Herb Feature


This time of the year can be hard on your liver: alcohol, processed foods, late nights, lack of physical activity, the list goes on. But even if you are consistently health conscious and mostly avoid rubbish foods, drugs and alcohol, your liver is still under constant pressure to detoxify the thousands of natural and human-made chemicals that our bodies must cope with every day. When you think of a plant that has significant protective effects for your liver, you may immediately think of Silybum Marianum (Milk Thistle or St Mary’s Thistle). But there is another remarkable plant medicine that has multiple benefits for hepatocytes (liver cells) and other organs and tissues in the human body. Which one are we talking about?

Originally from Southern Europe and possibly North Africa, the humble artichoke (Cynara Scolymus), also known as Globe Artichoke, contains powerful anti-oxidant molecules that have liver protective and restorative properties. These substances include chlorogenic acid and cynarin, flavonoids, caffeic acid, and others called sesquiterpines, which are thought to provide the rich aromatic flavour of the artichoke, as well as their amazing health benefits. So what is the value of having artichokes as a food/ medicine?

Human studies that are double blind, placebo controlled, and have a reasonable number of participants to rule out any biases due to chance or people’s belief in how the medicinal substance will affect them, are a great way to find out if something is helpful, neutral or potentially harmful. Extracts of Cynara have been shown to significantly reduce total and LDL (so-called “bad”) cholesterol, and triglycerides (blood fats) in people who take them. Since elevated oxidised small dense LDLs are associated with heart, brain and vascular disease, this is a pretty amazing finding. Cynara can also reduce levels of elevated liver enzymes in people with NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease) also known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, or simply “Fatty Liver”. ALT, AST and GGT are liver enzymes elevated when the liver is damaged by drugs, alcohol, poisons and even excess fat accumulation inside the liver cells. These enzymes can extremely high when the liver is inflamed or compromised and can ultimately indicate liver failure.

Cynara also promotes the flow of bile, which reduces the risk of gallstones and increases the elimination of toxins for the body. Bile helps our bowels to function, and it’s important to keep it moving: low fat diets may increase the risk of cholestasis or significantly reduced bile flow. Cynara may also help to protect the kidneys, reduce excess blood sugar and hyperinsulinaemia, or elevated blood insulin levels. Metabolic syndrome, which is associated with excess abdominal fat, dyslipidaemia (abnormal blood lipids), and high blood pressure, may be improved by Cynara. Studies have shown a reduction in elevated blood pressure (both systolic and diastolic) in subjects taking Cynara; this is thought to be due to increasing the enzyme that makes nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels and reduces the resistance in tight blood vessel walls.

Of course, with any herbal medicine, you need to use a high quality extract from a reputable supplier. We always recommend that you speak to your Herbalist/ Naturopath to make sure you’re getting something that actually works. Also, don’t confuse the Globe Artichoke with the Jerusalem Artichoke, as they are completely different and have different properties, although they taste a bit similar. Remember, a happy liver is essential to good health and digestion, and Globe Artichoke can make a very useful addition to your diet/ herbal medicine cupboard. Happy Holiday Season!

David is a practicing Naturopath/ Herbalist.

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