The liver is an under appreciated organ. It manufactures many important proteins such as albumin and clotting factors, it creates bile to digest fats, and it is a big part of our immune system, sorting through the biologic traffic coming from the intestines.
It also performs the majority of our detoxification, neutralizing and helping eliminate the thousands of toxins to which we are exposed.
Because it is exposed to so many toxins, the liver is also a target for damage. Drugs such as alcohol are well known to affect the liver, but even beneficial medications such as antibiotics can cause injury. This is particularly important for those receiving prolonged treatment for conditions such as Lyme disease.
There are a number of agents used in Integrative Medicine to protect the liver. N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is a precursor of the important antioxidant glutathione (also a major Phase II detoxifier). NAC is quite safe and is the treatment of choice for liver damage from Tylenol overdose. Another antioxidant, Alpha Lipoic Acid, has proven liver protective effects and has been used in cases of chronic hepatitis. It also lowers blood sugar and needs to be used carefully in diabetics.
Phosphatidylcholine is a lipid preparation which restores damaged cell membranes and is a beneficial agent in the treatment of liver injury.
Amino acids such as glutamine and taurine also have a role. Glutamine is another glutathione constituent (and helps protect the intestinal lining as well), and taurine is a bile component that can help lower bilirubin levels in acute hepatitis.
Among the herbs that protect the liver, milk thistle (silymarin) is the mostwell-studied. It is often used prophylactically while individuals are taking long term antibiotics or other potentially hepatotoxic drugs. Curcumin is an herb used for inflammation as well as liver support and other botanical agents that may be helpful are green tea extract, burdock root (may cause diarrhea) and schisandra.
- Jeff Kalpakis