Most people probably don’t think about their liver too much unless a medical condition or family history demands it. In a way, that’s too bad. The liver is one of the hardest-working organs of the body, and because of that, it needs crucial nutrients to remain active and effective.
In this Terry Talks Nutrition®, I’d like to review amazing botanical ingredients that make the liver’s job much easier and have been traditionally used and clinically studied for their liver-healing properties.
The Liver – Very Strong, But it Needs Our Support!
The liver is an amazing organ. It stores our reserves of iron and other minerals and vitamins. It produces bile, which is then stored in the gallbladder and released into the intestines to help us digest foods. It processes almost everything we eat and drink, filters toxins and alcohol from our blood, and synthesizes the lipids (fats) that create the hormones our bodies need every day. The liver is unique among the body’s organs – even if 75% of the liver is damaged, it can reproduce new tissue from the remaining healthy cells and regenerate. Unfortunately between our diets, environmental toxins, and all of the other stress we put on the liver, we don’t make it easy for it to do its job.
Natural Ingredients that Restore Liver Health
Sesamin, from sesame (Sesamum indicum) seed, is one of the strongest nutrients available for restoring the liver and stopping liver damage. Unfortunately, it is one that relatively few people know about. Sesamin helps the liver in many ways, including stopping fibrosis (an accumulation of collagen and other proteins that can ultimately result in liver failure) and preventing fatty liver disease.
Sesamin inhibits liver fibrosis by reducing the activity of collagen-producing enzymes that can have dangerous results when they are overexpressed in the liver. Sesamin reduces serum levels of TNF-α and other inflammatory markers and stops oxidative damage to liver cells.
Fatty liver, or hepatic steatosis, is the dangerous accumulation of fats in the liver. Although often associated with alcohol abuse, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is now the most common cause of chronic liver disease in the United States. In fact, NAFLD in teenagers and adolescents has doubled in the past two decades. Sesamin shows great promise in treating fatty liver disease, regardless of the cause.
Sesamin helps the liver process fatty acids efficiently by increasing the enzyme activity needed to properly oxidize fatty acids and reduce serum and liver lipid levels. Although we usually consider oxidation undesirable, in this case, oxidation is a necessary step to prevent fats from being stored in the liver, and it also helps the body build cells and create energy efficiently. It’s important that these fats move out of the liver and are used by the cells for energy.
When fat deposits limit the liver’s ability to detoxify and process nutrients, health begins to decline. If the liver is not able to process and remove toxins, the body is vulnerable to damage from a wide range of dangerous substances.
Other research has shown that a combination including sesamin improved levels of enzymes that appear in the bloodstream when the liver is stressed or diseased. It also reduced inflammation and cholesterol oxidation and bolstered overall liver function in patients with borderline fatty liver disease.
Sesamin Stops Tumor Growth
Even at a cellular level, sesamin preserves the liver. Chinese research showed that it stops the cycle of liver cancer growth by inhibiting the inflammatory signals that lead to out-of-control replication of damaged DNA. Both inflammation and oxidation are directly linked to the development of tumor growth, and sesamin has a powerful ability to combat both. The researchers concluded that sesamin provided a “molecular basis for understanding of the effects of sesamin in hepatocellular carcinoma tumor cell proliferation…” and that “sesamin may thus be a potential chemotherapy drug for liver cancer.”
Silymarin and Silybin from Milk Thistle
Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) has become known as a “go to” botanical for liver health, and with good reason – it saves lives. Did you know that many commonly used drugs, including acetaminophen (best known by the brand name, Tylenol®) are very tough on the liver? In fact, according to the National Institutes of Medicine, acetaminophen overdose is the most common cause of acute liver failure.
Scientists have identified two key components – silymarin and silybin – as being the most effective phytonutrients from milk thistle for saving and restoring the liver. Silymarin is the main complex in milk thistle, and contains silybin, a powerful flavonoid that has very specific detoxifying abilities.
- Silymarin protects cells against oxidative damage and enhances the strength and detoxification power of the liver.
- Silybin helps the body rapidly detoxify and can speed healing of the liver. Without being bound to phytosome, silybin can be difficult for the body to absorb and use. But when it is bound to a phytosome, clinical research shows that it can be present in the body for up to 8 hours.
Silymarin – An Amazing Compound
For treating fatty liver caused by alcohol abuse, silymarin boosts the activity of the body’s own natural antioxidants, glutathione and superoxide dismutase. Milk thistle also directly inhibits damaging oxidative stress, so it has a doubly - strong effect to protect liver cells. In cases of liver fibrosis, a study in Taiwan found that silymarin from milk thistle reduced the activity of the enzymes involved in collagen formation, as well as limiting the damage associated with fibrosis.
For those with NAFLD, milk thistle components offer hope as well. An Italian clinical study involved 72 affected patients who were provided with silymarin twice daily for 3 months. They found that silymarin reduced inflammation, as well as the elevated levels of enzymes associated with this disease.
Milk thistle research has shown that silymarin from milk thistle reduced symptoms and improved overall quality of life for those with chronic hepatitis C, or with hepatitis-like conditions. In cases of hepatitis C, a clinical study found that milk thistle improved a number of parameters in patients infected with the virus. At the end of the 6-month study, the researchers found that silymarin reduced levels of harmful liver enzyme activity, inhibited markers of liver fibrosis, and greatly improved the patients’ quality of life.
Silybin, the “Power Flavonoid” of Silymarin
Silybin is extremely bioavailable when in a phytosome form. Because the phytosome form is fat-soluble, it is better adapted to coping and repairing difficult conditions in the liver. An Italian review found that silybin phytosome protects the liver from oxidative damage, inhibits fibrosis, doesn’t interact with other drugs, and has no significant side effects. The researchers conclude that silybin phytosome is a promising intervention for chronic liver disease.
In fact, silybin in phytosome form has been shown in clinical studies with patients diagnosed with liver disorders to have significant clinical effects on liver enzymes versus non-phytosome extracts and placebo.
Some of the most famous cases of silybin’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%. However, silybin saves lives even three days after initial poisoning. In one instance, an Italian family was admitted three days following the accidental ingestion of Amanita mushrooms. Initial conventional therapy didn’t improve the extensive liver damage, and only after intravenous administration of silybin did they recover.
Silybin is also a strong antiviral for patients with hepatitis C, inhibiting the ability of viruses to replicate. Oral treatments of silybin have also been effective for those with NAFLD and alcohol-related fatty liver disease. Overall, it is a potent detoxifier and strong anti-inflammatory, helping the liver recover from chronic damage.
This is why I believe that the best liver-restoring milk thistle formulas should include silymarin because it includes a full spectrum of compounds, including silybin. However, it should also include silybin bound to phytosome because it is one of the most stable and powerful components.
Milk Thistle Inhibits Tumors and Cancer
Research at the University of Colorado has explored milk thistle’s ability to protect against tumor formation. In the case of skin cancer, it helps signal cellular repair proteins to stop and reverse UV-induced damage quickly. In lung cancer, milk thistle blocks the activation of inflammatory enzymes (including COX-2) that would otherwise lead to tumor growth. Other cellular work shows that it may prevent prostate cancer tumor growth.
Additionally, a double-blind, controlled pilot study at the Columbia University Medical Center showed that milk thistle protects the liver against the toxicity of chemotherapy for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia – but does not interfere with the effectiveness of the cancer treatment.
Help Your Liver Heal Naturally
Your liver is one of your body’s hardest-working organs, and it needs the right nutrients to function properly. When you help your liver, you help yourself live better and longer. Without a doubt, restoring liver health can be a challenge, but with the right lifestyle, diet, and powerful detoxifying and liver-restoring power of sesamin, silymarin, and silybin, you can stop – and reverse – liver damage, naturally.