Be a Liver Lover

Quick: what is the largest organ inside your body that weighs about three pounds, is shaped like a football that´s flat on one side and is located under your ribs on your right side? If you guessed the liver, you’re right.

Although it may not be a pretty organ it is an extremely important one that has a month-long health observance named after it by the American Liver Foundation (www.liverfoundation.org), called Liver Awareness Month.

Reasons to love our liver abound since this organ does all of the following, and more: saves up energy; makes bile to help break down food; keeps pollution from hurting us; stops cuts from bleeding too long; kills germs; gets rid of toxic chemicals; and helps build muscle.

According to the foundation, liver disease affects one in 10 Americans, or about 30 million people — including children.

Liver disease begins with inflammation. If left untreated, especially over time, inflamed liver tissue starts to scar or become fibrous, which is called fibrosis. If fibrosis is not treated or healed, irreversible damage can occur, called cirrhosis; this can lead to liver cancer. If the liver loses most or all of its function, a life-threatening condition called liver failure can result.

To make matters worse, there is also hepatitis C, a disease of the liver that is caused by the hepatitis C virus, or HCV. While it is fortunate that 15 to 40 percent of people who contract HCV are able to successfully fight off the virus within the first six months, sadly most of the patients who are not able to get rid of the virus wind up developing a long-term, chronic hepatitis C infection.

One of the most common reasons for liver transplants, more than four million Americans have been infected with hepatitis C and the virus is responsible for 8,000 to 10,000 deaths every year.

New Hope Emerges: Nutritional Supplementation

In recent years, enlightened medicine has brought popularity to a variety of botanical liver lovers, including milk thistle, which has been used for what we now know as liver disease since the 12th century.

Today, research often attributes milk thistle´s liver supportive effects to a compound complex in milk thistle, called silymarin, which is extracted from the milk thistle seed.

Other nutrients and herbal extracts that have attracted scientific interest, of late, in liver protection include: selenium, zinc, probiotics and branched-chain amino acids.

One nutrient, however, that has been the subject of research and which shows the greatest promise for liver health has curiously not yet attained the level of popularity enjoyed by milk thistle; it is: alpha lipoic acid.

Alpha lipoic acid (or ALA) was first discovered by University of Illinois enzymologist Irwin Gunsalus in 1948 and described and characterized by University of Texas biochemist Lester J. Reed in March 1951.

It is a natural substance that, according to ALA pioneer Burt Berkson, M.D., in the December 2007 edition of the Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, is the “rate-limiting factor for the production of energy from carbohydrates.” In other words, without alpha lipoic acid we could not obtain energy from the food we eat and we could not stay alive.

The first large-scale human clinical studies using alpha lipoic acid in the U.S. were conducted by Berkson, Frederick C. Bartter, M.D., and other scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the 1970s. The researchers gave the nutrient to 79 people with severe liver damage; 75 of those, according to Berkson, recovered full liver function.

More recently, in 1999 Berkson published three case reports using a triple-antioxidant supplement regimen in patients with liver disease, including chronic hepatitis C infection. After several months of treatment with a combination of alpha lipoic acid, selenium and silymarin, all three patients recovered most or all of their liver function, avoided liver transplantation and went on to live healthy, productive lives free of the symptoms of liver disease.

James J. Gormley
September 29, 2008

 

On September 28, 2011, posted in: Articles, Liver Disease Articles by admin