Artichokes aren’t just for dinner. You maybe surprised to hear that the delicious leaves of artichokes contain detoxifying properties that can help support your liver.
Your liver is your body’s power station. It’s your largest gland and second-largest organ (after the skin) and weighs a substantial 1.6 kilograms. It’s where the action is…
What does the liver do?
Your liver carries out thousands of chemical functions vital to the health of your body. It manufactures essential proteins, metabolises fats and carbohydrates, gets rid of harmful biochemical waste products, breaks down alcohol, detoxifies certain drugs and environmental impurities, and makes and secretes bile, helping you to absorb fats and the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. When your liver is overburdened, the tissues in your body can starve and die.
What causes the liver to malfunction?
The liver also stores the toxins that your body cannot break down; in other words, in protecting your body, it may harm itself. So bad lifestyle choices – a diet of burgers and fizzy drinks, additive-laden foods and excessive alcohol – place an extra burden on your liver. Tobacco, caffeine, prescription and over-the-counter medications, industrial and household chemicals and cosmetics can actually kill your liver cells. Alcohol, for example, is the most common culprit responsible for toxic damage to the liver, causing fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis and even cirrhosis. Cholesterol-lowering drugs containing statins cause toxicity too. Viruses such as viral hepatitis can also cause liver damage.
How can you protect your liver?
Despite the pressures placed on it, the liver has the amazing capacity to regenerate its own damaged tissues. And studies reveal that a variety of herbs and supplements may be able to help protect it. One of the strongest contenders in the field of liver health is artichoke.
Artichoke and liver health – then…
The artichoke is one of the oldest cultivated plants – in fact you’ll find its image on ancient Egyptian tablets and sacrificial altars. The Ancient Greeks and Romans valued the artichoke to help digestion, although this rare delicacy was eaten only by people of high standing. For centuries, the royal and the rich were the only people able to afford this ‘noble’ vegetable.
In traditional European medicine, the leaves of the artichoke were used as a diuretic to stimulate the kidneys and to encourage the flow of bile (which plays an important role in digestion) from the liver and gallbladder.
In France, early 20th-century scientists began to research artichoke benefits and medicinal properties and discovered that it did, indeed, assist in kidney and liver function. Research in the 1960s confirmed that artichoke helped detoxify and regenerate the liver(1). The active ingredient was discovered to be cynarin, a phenolic acid compound that researchers believe is responsible for promoting the production of bile. Modern holistic health practitioners agree. ‘Artichoke-leaf extract improves the liver’s eliminative function,’ says Amelia Hirota, an acupuncturist, herbalist and primary healthcare practitioner in Rhode Island, US.
Artichoke is still used in many countries. The German Commission E recommends artichoke supplement for digestive problems such as bloating, lack of appetite, nausea, constipation or mild diarrhoea(2). It’s also prescribed to help lower cholesterol levels(3). Studies to investigate how effective artichoke is in removing toxins from the liver are ongoing.
There have been few reports of side-effects to artichoke, but we recommend that you do not take artichoke extract if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, have any form of gallbladder disease, or are allergic to plants of the Asteraceae family. Don’t give artichoke to children. Always consult your healthcare practitioner about artichoke benefits and before embarking on a course of natural medicines.