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 Herbal Medicine: The Liver 
 
Another area of therapy that is exceptionally well suited for herbal treatment is that of liver disease. In the unique and often infuriatingly unscientific language of traditional herbalist's, much attention is given to `detoxifying the liver'. The incredible complexity of liver chemistry and its fundamental role in human physiology is so daunting to researchers that the thought that simple plant remedies might have something to offer is both laughable and even insulting! This highlights again the limiting trap of the current research paradigm.

The liver serves to metabolize carbohydrates and store them as glycogen metabolize lipids (including cholesterol and certain vitamins) and proteins manufacture bile filter impurities and toxic material from the blood produce blood-clotting factors and destroy old, worn-out red blood cells. Certain reticuloendothelial cells (the Kupffer cells) play a role in immunity. It is able to regenerate itself after being injured or diseased if, however, a disease progresses beyond the tissue's capacity to regenerate new cells, the body's entire metabolism is severely affected. Any number of disorders can affect the liver and interfere with the blood supply, the hepatic and Kupffer cells, and the bile ducts.

From the ecological perspective offered earlier it becomes apparent that our evolutionary home - the environment in which we live - will nurture and heal many of the ills of the liver. After all, the liver and its wonderful biochemistry is part of the ecosystem as well.

With remedies such as Dandelion, Balmony, Fringe Tree Bark and the bitter tonic herbs already mentioned, a powerful materia medica is available. Treatment can range through conditions requiring gentle liver stimulation to even profound liver disease. As with most claims made by the medical herbalist, pharmacological and clinical research is starting to support traditional experience and provide a chemical insight into the mechanisms involved.

An abundance of research has been done into the hepato-protective effects of a number of herbs. This provides us with a good example of the quality of research being undertaken. The information in this section comes from a number of excellent literature reviews on this fascinating branch of Phytotherapy. Please refer to:

Hikino & Kiso (1988) Natural Products for Liver Diseases. In "Economic and Medicinal Plant Research Vol.2." (Wagner, Hikino & Farnsworth) Academic Press, London.

Murray, M.T. (1995) The Healing Power of Herbs. Prima Publishing, Rocklin.

Vogel, G. (1977) Natural Substances with Effects on the Liver. In "New Natural Products and Plant Drugs with Pharmacological, Biological or Therapeutic Activity." (Wagner & Wolff) Springer-Verlag, Heidelberg.



Phyto-Therapy Research and Liver Disease
The main causes of liver disease are:
  • viral infection
  • hepatotoxic chemicals such as:
  • ethyl alcohol
  • peroxides (particularly peroxidized edible oil)
  • toxins in food (especially aflatoxins)
  • pharmaceuticals (mainly antibiotics, chemotherapeutics and CNS-active drugs)
  • environmental pollutants
Although such hepatotoxins induced liver lesions may be reversed in the early stages, they cannot be healed only by removal of the toxins after critical periods, highlighting the need for effective remedies for liver diseases. A number of herbs that have been long used for their curative effects on liver disorders in traditional medicine around the world have revealed their unique potential to pharmacological investigation. Research into these plants has resulted in the isolation of a number of `active principles', including dramatically anti-hepatotoxic constituents.
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 About The Author
David Hoffmann BSc (Hons), MNIMHWhilst working in conservation and lecturing in ecology and the eco-crisis for the University of Wales, David Hoffman became convinced that to heal the world, to embrace planetary wholeness and responsibility for it......more
 
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