Certain bitter herbs are considered liver herbs because they stimulate, cleanse, and protect the liver and gall bladder. While Western palates are not fond of bitter tasting foods, they do stimulate and support digestion. German research shows that bitter tonic herbs stimulate bile and hydrochloric acid production. They stimulate nervous system and immune system function, as well as combat fatigue and exhaustion.
Four commonly used bitter herbs which are used traditionally and in the medical community to support the liver, gall bladder, and other ailments are milk thistle, dandelion, Oregon grape root, and gentian root, from which gentian violet is manufactured.
Milk thistle protects liver cells
Milk thistle protects liver cells by coating them with phytochemicals. These chemicals heal damaged liver cells and protect healthy cells from becoming damaged.
The medical journal Phytochemical Research states that milk thistle, or Silybum marianum, is the most well-researched herb for the treatment of liver disease. The seeds and fruit in milk thistle contain the most silymarin, an antioxidant, anti-fibrotic, and toxin blocker.
In animal testing, milk thistle was able to reduce liver damage caused by acetaminophen, radiation, carbon tetrachloride, and other environmental toxins. Milk thistle has been demonstrated clinically to treat liver damage from alcohol, hepatitis, and other liver disease.
Dandelion stimulates digestion and bile action
Dandelion root and leaf is a classic bitter liver tonic herb. Along with Oregon grape root bark, gentian root, and wormwood leaves, dandelion stimulates digestion, stimulates the liver to produce more bile. This action cleanses the liver and gall bladder.
The International Journal of Molecular Science published an in-depth study in 2010 of the effects of dandelion root and leaf on cholesterol-fed rabbits. While one can never assume that an animal study will benefit humans, plenty of empirical evidence supports the idea that dandelion is beneficial for humans.
This study points out that dandelion has been shown to possess the ability to reduce cholesterol, rheumatism, oxidative stress which contributes to atherosclerosis, and acts as a diuretic.
This was a cross-matched study involving rabbits who were fed a normal diet, a high-cholesterol diet, a high cholesterol diet with dandelion leaves, and a high cholesterol diet with dandelion root.
The results showed that both dandelion root and leaves were able to positively change both the antioxidant activities and lipid profile in the rabbits. The conclusion was that dandelion could be used to help prevent liver and heart disease.
Oregon grape root is a favorite among dermatologists
Dermatologic Therapy noted the healing benefits of Oregon grape root in a 2003 paper describing herbs which are useful in the treatment of skin conditions. While the paper specifically mentioned Oregon grape root for acne, it stated that the herb has “anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and bile-stimulating properties.”
Gentian root supports liver function as well as being a fungicide
Gentian root extract is a fungicide, an immune booster, and possesses anti-inflammatory properties. Its bitter principles stimulate the secretion of both gastric juices and bile.
In an uncontrolled clinical study, a gentian root tincture in an alcohol base increased and prolonged gall bladder emptying. It also helped to enhance protein and fat digestion.
These four bitter herbs are particularly beneficial for people who have been exposed to environmental toxins, are in the habit of consuming alcohol, eat a large amount of meat, have high cholesterol levels or a “fatty liver.”
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