|02 Jul 2007
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KEEPING IT CLEAN: THE LOWDOWN ON LIVER CLEANSING
I tend to focus a lot on nutrition; putting the right type and amount
of food into the body to get the right physical 'look' on stage and
high level of performance in the gym. I pay a lot of attention to
which supplements will help improve recovery, burn fat, increase
strength etc, but I've never really taken much notice of preventative
medicine, herbs or ways of enhancing nutrition by improving the
function of the liver or other major bodily organs, until now that
is! After talking to a few of the Pro's about their diets and
nutrition ideas, there seemed to be a common theory that kept popping
up: Liver Cleansing.
So what is Liver Cleansing and why is it important, particularly to a
bodybuilder? I'd heard of the liver cleansing diet but never really
looked into it. I also knew the liver has many important functions
and it's 'health' is critical to our overall health, but I realized I
really needed to do a little more research into the subject.
Hopefully what I've learned (and put into practice) about supplements
to help cleanse your liver will help you get that extra 10% from all
the good work you're already doing in the nutrition department, and
lead to even greater and more noticeable results in your performance
WHAT THE LIVER DOES (and why it's important to keep it clean!)
The liver is our second largest organ. It produces bile, necessary
for fat breakdown, and detoxifies pollutants that enter our
bloodstream. The liver is the cleanser and filter of the blood
stream. The liver filter is designed to remove toxic matter such as
dead cells, microorganisms, chemicals (including supplements), drugs
and particulate debris from the blood stream.
As we are exposed to more and more pollutants, via the air, the food
we eat (pesticides, damaged fats, artificial sweeteners, chemically
altered supplements), 'medicines' we take (pain relievers, birth
control pills, etc), the liver must work harder and harder, so we need
to have healthy livers to break down these chemicals. Every
artificial chemical, pesticide and hormone, is broken down
(metabolized) by enzyme pathways inside the liver cells so the more
chemicals it is exposed to, the more easily its detoxification systems
Many of the toxic chemicals that enter the body are fat-soluble hence
they tend to be stored in fat tissue where they may stay for years,
being released during times of exercise, stress or fasting. You may
be doing fine until you decide to get in shape again or diet down for
a competition and all of a sudden you start to tap into your highly
toxic fat stores!
The liver filter, like any filter, needs to be cleansed regularly, and
it is much easier and safer to do it everyday rather than by using a
radical temporary method such as fasting.
SYMPTOMS YOUR LIVER NEEDS A CLEAN
Poor digestion, abdominal bloating, nausea especially after eating
fatty foods, weight gain around the abdomen and constipation. If you
wake up in the morning with bad breath and/or a coated tongue, your
liver definitely needs cleansing!
Mood and Attitude:
Unpleasant and erratic mood changes, a general feeling of depression,
`foggy brain' and an impaired ability to concentrate or remember
things. If the liver is sluggish, excessive amounts of toxic
metabolites find their way into the blood stream and can affect the
function of the brain.
High blood pressure and/or fluid retention
Unstable blood sugar levels:
An unhealthy liver can cause large and wild fluctuations of blood
sugar levels, with very low glucose levels causing fatigue, dizziness,
light-headedness and cravings for sugar.
Fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome
INGREDIENTS FOUND IN THE MOST POPULAR LIVER TONICS
To learn more about what is available for people wanting to give their
liver a 'grease and oil change' I went to Evelyn Faye Nutrition store
in Melbourne (cnr Elizabeth & Bourke St) and asked what their top 5
best selling local (ie Australian or New Zealand made) Liver Tonic
products were. For your quick reference, I have listed the amount of
each ingredient in each product, the cost and size of the product as
well as the recommended dosage (see table). You can see there is a
large variation in the amount and types of herbal and other
ingredients in the 5 products. After researching these ingredients it
became apparent that certain ones have strong evidence supporting
their action as liver tonics, while others have only a weak reported
function in assisting the liver. I have tried to list the herbs/
compounds in order of usefulness to help you decide on the best
product for your needs. I have only included information relating to
liver function (due to space restrictions). Some of the herbs in this
list have other reported uses, such as aiding skin problems, diuretic
action or improving the absorption of nutrients.
St Mary's Thistle
St Mary's Thistle or Milk Thistle as it is commonly called is a very
well known liver herb, having been recommended in herbal texts since
the late 1600's. It is best known for its use in treating liver
disorders including hepatitis and cirrhosis. The active ingredient in
milk thistle is silymarin, which is extracted from the seeds of the
plant. Silymarin is made up of three different bioflavonoids:
silybin, silydianin, and silychristin.
The action of silymarin on liver cells is reported to be three-fold:
1. It allegedly alters the outer membrane of liver cells, preventing
substances from entering the liver;
2. Stimulates the regenerative capacity of the liver by increasing
synthesis (renews liver cells);
3. Has a powerful antioxidant effect, clearing free radicals from
By exerting these actions, Milk Thistle can help the liver recover
from the damage caused by toxins, infection, alcohol, inadequate
nutrition and drug abuse. Silymarin can increase the quantity of the
powerful liver protector glutathione, and improve protein synthesis in
the liver. Its antioxidant capacity is important in the liver
There is debate over whether silymarin only exerts a protective effect
against liver destruction, or if it also has some ability to heal
damage already done to the liver. Typical effective doses of
silymarin range from 500 to 2000 mg daily.
Dandelion root has been used for liver and bile complaints for
centuries. The therapeutic properties of dandelion are due in part to
its bitter substances taraxacin and inulin (a bitter glycoside). The
bitters stimulate the digestive glands and the liver and activate the
flow of bile.
Two independent studies have shown the liver healing properties of
dandelion. It was found that dandelion successfully treats hepatitis,
liver swelling, jaundice and indigestion in those with inadequate bile
secretion. One of these studies dates back to 1938.
Taurine plays a major role in the liver via the formation of bile
acids and detoxification. Many people with chemical sensitivities and
allergies have abnormally low levels of taurine. It is the major
amino acid required for the removal of toxic chemicals and metabolites
from the body and is an essential component of cell membranes, where
it plays a role in stabilising transport across cell membranes. A
deficiency of taurine can lead to electrolyte imbalance due to
impaired mineral transport across cell membranes and this reduces the
ability of the liver to remove pollutants via the excretory routes of
the bowel and kidneys. The inclusion of taurine in a liver tonic is
beneficial for the above reasons as well as for the antioxidant
protection it provides. Recommended doses vary from 50 to 2000 mg
Globe artichoke also known as Cynara scolymus is another bitter tonic,
like Dandelion, with liver-protective and liver-restorative actions.
During the 1930's clinical studies established its value in lowering
blood cholesterol, urea and nitrogen waste products of metabolism.
Very useful for people following high protein diets! The bitters from
Globe artichoke are used as a liver restorative and to treat people
with liver insufficiency, damage or liver diseases. It is one of the
more beneficial herbs for inclusion in liver tonic and cleanser
Shizandra Berry (Schisandra chinensis)
Used worldwide as an astringent tonic to strengthen the cell tissues
and retain body energy, Schizandra is currently very popular. As an
adaptogen (compounds that regulate bodily functions) this herb
increases the energy supply of cells in the brain, liver, nerves,
muscles, glands and kidneys.
Shizandra is included in liver tonic preparations as it is believed it
can improve the bodies digestion of fatty foods through its ability to
cleanse the liver and increase the production of bile, which then
functions as a digestive for cleaving the fat into fatty acids and
The root-bark contains berberine, a bitter alkaloid that aids in the
secretion of bile making it good for liver problems. It also contains
high amounts of Vitamin C, the most powerful antioxidant vitamin for
the liver. Vitamin C reduces toxic damage to the liver cells from
chemical overload and neutralizes free radicals generated during the
phase 1 detoxification pathway in the liver.
The most active component in Tumeric is curcumin and it is useful for
treating liver and gallbladder problems, relieving liver damage, and
for stimulating the production of bile. Curcumin has good antioxidant
activity, comparing well with vitamin C. It is interesting to note
that curcumin has good anti-inflammatory activity that is comparable
to steroidal and non-steroidal drugs, so could be helpful in assisting
the recovery of training injuries.
Although not officially recognized, the effectiveness of Yellow Dock
has been documented for liver and gallbladder problems. Rumicin is
the active principle of the Yellow Dock. It promotes the flow of bile
and is useful for relieving a congested liver. Combines well with
Dandelion in herbal medicine.
Gentiana is used by Chinese herbalists as a treatment for hepatitis
and other liver disorders. Also reported to be an excellent digestive
aid, gentian helps the body absorb essential nutrients, vitamins, and
Psyllium is not directly involved in the liver cleansing process, but
people with sluggish liver function often have difficulty metabolising
fats and may have high cholesterol levels. The cholesterol lowering
effect of Psyllium can help in such cases, making it a useful addition
to a liver tonic.
Slippery Elm Bark
Irritable bowel syndrome can often be associated with poor liver
function due to the liver's inability to break down fats and toxins.
The fine powder made from the bark of the slippery elm tree has a
soothing effect upon the mucous membranes of the gastrointestinal
tract and may assist in relieving the effects of the syndrome.
Slippery Elm bark could be of some use in liver tonics to help relieve
immediate symptoms associated with poor liver function.
Astragalus is often combined with other remedies to enhance their
action hence it's inclusion in some liver tonics. Astragalus may also
boost the immune system.