Q: Who may benefit from everyday liver support?
A: When herbalists strengthen the liver, we focus on the essential detoxifying function that it performs. Almost anyone would benefit from liver support. However, it’s most important for people with a poor diet, impaired digestion, or a greater-than-average exposure to toxins such as chemical solvents, excessive alcohol, and liver-toxic drugs.
Q: Which herbs are well known for helping to detoxify the liver? How do they work?
A: Two categories of liver herbs lend a hand: “movers” and “protectors.”
“Movers” enhance the detox response by encouraging the liver to produce and excrete more bile, the accumulated liver waste that is eliminated from the body via the gallbladder and digestive tract. My favorites include dandelion leaf and root, burdock root, chicory leaf and root, bitter salad greens, turmeric root, schisandra berries, and artichoke leaf. They generally have a bitter flavor and work better if you taste them, so take them as food, tea, or liquid extracts as opposed to pill form. Together with lymph- and kidney-supportive herbs, these liver herbs are often referred to as blood purifiers.
“Protectors,” which prevent and may even repair liver damage from toxins, include milk thistle seeds, turmeric, and schisandra. Milk thistle is well researched for its ability to protect against and repair liver damage from a wide range of dangerous toxins and in serious liver conditions like cirrhosis, fatty liver, and hepatitis. The seeds are rich in protective antioxidants including a compound called silymarin that appears to slow down, block, or eliminate toxin absorption by the liver while enhancing protein synthesis up to 30 percent. Milk thistle is best taken as capsules, standardized to 80 percent silymarin.
For the average person who just wants to give a boost to the liver, try “movers” like dandelion, burdock, chicory, and artichoke. Although less researched than milk thistle, these herbs have traditionally been used to support everyday liver function.