutathione production in the liver. Glutathione is the major endogenous antioxidant produced in the body for Liver protection against free radical damage and is used for detoxification in liver cells. Milk thistle also contains compounds that inhibit the entrance and binding of toxins in the liver. In clinical studies, milk thistle has been shown to have liver-protective effects in cases of cirrhosis associated with viruses and chronic alcohol use.
Other herbs that have traditionally been used to support liver health and cleansing include dandelion root, parsley, yellow dock root, blessed thistle, golden rod, and angelica root.
N-acetyl cysteine is a precursor to glutathione. Glutathione itself cannot cross cell membranes, but N-acetyl cysteine easily crosses cell membranes where it is converted to glutathione. N-acetyl cysteine protects the liver from toxicity by restoring glutathione levels in the liver. One of the major functions of glutathione is the maintenance of normal detoxification activity in the liver, which is vital to healthy liver function.
Choline is an essential nutrient that is produced in the liver. Increasing choline intake has been found to improve liver function. In the body, choline is used to produce phosphatidylcholine, which is required for the transport of fats from the liver to the blood and tissues. Without adequate levels of this nutrient, fat and cholesterol will accumulate in the liver. Inositol is another nutrient that aids in the removal of fats from the liver.
SAMe is a natural substance that is found in most body tissues and fluids. It plays a crucial role as a methyl donor in the process of transmethylation, which is required for the synthesis of proteins, phospholipids, RNA, DNA and other bio-molecules. There is evidence that SAMe supports liver health. Levels of SAM-e are depleted in a diseased liver. SAMe’s methylating properties promote the fluidity of liver cell membranes, and supplementing with SAMe may also increase glutathione levels in the liver. Studies indicate that supplementing with SAMe improves liver-function tests and prevents or reverses liver toxicity induced by drugs, alcohol and various chemicals.