Why We Need
EXTRA Liver Protection
Good health is dependent upon proper liver function, and can be improved by following an alcohol reduction plan and adding Milk Thistle (silymarin) and vital nutrients to your diet.
By: Beverly Rayfield
Administrator, Sinclair Method
This information is a compilation of research materials reviewed by the author and is presented for educational purposes only. This information does not constitute medical advice, nor should it be relied upon as such. Please consult a professional health care physician before pursuing any course of treatment.
Even if you haven't been diagnosed as suffering from any form of the many types of liver disease, if you drink or drank -- alcohol, you still may need the therapeutic effects of extracts from a plant called "milk thistle".
Milk Thistle is well known to herbalists or at health food stores as a remarkable herb that is rich in bioflavonoids. It has been used as an antioxidant, and is said to be a liver, kidney and stomach protectant. There are other special nutrients available as well that help to restore and repair damaged body tissues.
Most of us have heard at some point that very heavy drinkers, over a long period of time, often develop cirrhosis of the liver. Few of us know medically what that is - we just know we don't want it.
Before we discuss the beneficial effects of milk thistle and friends, let's review some basic reasons why you need to be concerned about a body part that gets little publicity. We'll start with anatomy lessons about the inner-workings of the liver that you probably learned in the tenth grade.
Your liver lets you live
YOUR liver weighs about three to four pounds and is roughly the size of a football and the shape of a triangle. It is positioned behind the lower ribs on the right side of your abdomen and generally rests beside the gallbladder on top of the large and small intestines.
The liver is the largest organ in the body and is absolutely essential in keeping the body functioning properly. Everything that enters the body through our lungs, the mouth, absorbed through the skin or injected into muscle or fat enters the liver through the portal vein and must be purified and neutralized.
What this means is that as the blood passes through the liver it removes and excretes substances from the blood that otherwise would be poisonous, produces immune agents to control infections, and removes germs and bacteria.
The liver makes proteins that regulate blood clotting and produces bile to help absorb fats and fat-soluble vitamins.
The liver performs many complex functions and helps you by:
· Producing quick energy when it is needed
· Manufacturing new body proteins
· Storing certain vitamins, minerals and sugars
· Regulating transport of fat stores
· Regulating blood clotting
· Aiding in the digestive process by producing bile
· Controlling the production and excretion of cholesterol
· Neutralizing and destroying poisonous substances
· Monitoring and maintaining the proper level of many chemicals and drugs in the blood
· Cleansing the blood and discharging waste products into the bile
· Maintaining hormone balance
· Serving as the main organ of blood formation before birth
· Helping the body resist infection by reducing immune factors and by removing bacteria from the bloodstream
· Storing iron
· And, METABOLIZING ALCOHOL.
The liver is really a pretty marvelous organ because it is only one of two body parts (counting your "skin" as an organ) that has the ability to regenerate its own damaged tissue. This means that it will regrow up to 25% of a missing part that has been removed. Removed such as transplanting part of one's liver to a blood-related child or sibling who is a matching type, and then both people having healthy livers that will regrow to its original size and shape. Pretty neat trick. Too bad fingers and arms and legs aren't that clever.
Of course, the regrowing function only works when you have a healthy liver.
There are many diseases that affect good liver functioning including viral hepatitis, gallstones, cancer, cirrhosis, and alcohol related liver disorders.
If you are like most people, that last statement has taken you by surprise. I thought, you just said to yourself, that cirrhosis was alcohol related! Yes, it can be. To many people, cirrhosis of the liver is synonymous with chronic alcoholism.
If you are a heavy drinker, cirrhosis is only one of THREE liver diseases that may eventually kill you, or will require that you get a liver transplant (or if you are uncommonly lucky).
ALCOHOL-RELATED LIVER DISORDERS
There are three distinct liver disorders related to abuse of alcohol: fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and alcoholic cirrhosis.
FATTY LIVER the most common alcohol-related liver disorder, causes enlargement of the liver and right upper abdominal discomfort. The swollen liver is often tender or painful. Severe fatty liver may cause temporary jaundice and abnormalities of liver function.
Abstinence from alcohol can cause a complete reversal and cure without leaving any residual scaring. (Remember, the liver can heal itself by regenerating damaged tissue.) Medical treatment is primarily supportive and preventive.
ALCOHOLIC HEPATITIS is an acute illness often characterized by nausea, vomiting, right upper and middle abdominal pain, fever, jaundice, enlarged and tender liver, and an elevation of the white blood cell count. It is sometimes difficult to diagnose because alcoholic hepatitis may be present without these symptoms. There is no real medical treatment for alcoholic hepatitis beyond that which is supportive and preventive.
Any disease, which is brought on by alcohol abuse and misuse, cannot be reversed until the alcohol intake is stopped. Once alcoholic hepatitis develops, the steady progression to cirrhosis may occur if alcohol drinking continues.
ALCOHOLIC CIRRHOSIS is a degenerative disease where liver cells are damaged and replaced by scar formation. As scar tissue progressively accumulates the liver "hardens", blood flow through the liver is diminished, causing more liver cells to die. Loss of liver function causes gastrointestinal disturbances, emaciation, enlargement of the liver and spleen, jaundice, accumulation of fluid in the abdomen and other tissues in the body. Obstruction of the venous circulation often causes massive vomiting of blood.
Each year over 25 million Americans are afflicted with liver disease and more than 27,000 Americans die from cirrhosis, the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, and another 43,000 die of liver disease. There are no current statistics as to how many of these deaths were alcohol related, but probably a lot.
We know that alcoholic cirrhosis occurs in 10% to 15% of people who consume large amounts of alcohol over a prolonged period of time.
If you are feeling somewhat comfortable and even safe with that last statement (of people who consume large amounts of alcohol over a prolonged period of time) because you are thinking to yourself, "I don't drink LARGE amounts of alcohol, or I haven't been drinking as much as I do right now for A PROLONGED period of time", consider the following:
According to the American Liver Association and the American Liver Foundation, liver damage occurs when you consume:
· 2 drinks (2 ounces) a day on a daily basis
· 5 to 7 drinks a day on a weekend binge
· alcohol and many popular over-the-counter and prescription medications
Your liver can't and won't tell you when it is in trouble until it if often too late. Your life often depends on how you treat it and your body. Even one drink is too much for some people and could scar your liver for life.
SYMPTOMS OF LIVER DAMAGE
Many people with liver damage have no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. However, as scar tissue replaces healthy cells, liver function starts to fail ad a person may experience the following symptoms:
· Loss of appetite
· Weight Loss
As the disease progresses, complications may develop. In some people, these may be the first sign of the disease.
This is the critical time to make a decision to prevent further liver damage.
Loss of liver function causes many problems, including:
· Edema (water gain) in the leg and abdomen (ascites)
· Bruising and bleeding
· Toxins in the blood or brain
· Sensitivity to medication
· Portal hypertension (high blood pressure in/near the liver)
· Enlarged blood vessels (varices) in stomach and esophagus
Perhaps one of the most recognized symptoms of liver damage in alcoholics is the one that we recognize from Hollywood and television. It is when a damaged liver cannot remove toxins from the blood, causing them to accumulate in the blood and eventually the brain. At that stage, toxins can dull mental functioning and cause personality changes, coma and death. Signs of the buildup of toxins in the brain include neglect of personal appearance, unresponsiveness, forgetfulness, trouble concentrating, or changes in sleep habits.
TREATMENT OF LIVER DISEASE
Liver damage from cirrhosis cannot be reversed, but treatment can stop or delay further progression and reduce complications. Treatment for liver damage depends upon the severity, the cause of the damage or cirrhosis and any complications a person is experiencing.
Should blood tests reveal a slightly elevated "liver profile" and damage is the result of alcohol abuse, treatment will consist of suggesting the reduction or elimination of alcohol consumption, and possibly the addition of a daily dose of Milk Thistle.
Heavy drinkers who are diagnosed with hepatitis or severe cirrhosis will be encouraged to enter a detox program and start a life of abstinence from alcohol. Treatment for other complications will also be encouraged such as a low sodium diet or the use of diuretics for high blood pressure and edema; antibiotics for infections; various medications for itching; and special low protein diets to decease the buildup of toxins in the blood.
In all cases, regardless of the cause of liver disease, following a healthy diet and avoiding alcohol are essential because the body needs all of the nutrients it can get. And, as we all know, more alcohol will only lead to more liver damage.
THE ANTIOXIDENT ACTION OF SILYMARIN MILK THISTLE
AND ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION
As we learned, certain substances -- especially alcohol -- can damage the liver. Compounds known as antioxidants, which help minimize the damaging effects of chemical structures called "free radicals" are available -- if you know about them and they are used properly. One of these protectant substances is an herb called Milk Thistle and it has some extraordinary protective properties.
The seeds of Milk Thistle contain a complex compound of three flavanolignans which are collectively referred to as silymarin. These compounds are silibin, silychristin, and silydianin.
The flavonoids contained in Milk Thistle have a strong liver protective action and have been used throughout Europe as pharmaceutical pills and tonics for liver disorders.
Recent clinical trials have shown what centuries ago the Roman's recognized and European folk herbalists prescribed. Milk Thistle silymarin -- can protect the liver by counteracting a number of toxic substances including alcohol, acetaminopen overdose (Tylenol pain/fever reducer), carbon tetrachloride (cleaning fluid, aerosol propellant) and the Amanita mushroom poison.
Apparently, silymarin prevents toxins from passing through the cell. It inhibits the release or the synthesis of certain enzymes which are toxic to liver tissue.
As an added bonus, silymarin stimulates cellular growth by boosting protein synthesis. It has shown to have significant antioxidant capabilities and helps reduced inflammation by inhibiting certain enzymes. Given that the liver will naturally try to heal itself of damaged tissue, when you add the positive effects of silymarin you can get a tremendous and relatively rapid improvement in symptoms of liver disease caused by alcohol abuse.
In addition to the flavonoid-like components of silymarin, Milk Thistle seeds also contain betaine, which is also a liver protectant; and have essential fatty oils which help control chronic inflammation.
THE ACTION OF SILYMARIN ON THE LIVER
Silymarin has been known in the United States since the mid-1950s, however, it wasn't until the 1960s that scientists discovered the real uniqueness of silymarin. Silymarin was considered an entirely new class of chemical compound.
Because the liver plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy immune system, Milk Thistle can contribute to increased disease resistance. Milk Thistle has been found to protect not only the liver and stomach, but also the kidneys, brain and other vital organs from toxin damage, treats allergic reactions, reduces inflammation and promotes healing. It helps to emulsify fats and enhance bile flow, making it a good remedy for indigestion.
When Milk Thistle is given in therapeutic dosages, it provides protection to a liver is stressed by too much alcohol, protein, medications, or other chemicals. Silymarin stimulates liver protein synthesis, which explains why even an injured liver can rapidly regenerate tissue more rapidly, when Silymarin is present.
The flavonoid-like compounds, which comprise silymarin, have two specific actions on the liver:
1. Silymarin binds hepatocyte (liver cell) membranes, which protects them from the potential damage of alcohol (and other chemicals and poisons).
2. Silymarin enters liver cells and promoted their ability to produce certain enzymes, which are vital to liver health. This action can speed the healing of liver cells from injury or disease. By enhancing the production of these enzymes, liver cell regeneration is also stimulated.
Clinical data confirms that silymarin is effective in relating liver damage from alcohol abuse or chemical exposure and can reverse the symptoms of many liver disorders. Therapeutic effect was shown with chronic hepatitis, cirrhoses, fatty infiltration of the liver, and other non-alcohol related illnesses.
While the liver has a great capacity for regeneration, when it is diseased or damaged by toxins like alcohol, it can cease to produce badly needed liver cells. Milk Thistle can stimulate this proliferation. The earlier it is taken on a daily basis, the quicker recovery can happen.
Smoking, Eating and Drinking: NEED ADDITIONAL Vitamins C, E and Milk Thistle
It is estimated that 30% of heavy drinkers are also fairly heavy smokers. Statistics tell us that 60% of us are moderately overweight or considered obese. Experts recommend that anyone who smokes or drinks or eats a lot of protein, and especially if you have all these habits, should be taking vitamin E, C, A, beta-carotene supplements, as well as Milk Thistle. The hepato-protective properties of silymarin combined with the supplements make it an invaluable defense against so many free radicals and toxins which pollute our bodies.
Studies have proven that silymarin's antioxidant activity is up to ten times more potent than vitamin E.
The problem with protein is that the liver has to work harder to detoxify the body from nitrogen waste which results when protein is metabolized. The compound called urea has to eventually be eliminated from the body through the kidneys.
Most of us overeat the wrong things and pass up the veggie's, oats and low fat/low sugar foods.
Interestingly, lack of exercise also contributes to liver damage (buildup of excess toxins).
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT SINCLAIR METHOD AT 941-330-2929 OR
American Liver Foundation
75 Maiden Lane, Suite 603
New York, NY 10038
Tel: (800) GO-LIVER (465-4837)
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse
2 Information Way
Bethesda, Maryland 20892
E-mail: National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse
Extra Liver Protection