Other Proposed Natural Treatments
The liver is a marvelously sophisticated chemical laboratory, capable of carrying out thousands of chemical transformations on which the body depends. The liver produces important chemicals from scratch, modifies others to allow the body to use them better, and neutralizes an enormous range of toxins.
However, this last function of the liver, neutralizing toxins, is also the organ’s Achilles’ heel. The process of rendering toxins harmless to the body at large may bring harm to the liver itself.
Chemicals aren’t the only source of harm to the liver. Viruses may infect it, causing viral hepatitis ; hepatitis C, in particular, may become chronic and gradually destroy the liver. In addition, during pregnancy , the liver may become backed up with bile, a condition called cholestasis of pregnancy.
Conventional treatment of liver disease depends on the source of the problem. People who abuse alcohol will at the very least avoid further liver damage by stopping alcohol use, and, in cases short of liver cirrhosis, full liver recovery may be expected. When drugs are at fault, it may be possible to switch to a different drug.
Conventional treatment of liver injury caused by chronic viral hepatitis involves sophisticated immune-regulating therapies, which have become fairly successful. In extreme cases of liver injury, a liver transplant may be necessary.
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
Natural treatments for alcoholic hepatitis , cirrhosis , and viral hepatitis are each discussed in their own articles. In this article, we discuss natural treatments for other forms of liver disease. In addition, we address the herbs and supplements that may harm the liver and that, therefore, should not be taken by people who already have liver disease.
The herb milk thistle has shown promise for a wide variety of liver conditions, and for this reason it is often said to have general liver protective properties.
Study results similarly conflict on whether milk thistle is helpful in liver cirrhosis.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Milk Thistle article.
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
Numerous other herbs and supplements have shown a bit of promise in test tube studies for protecting the liver, including:
- Artichoke leaf
- Beet leaf
- Lipoic acid
- Liver extracts,
- Picrorhiza kurroa
- Thymus extract
Hundreds of others are included on this list. However, it is a long way from test tube studies to effects in people, and none of these treatments should be regarded as having proven or even probable liver-protective properties.
Herbs and Supplements to Use Only With Caution
Many natural products have the capacity to harm the liver. Furthermore, due to the generally inadequate regulation of dietary supplements that exists at the time of this writing, there are real risks that herbal products, at least, may contain liver-toxic contaminants even if the actual herbs listed on the label are safe. For this reason, we recommend that people with liver disease do not use any medicinal herbs except under the supervision of a physician. Here, we list some specific information to aid in your decision-making process.
All forms of vitamin B 3 , including niacin, niacinamide (nicotinamide), and inositol hexaniacinate, may damage the liver when taken in high doses. (Again, nutritional supplementation at the standard daily requirement level should not cause a problem.)
A great many herbs and supplements have known or suspected liver-toxic properties, including but not limited to: chaparral , coltsfoot , corydalis , comfrey , germander , germanium (a mineral), greater celandine , green tea extracts (despite its proposed benefits), kava , kombucha , mistletoe , noni , pennyroyal , pokeroot , sassafras , and various herbs and minerals used in traditional Chinese herbal medicine .
In addition, herbs that are not toxic to the liver in themselves are sometimes adulterated with other herbs of similar appearance that are accidentally harvested in a misapprehension of their identity (for example, germander found in skullcap products). Furthermore, blue-green algae species such as spirulina may at times be contaminated with liver-toxic substances called microcystins, for which no highest safe level is known.
Some articles claim that the herb echinacea is potentially toxic to the liver, but this concern appears to have been based on a misunderstanding of its constituents. Echinacea contains substances in the pyrrolizidine alkaloid family. However, while many pyrrolizidine alkaloids are toxic to the liver, those found in echinacea are not believed to have that property.
- Reviewer: EBSCO CAM Review Board
- Review Date: 08/2013 -
- Update Date: 08/22/2013 -