digestion

  • Bile: Your New BFF

    Bile Your New BFF Ann Louise Gittleman

    Bile is an emulsifier—a type of soap for fats. It breaks down the fats into small particles so that your intestines can absorb them. Produced by the liver to the tune of about one quart per day, bile is made from lecithin, cholesterol and bilirubin. It is stored near the liver in the gallbladder. From there, it is transported to the intestines during digestion.

    Here's a NEWSFLASH for you: Bile is not ONLY the real key to the body's ability to digest and assimilate fats, but it is also a vehicle for removing toxins from your body so they can be flushed out through the colon.

    Bile is one of the liver's premier detox mechanisms so the consequences of inadequate bile go far beyond the inability to lose weight. If the liver can't clear fats, then it most likely can't break down hormones or other metabolic waste products either, and you can end up with hot flashes, night sweats, cysts, migraines and depression.

    To put it another way, bile is one of the most underrated and ignored methods our bodies utilize to move out toxins. The quantity of bile your body makes is directly proportional to the quantity of toxins you can eliminate.

    If you lack enough fiber to escort these toxins out of your body, they can remain (along with bile) in your intestines for too long and are then reabsorbed. This is when toxic overload occurs with poisonous wastes ending up stagnant in your lymphatics and getting stuck in the bloodstream, joints and other tissues. There is already a 75 percent bile deficiency by the time allergies, arthritis, and inflammation in joints and muscles develop. By the time cancer or chronic illness is diagnosed, a whopping 90 percent deficit has already occurred.

    If your gallbladder hasn't been doing its job due to a lack of the right Smart Fats or too much hydrogenated fat or even if your gallbladder is gone, your body loses its ability to adequately regulate proper bile flow. Without your gallbladder, for instance, there is still a steady release of bile from the liver, but it is "mismatched" with the amount of oil or fat you are consuming— whether in quantity or timing. This has a cascading detrimental effect on your digestion as well as absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins (A, E, D, and K) and the essential fatty acids.

    Moreover, bile can be hampered from doing its job because of a lack of bile nutrients, congestion or even clogged bile ducts, which interfere with bile flow and result in less bile production. Regardless of where the bile is—in the liver, in the gallbladder or in the bile ducts—the principles of manufacturing, thinning and moving bile are the same.

    Bile helps to break down ALL dietary fats and ALL fat-soluble vitamins. This is no insignificant task. If you check any decent nutritional textbook these days and research all the symptoms and problems linked with fat-soluble vitamin deficiencies you will find everything from dry skin to indigestion to cataracts and cancer. Bile also acts as a lubricant for your stool to prevent constipation. Who knew?

    Just as fascinating, French researchers have found that bile may be connected to our obesity epidemic and hypothyroidism. They discovered that fat metabolism is sped up by the activation of thyroid hormones in the fat cells. Could it be that an imbalance of bile is one of the reasons that hypothyroidism is so rampant today?

    My friend Dr. Raphael Kellman, Functional Medicine guru and author of "The Microbiome Diet," told me, "I diagnose many people with hypothyroidism who have been suffering and undiagnosed for years. I use a test called the TRH stimulation test that the medical community abandoned when the routine TSH assays became more sensitive. In 2007, two studies confirmed what I have been saying to be true. I also treat many with both neurodevelopmental and degenerative diseases. Recent studies are showing low levels of T3 in the brain of such patients yet routine blood tests were normal. Anyway, the point of all this is that I have been suspecting that, in addition to low hydrochloric acid, there is also low bile production in so many people with low thyroid function. So many of the people I diagnosed with low thyroid also had a cholecystectomy in the past. Many have GI dysfunction that is consistent with low bile. So I'm with you!"

    Let Sleeping Gallstones Lie
    Millions of us experience unrecognized signs of poor bile digestion like bloating, nausea, sluggishness, poor thyroid function, constipation, hemorrhoids, and dry skin and hair. Well over 20 million Americans have known gallbladder challenges while millions more go undiagnosed. Why? They haven't been able to connect the dots between ALL the seemingly disconnected—but urgent—SOS signals our body is sending out loud and clear.

    It is a shame that gallbladder removal has become the most common type of surgery performed in this country, usually due to the presence of gallstones. Gallstones commonly occur because of congested bile due to buildup, which results in the precipitation of stones.

    Ideally, treatment should consist of making sure the bile is thinned, decongested, and fluid—a major focus of my book "Eat Fat, Lose Weight."

    For those who no longer have a gallbladder, it is critically important to mimic your body's natural output of bile by taking an ox bile supplement (also known as bile salts). While you may not be able to duplicate your body's remarkable wisdom of knowing just when to release the exact right amount of bile, supplementation with bile extracts can go a long way in maximizing the process and assuring that your fat-soluble vitamins are being absorbed.

    Too much bile supplementation can create loose stools, while too little can make for very light or clay colored stools.

    The Allergy Connection
    If you still have your gallbladder but are experiencing frequent gallbladder attacks OR if you have had your gallbladder taken out but still experience pain (what is called "post-cholecystectomy syndrome,") you should definitely know about the work of allergist Dr. James C. Breneman. He identified food allergies as a primary underlying cause of gallbladder pain.

    I discovered Dr. Breneman's landmark work thanks to a newsletter ("Dr. Jonathan Wright's Health and Healing") written by my personal integrative physician, the brilliant and insightful Dr. Jonathan Wright in 2004 with the enticing headline, "The 99.9 percent effective technique for eliminating gallbladder attacks forever."

    The article brought to light Dr. Breneman's surprising discovery that gallbladder pain was significantly related to food allergies. In his study from the 1960s–70s of individuals both with and without a gallbladder he found that the major offenders were eggs (92.8 percent), pork (63.8 percent), onions (52.2 percent), chicken and turkey (34.8 percent), milk (24.6 percent), coffee (21.7 percent), and oranges (18.8 percent). Other foods which accounted for less than 15 percent of attacks included corn, beans, nuts, apples, tomatoes, peas, cabbage, spices, peanuts, fish and rye.

    When his study participants eliminated their food allergies, they obtained 100 percent relief. WOW! So, needless to say, if your gallbladder's acting up, give an elimination diet a try. Or, at least avoid the top three primary offenders like eggs, pork and onions. You know what you've got to lose!

    The bottom line is you simply must ensure that you will be utilizing all the Smart Fats you will be adding back into your diet—with or without your gallbladder—for the most complete digestion, assimilation and utilization.

  • Coconut OIL

    In mid-2012, Nestlé Health Science acquired a stake in Accera®, the U.S. maker of Axona®, a medical food targeted at people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. Aside from the fact that the purchase shows that Nestlé is placing a strategic bet on the future direction of medical food demand, this acquisition also is interesting for its potential validation of a tropical oil that alternately has been damned and praised for its role in health: coconut oil.

    On the one hand, there are those who still maintain that coconut oil, a source of more saturated fat than butter, lard or beef tallow, is the devil incarnate for brain and heart health. On the other hand, current science is in the process of validating the high regard that the coconut oil enjoys in the Ayurvedic and Chinese traditions of healing.

    Indeed, coconut oil bears a striking overlap in its metabolic implications, in this case for Alzheimer’s disease, with medical foods designed to provide the brain alternate fuel sources. A nice introduction to this topic is Alzheimer’s Disease: What If There Was a Cure? by Mary Newport, MD.

    The scientific backtracking regarding coconut oil recently was put in a nutshell in a New York Times interview of Thomas Brenna, a professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University.1 Dr. Brenna observed that coconut oil’s bad reputation for cardiovascular health rested mostly on partially hydrogenated coconut oil, oil designed specifically to raise cholesterol levels in the rabbits being used in experiments. Virgin coconut oil differs dramatically in a large number of ways from the trans-fat laden partially hydrogenated item. Even the health dangers of the saturated aspect of coconut oil currently are being debated. As Dr. Brenna remarks in the interview, “I think we in the nutrition field are beginning to say that saturated fats are not so bad, and the evidence that said they were is not so strong.”

    Coconut Oil—A “Good” Saturated Fat
    Coconut oil is saturated (it is solid up to 76° F), consisting of 86.5 percent saturated fatty acids and 5.8 percent monounsaturated fatty acids.2 Lauric acid makes up approximately 46 percent of coconut oil and generally is considered to be the villain in terms of serum cholesterol. However, in clinical trials, the effects of dietary supplementation with coconut oil usually have been found to be either no effect or a small increase in LDL cholesterol and a significant increase in HDL cholesterol, meaning that the ratio—and cardiovascular risk—improves with supplementation.3,4

    Moreover, extra virgin coconut oil consists mostly of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA), with 50 percent being lauric acid. Medium-chain fatty acids have been used for many years for special health purposes. They have attracted attention as part of a healthful diet because they are absorbed and transported directly into the liver via the portal vein and thereafter metabolized rapidly by beta-oxidation, thus increasing diet-induced thermogenesis.5

    One derivative of coconut MCFA is medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, which is 75 percent caprylic and 25 percent capric acids, fatty acids very similar to lauric acid and present in virgin coconut oil in smaller amounts. MCT oil often is found in the hospital nutrient mixtures for bedridden patients who are dependent upon intravenous nutrition. These fats were developed in part because they do not require the action of bile for digestion, but rather are absorbed directly through the walls of the small intestine and transported to the liver to be used immediately as fuel.

    The special characteristics of coconut MCFA mean that the body prefers to burn it for fuel rather than to store it. You might say that the body treats coconut fatty acids more like it does carbohydrates, but without getting involved with insulin. Scientists know this because of experience with MCT oils. In my book Anti-Fat Nutrients (revised 4th edition, Basic Media), I discuss MCT oil at length. In seriously catabolic patients, MCT oil was found to help prevent the body from depleting lean and muscle tissues. Again, MCT fatty acids are not readily stored as body fat, but rather they are preferentially burned in the mitochondria of the cells to provide energy.6 For some athletes and bodybuilders, this quality has proved useful since excess training depletes the glycogen stores of the muscles, and continued training after that point can only take place partially through the break down of muscle protein for fuel.7 Coconut oil medium-chain fatty acids have properties similar to those of MCT oil, but not as pronounced.

    Does this mean that coconut oil can help dieters? Yes, as long as there are not too many expectations. Indeed, the nutrition author Ray Peat, PhD, has remarked that in the 1940s farmers attempted to use coconut oil for fattening their animals, but they found that it made them lean, active and hungry instead! The fatty acids found in coconut seem to promote the burning of fat for fuel and, as already noted, have a pronounced thermogenic effect. However, the thermogenic and fat-burning qualities of medium-chain fatty acids seem to be more significant for healthy subjects of normal weight and for those moderately overweight than for those who are clinically obese (fortunately, a category that excludes most of us). Moreover, medium-chain fatty acids serve to protect the body’s protein in the lean tissues during the use of low calorie and low carbohydrate diets.8

    Immune and Digestive Benefits
    Coconut oil has many other benefits. Two names are closely associated with the research in this area. These are Jon J. Kabara, PhD, one of the primary researchers into the benefits of lauric acid, and Mary G. Enig, PhD, the great researcher in the area of fats and one of the first (literally decades before the mainstream medical researchers) to point out the health dangers of trans-fatty acids.

    Dr. Enig was the keynote speaker in 2001 at the 36th Annual Conference of the Asian Pacific Coconut Community. There she gave her talk on the benefits of the coconut as a functional food. She noted that approximately 50 percent of the fatty acids in coconut fat are lauric acid, which has the additional beneficial function of being formed into monolaurin in the human body. Monolaurin is a monoglyceride used by the human metabolism to destroy lipid-coated (that is, fat-coated) viruses and a number of other undesirable organisms.

    Approximately 6–7 percent of the fatty acids in coconut fat are capric acid. Dr. Enig points out that capric acid is another medium-chain fatty acid that has a similar beneficial function when it is formed into monocaprin in the human or animal body. Monocaprin has beneficial effects similar to those found with monolaurin.

    The work of Dr. Jon Kabara and others shows that coconut oil components exert their health benefits in a way that is very safe to humans. In general, it is reported that the fatty acids and monoglycerides produce their inactivating effects by destabilizing the membrane that surrounds pathogens, for instance, by causing the disintegration of the virus envelope. Despite such sometimes quite potent actions against unwanted microbes, there is no evidence of any negative effect on probiotic organisms in the gastrointestinal tract.

    In his accessible, yet thoroughly researched book, The Healing Miracles of Coconut Oil (HealthWise), author Bruce Fife, ND, ranges across a number of health topics for which coconut oils has proven to be effective. He notes that coconut oil is so stable that it helps to preserve other oils, thereby reducing antioxidant requirements. Populations that eat large amounts of coconut and coconut products, such as the oil, are characterized by low rates of heart disease. Lauric acid and other medium-chain fatty acids are found in mother’s milk, where among other things, they improve the uptake by the baby of nutrients such as amino acids, calcium and magnesium. Similar effects upon nutrient assimilation have been found in the very ill and in the elderly. Moreover, these health benefits do not even take into account the long accepted uses of coconut oil to nourish the skin and the hair.

    Benefits for Brain Health?
    Let’s return to Nestlé Health Science acquired a stake in Accera, the U.S. maker of Axona, a medical food targeted at people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. The basic argument for this medicinal food is that in Alzheimer’s disease, the brain is starved for energy because it has a reduced ability to metabolize glucose. Reduced energy means reduced levels of cognition and memory. Fortunately, there is an alternative to glucose known as ketone bodies. Axona is a proprietary formulation of caprylic triglyceride that is converted by the liver into ketone bodies.

    Recall that coconut oil is a good source of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), the fatty acids that are converted in the liver to ketones. Ketones can provide energy to cells without the need for insulin. This is important for several reasons, not the least being that Alzheimer’s is related to insulin resistance and the attempt to get glucose to the brain with a high carbohydrate diet is counterproductive.9 Moreover, access to ketones may more generally promote neurologic health—several neurologic conditions have shown promising results with ketogenic diets. Ketogenic diets may help treat difficult cases of epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease as well as other neurological disorders, indeed perhaps improve cognition and health in general.

    The use of coconut oil with the conditions above at this point is promising, but hardly proven. Moreover, there are not yet much in the way of set rules or recommendations. Dr. Newport was giving her husband as much as 11 tablespoonsful per day, with four to eight tablespoonsful seeming to be a regular recommendation. At 115 calories per tablespoon, a coconut oil supplemented diet should not otherwise continue to be the standard American diet built upon a foundation of refined carbohydrates. Those wanting to add serious amounts of coconut oil to their everyday diets, as opposed to merely switching to it as a cooking oil, might find it useful to explore high protein/low carbohydrate options more generally. The chief warning to those who would try such diets is that Paleolithic-type diets need to include plenty of vegetables and reasonable amounts of whole fruit (avoiding fruit juice).

    Summing Up
    In his book, Bruce Fife asks the rhetorical questions, “If there was [sic] an oil you could use for your daily cooking needs that helped protect you from heart disease...other degenerative conditions, improved your digestion, strengthened your immune system, protected you from infectious diseases, and helped you lose excess weight, would you be interested?” Surely this is a good question. Aside from the record of traditional use, numerous research papers and United States Patents argue for the health-promoting benefits of coconut oil. Now that organic coconut oil/extra virgin coconut oil is readily available in health food stores, perhaps it is time for health-conscious shoppers to give it a try.

    References

    1. Melissa Clark, “Once a Villain, Coconut Oil Charms the Health Food World.” New York Times March 1, 2011.
    2. “Nutrient database, Release 24” (http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/) . United States Department of Agriculture. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov
    3. Assunção ML, Ferreira HS, dos Santos AF, Cabral CR Jr, Florêncio TM. Effects of dietary coconut oil on the biochemical and anthropometric profiles of women presenting abdominal obesity. Lipids. 2009 Jul;44(7):593-601.
    4. Mensink RP, Zock PL, Kester AD, Katan MB. Effects of dietary fatty acids and carbohydrates on the ratio of serum total to HDL cholesterol and on serum lipids and apolipoproteins: a meta-analysis of 60 controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 May;77(5):1146-55.
    5. Aoyama T, Nosaka N, Kasai M. Research on the nutritional characteristics of medium-chain fatty acids. J Med Invest. 2007 Aug;54(3-4):385-8.
    6. Babayan VK. Medium chain triglycerides and structured lipids. Lipids 1987 Jun;22(6):417-20.
    7. Nosaka N, Suzuki Y, Nagatoishi A, Kasai M, Wu J, Taguchi M. Effect of ingestion of medium-chain triacylglycerols on moderate-and high-intensity exercise in recreational athletes. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2009 Apr;55(2):120-5.
    8. Dias VC, et al. Effects of medium-chain triglyceride feeding on energy balance in adult humans. Metabolism 1990;39:887-891.
    9. Seneff S, Wainwright G, Mascitelli L. Nutrition and Alzheimer’s disease: the detrimental role of a high carbohydrate diet. Eur J Intern Med. 2011 Apr;22(2):134-40.
  • ENZYMES in Health and Disease

    Everything that lives requires enzymes; humans, plants and animals.

    Enzymes are protein-based substance found in every living cell. Enzymes can be likened to the starter in your automobile; they ignite the process into action and the speed is dependent on the amount of power under the hood (a full-spectrum of enzymes for specific jobs, working in powerful synchronicity to enhance performance).

    In today’s diet of over processed and overcooked food, we can expect to be enzyme deficient. High temperature food preparations can lead to lessened activity or the destruction of many innate food related enzymes. As well, a poor intestinal tract environment which affects most Americans can lead to reduced production of our own enzymes. Therefore, digestive disorders may get their start because of the body’s inability to produce enzymes sufficiently for optimal digestion, absorption, and elimination leading to chronic disorders or discomfort.

    Trivialized, untreated, over self-medicated and misunderstood, weak gastrointestinal conditions chronically plague more than 95 million Americans. Avoiding or overcoming digestive enzyme deficiencies is imperative to overall health and longevity.

    We suggest establishing a health reserve is dependent upon supplementation with full spectrum enzymes that act as the engines to carry the load for our digestive well-being.

    Trends

    by Karen DeFelice, M.S.

    My experience in tracking results with typical families using quality enzyme supplements in daily life and following the guidelines developed for enzymes since 2001, show around 93 percent of all individuals across all age groups see success of some kind.

    This means most people can see improvements by the time they get to the end of one bottle of a quality enzyme product.

    You do not have to change any diet, supplement, medication, or therapy to try enzymes. One bottle, one month, and typically under $40—that is your investment in trying enzymes.

    The following are typically reported improvements, often dramatic in degree, seen in both children and adults, when following the relatively new guidelines.

    • Improvement in foods tolerated, eating patterns, and weight regulation
    • Improvement in digestive function and bowel regularity
    • Improvement in energy levels, stamina, and overall health
    • Improvement in quality of sleep and moods
    • Improvement in cognitive awareness, problem solving, and memory
    • Improvement in language, socialization, and general behavior
    • Improvement in transitioning, sensory processing, and attention
    • Decrease in general anxiety, obsessive compulsions, and hyperactivity
    • Decrease in acid reflux problems
    • Decrease in autoimmune problems
    • Decrease in chronic pain and joint stiffness
    • Decrease in chronic viral-related problems
    • Decrease in harmful bacteria and yeast problems

    Another general improvement is that enzymes enhance the effectiveness of other supplements, diets, and therapies. You may see your overall program become much more effective when you start enzymes. Given how relatively inexpensive, easy to take, and fast acting enzymes are, it is generally worth at least a trial especially considering the wide range of potential improvements.

    Many people find the longer they take enzymes, the fewer enzymes are needed to maintain the same level of health. Taking higher doses of enzymes for the first few months may improve health substantially so lower amounts of enzymes are necessary later. In addition, as the gut heals and the intestinal cells return to proper function, your own natural enzyme production improves. Various therapeutic enzyme programs have been extremely successful recommending high-doses of particular enzyme blends for designated periods of time, especially in the cases of persistent health problems. As with most measures, always consult with your health care professional whenever you have major health concerns.

    Karen DeFelice, M.S. is the author of Enzymes: Go With Your Gut. DeFelice works in education and the sciences and is available for speaking, workshops, or teaching. www.enzymestuff.com.

    Overview

    Enzymes are substances that occur naturally in all living things, including the human body. If it’s an animal or a plant, it has enzymes. Enzymes are critical for life. At present, researchers have identified more than 3,000 different enzymes in the human body. Every millisecond of our lives these enzymes are constantly changing and renewing at an unbelievably fast speed.

    Every life process depends on the action of enzymes, protein “go-betweens” that control the fueling and energy output of each cell in the body. Bodies rich in enzymes function at their best, with high energy levels, and full powers of disease resistance.

    Each activity that occurs within the body involves enzymes. Examples include: 1) the beating of the heart, 2) the building and repairing of tissue, 3) the digestion and absorption of food. Nothing can take place without energy and energy cannot be used or produced without enzymes. Enzymes are involved in all bodily functions. In fact, the very existence of each living cell depends on complicated chemical reactions that require a constant supply of energy and enzymes. Without energy, cells become disorganized, resulting in illness and death. It is for this reason that the body’s energy needs to take precedence over all other body requirements.

    Enzymes are very specific. Each enzyme promotes one type of chemical reaction and one type only. Some enzymes break down large nutrient molecules (the proteins, carbohydrates, and fats in our foods) into smaller molecules for digestion and aids the human body incorporating the raw material from food or supplements.

    Without enzymes, our bodies cannot process and use the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients present in our food and supplements. It is also important to remember enzymes are not nutrients themselves but rather work with the nutrition that is in the food or supplements you are consuming. Taking enzyme supplements does not replace a good healthy diet of quality food. Additional enzymes are responsible for different functions, such as the storage and release of energy or the processes of respiration, reproduction, vision, and others.

    Without enzymes, none of the body’s chemical reactions would take place. Without enzymes, there would be no breathing, no digestion, no growth, no blood coagulation, no perception of the senses, and no reproduction. Our bodies contain trillions of enzymes, which continually renew, maintain, and protect us. No person, plant or animal could exist without them.

    The body’s ability to function, to repair when injured, and to ward off disease is directly related to the strength and numbers of our enzymes. That’s why an enzyme deficiency can be so devastating.

    It is the energizing, staying power of enzymes that helps start the day and keeps you going. Enzymes may be the way to recover faster from injuries, relieve back pain and circulation problems, and combat viruses.

    Each process consists of a complex series of chemical reactions. These reactions are referred to as metabolism.

    Metabolism includes all the physical and chemical processes involved in the activities of life. Enzymes are the catalysts that make metabolism possible. Consequently, enzymes are involved in every metabolic activity in the body—from digesting and assimilating food to catalyzing the thousands of reactions that are necessary for the body to function in the activities of life. Enzymes are the means within the cells by which the building-up and breaking-down processes of metabolism take place. Nature has devised a brilliant procedure to supply the constant demand for energy, called biologic oxidation.

    Enzymes are involved in the synthesis and repair of DNA; in the production of proteins, and connective tissue necessary to grow and regenerate cells; and in the breakdown and detoxification of cellular wastes that are a by-product of normal metabolism.

    This process allows us to obtain energy from food without burning up body tissue at the same time. Because of the catalytic activity of enzymes, food can be burned at low temperatures which are compatible with the life of the cell.

    Because enzymes are catalysts, their effectiveness can be greatly influenced by their environment. An acid or alkaline environment will affect their activity, as will temperature, concentration of substrate (the substance upon which they work), coenzymes or cofactors, and inhibitors.

    Cells obtain energy from the protein, carbohydrates, and fats we eat. They do this only with the assistance of enzymes. Before they reach the cell, all proteins are converted into amino acids, fats are converted into fatty acids, and carbohydrates are changed to sugars, such as glucose. The cells oxidize these nutrients, releasing large quantities of energy in the process. We need this energy to enable mechanical muscle movement and other body functions to occur. To produce this energy, chemical reactions must be “coupled” with the systems responsible for these physiological functions. This coupling is achieved through special energy transfer systems and cellular enzymes.

    Enzymes are also important for your nervous system. Nervous system function is regulated by various neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, the catecholamines (dopamine and norepinephrine), and acetycholine. These neurotransmitters are manufactured by the action of enzymes in the brain on the precursor amino acids, tryptophan, tyrosine, and choline, respectively. Because the brain cannot make adequate quantities of the various precursors, it must obtain these precursors from the bloodstream.

    However what if your digestive system hasn’t properly broken down the protein you eat into its component amino acids, thus leading to a deficiency state in your bloodstream?

    Enzymes and Aging

    As we grow older our bodies are faced with an array of age-related disorders. If you study societies as they age and their corresponding disease rates, you can see a clear parallel between increase in age and the occurrence of diseases.

    Enzymes are the most powerful weapon we have against these diseases of age, and possibly a significant factor in avoiding age-related diseases.

    The benefits of enzymes can be verified by solid scientific data, including clinical studies. We also know that systemic enzyme therapy is helpful in supporting the immune system and the immune system is affected by every disease.

    Enzymes are active throughout and benefit the entire body, not just the immune system. Generally speaking, aging is a dehydration of the body’s protein supply–sometimes referred to as protein polymerization.

    This is actually why we wrinkle as we age. These dehydrated proteins lose their flexibility, specifically under the skin. Proteases, such as those in systemic enzymes, hydrate the proteins by depolarizing them. This is a very important anti-aging mechanism and may actually prevent or repair the skin’s wrinkled look.

    Taking protease enzymes orally may help reduce the pain, swelling and overall discomfort of varicose veins, phlebitis and post-thrombotic syndrome. Enzymes improve blood circulation and therefore reduce the risk of thrombosis.

    With regular use of enzymes people can enjoy a better quality of life. As more of our aging population realizes the benefit of enzymes, more 90-year-olds will enjoy life in good health.

    Life is aging and aging is a process. Aging is relative. Compared to the drosophila fly, the human life span is long; compared to the redwood tree, the human life span is short.

    Aging is a variable parameter. The rate at which you age is determined by three factors: your genetic background, your life style and your nutritional habits. We can only influence aging by changing our life style and our nutrition.

    Sources of Enzymes

    Traditionally, foods have been the primary source. Uncooked foods (such as fruits and vegetables) are usually high in enzyme activity and, fortunately, taste good, too.

    In theory, it works—absorbing enzymes from the food we eat. However, in practice, with the magnitude of food additives, preservatives, radiation, long-term storage, canning, freezing and drying, the actual enzymatic activity level of foods can be grossly reduced. Because of this there is an energy drain. As we age, the quantity of our body’s enzymes decreases and so does the quality. The speed with which this happens is greatly influenced by our life style and diet. An enzyme-poor diet can overtax an already deficient system.

    The Solution

    What’s the solution to an energy drain? Daily supplementation in addition to foods may ensure an adequate supply of enzymes.

    We can’t produce energy without catalysts, and enzymes are those catalysts. You can’t jump start your day and feel young, with energy and vitality, if your body has lost its enzyme punch.

    Life is similar to walking on a tightrope. Like everything else, there is a beginning and an end on the tightrope called life. As we move along on our journey, we must balance our bodies (this is known as homeostasis) or we can fall off the tightrope before our time, before reaching our scheduled end. This balancing act involves the total body (mind and spirit), yin and yang, temperature, pH, vitamins, minerals, anabolic-catabolic ratio, the oxidation of body cells, and importantly enzymes. All must be in harmony and enzymes help us maintain that balance.

    Jump Start Digestion

    Some people can eat nutritious foods and yet be continually tired, develop chronic diseases, and/or age prematurely.

    Quite possibly it could be poor digestion and/or absorption of foods. In other words, an individual could be eating a healthy diet, but the nutrients aren’t getting to the cells. Literally, one can eat the best and yet the body is starving.

    One way to support an overworked digestive system is to take natural digestive enzymes. Pepsin is probably the best known and is essential for protein digestion. Enzyme preparations contain many enzymes capable of breaking down proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Some sources of digestive enzymes include papain, amylase, protease, and lactase.

    Today’s scientific research indicates large enzyme molecules can be absorbed from the intestines, passing into the circulatory and lymphatic systems and, ultimately, to every cell of the body. For a long time people didn’t think we could absorb supplemental enzymes. We now know that we can absorb enzymes in a number of ways, primarily through a mechanism known as pinocytosis. Pinocytosis is actually a system whereby enzymes, after connection to a receptor in the mucosa of the intestinal wall, are absorbed into that wall, guided through the intestinal cells, and finally released into the blood, much like an elevator going from one floor to the next.

    Researchers are now able to produce enzymes to treat specific acute and chronic disorders. This technique is called systemic enzyme therapy. Since many chronic disorders involve disturbed enzyme function, it seems logical to take supplemental enzymes.

    It is also important to be apprised of the potency details of every individual enzyme so you know exactly what you’re getting. Enzyme strength is measured in terms of activity (not weight).

    Enzymes may be present, but unless they are functional, they will not do any good. Instead of weight (such as milligrams) the important measurement with enzymes is the activity and potency of the enzyme. A product label should list enzyme strength in standard activity units rather than by weight.

    DIGESTIVE ENZYMES

    Digestive enzymes provide optimal support for healthy digestion of proteins, carbohydrates and fats.

    Benefits of Microbial Enzyme Supplementation
    Enzyme supplementation promotes enhanced digestion and delivery of vital nutrients to the body. This benefits good health in many ways, including better elimination, support for healthy energy levels and maintenance of healthy body weight. Enzymes also help prevent accumulation of undigested foods in the large intestine, which may disrupt the normal healthy bacterial balance in the bowel.

    Overeating can lead to incomplete digestion. Occasional heartburn, bloating, belching, discomfort, and a “sour stomach” is often a result of this.

    The nature of the digestive process in the human body is such that it is highly energy-intensive. The pancreas is the organ that produces most of the digestive enzymes required for food breakdown and secretes them into the small intestine. The lower the efficiency of digestion in the stomach, the higher the requirement of newly produced pancreatic digestive enzymes. This process can place a burden on the pancreas, which may, in turn, place a large burden on other parts of the body. If the pancreas is working overtime to support our body’s digestive process, it is diverting crucial resources from normal repair functions the body may need to perform in diverse organs and systems.

    However, the body has developed a compensation method for dealing with this undue burden. The body smartly recycles enzymes that it produces as the unused portions enter the bloodstream into systemic circulation. Research has shown this recycling is facilitated by pancreatic secretory cells themselves. These cells, which normally secrete enzymes produced by the pancreas into the small intestine, serve as collectors of unused enzymes that are circulating in the bloodstream and can then re-secrete these enzymes into the intestines when needed for digestion. This reduces the burden on the pancreas to produce new enzymes in increasingly large amounts. What is most interesting, however, is research shows this mechanism is used by the body not only for the endogenous (produced by the pancreas) enzymes that are in circulation, but also for exogenous (i.e., supplemental) enzymes taken in from an outside source.

    Supplementing with enzyme formulations containing a full-spectrum of digestive capacity, can reduce the need for the pancreas to manufacture enzymes and reduce the need for the body to devote large amount of resources for this purpose. This frees up the body to devote its energies to the daily maintenance of other critical bodily organs and systems, potentially maintaining and enhancing overall health.

    Choosing a Digestive Enzyme Supplement

    Microbial-derived enzymes have distinct advantages over animal-sourced enzymes such as pancreatin and have been shown to be more effective at supporting the digestive physiology of the human body when supplemented. Animal-derived standard enzyme preparations are active only in a narrow pH range and the activity of these enzymes is destroyed by acidic conditions in the stomach. By contrast, microbial-derived enzymes have higher activity levels (less enzyme has to be used for the same purpose) and are active over a wide pH range, with some reports showing activity from pH two to ten. This means while over 90 percent of animal-derived enzymes may be inactivated in the stomach and thus useless for digestive purposes, microbial-derived enzymes would begin digesting food in the acidic conditions of the stomach and continue this process well into the small intestine, increasing the efficiency of the digestive process.

    Profile of Digestive Enzymes, which Provide Support or Carbohydrate and Fiber Digestion

    Alpha-galactosidase—An enzyme that facilitates the breakdown of carbohydrates such as raffinose and stachyose. This enzyme is especially helpful in supporting the digestion of vegetables and beans. A study published in 1994 showed alpha-galactosidase supplementation was effective at reducing indigestion and flatulence in healthy individuals consuming a high-fiber diet consisting of grains, beans and other vegetables.

    Amylase—This enzyme functions to break down carbohydrates such as starch and glycogen (rice and potatoes), a storage form of glucose.

    Beta-glucanase—An important enzyme that facilitates the digestion of beta-linked glucose bonds associated with whole grains such as barley, oats and wheat.

    Cellulase—This enzyme helps free the nutrients found in both fruits and vegetables by breaking down cellulose, a plant fiber.

    Glucoamylase—This enzyme complements the function of amylase for the complete digestion of carbohydrate rich foods by further breaking down starches and dextrins into glucose.

    Hemicellulase—This enzyme assists in the breakdown of carbohydrates (fruits) and is most useful for enhancing the efficiency of polysaccharide digestion from plant foods.

    Invertase—This enzyme facilitates the breakdown of carbohydrates and is especially effective at helping to digest sucrose, common table sugar.

    Lactase—This enzyme is necessary for the proper utilization and digestion of lactose, the predominant sugar found in milk and other dairy products.

    Phytase— This enzyme (found in flax seed) breaks down plant carbohydrates and is especially helpful at breaking down phytic acid found in leafy vegetables. Because it breaks down phytic acid it frees the minerals in plants and aids in their absorption.

    Xylanase—This enzyme is a sub-type of hemicellulase and functions to break down soluble fiber from food sources.

    Support for Protein Digestion Bromelain—An enzyme that is derived from pineapple, this nutrient also facilitates the digestion of proteins. Bromelain has also been associated with the wide range of diverse health benefits on its own.

    Papain—This enzyme is derived from papaya and serves to enhance the digestion of proteins, facilitating nutrient absorption.

    Proteases—This grouping of enzymes support the digestion of protein and protein-containing foods, breaking them into absorbable units of amino acids, the building blocks for the body’s regenerative purposes.

    Support for Fat Digestion
    Lipase—The main enzyme that functions to break down lipids and improve fat utilization. In this capacity, it supports the function of the gall bladder. The microbial-derived lipase used in this formulation has been shown to have much higher activity levels than animal-derived lipase enzyme, enhancing the efficiency of fat digestion. Microbial lipase is resistant to inactivation by stomach acid and can digest dietary fat beginning in the stomach and continuing into the small intestine. A study in animals showed that microbial-derived lipase was as effective at digesting fat as a 25 times larger dose of conventional pancreatin.

    PROTEOLYTIC ENZYMES

    Proteolytic enzymes function throughout the body to digest and break down proteins into their amino acid components. When taken as supplements, studies show that various proteolytic enzymes, including bromelain (from pineapple), papain (from papaya), serratiopeptidase (from bacteria), and fungal protease (from a non-pathogenic fungus medium), are absorbed through the lining of the digestive tract and into the circulation. These enzymes, once in the bloodstream, are available to facilitate chemical reaction throughout the body and have a wide range of applications.

    A potent, high-quality proteolytic enzyme formula should include a broad spectrum of proteolytic enzymes from a variety of plant, bacterial, and fungal proteases. The goal is to create a blend that works at a variety of pH levels to support the body’s native enzymatic needs. Maintaining optimal enzymatic function is a key factor in supporting the foundation for health and wellness of numerous individuals. For example:

    Papain—A proteolytic enzyme derived from the sap (also called latex or milk) of unripe papaya, traditionally used with bromelain.

    Fungal amylase—An enzyme derived from the fungus Aspergillus oryzae it breaks down carbohydrates, such as starch, and glycogen.

    Lipase—The main enzyme responsible for breaking down fats, lipases hydrolyze triglycerides (fats) into their component fatty acid and glycerol molecules.

    Protease (bacteria, fungal, neutral)—A group of enzymes whose catalytic function is to hydrolyze (breakdown) peptide bonds of proteins. Proteases differ in their ability to hydrolyze various peptide bonds. Bacteria proteases are optimally active in alkaline conditions, fungal proteases in more acidic conditions, and neutral proteases (from bacteria) are optimally active at a neutral pH.

    Serratiopeptidase (aka Serrapeptase)—The “Miracle Enzyme” according to Dr. Hans Nieper, a legendary medical doctor known for his extensive use of proteolytic enzymes. This proteolytic enzyme has been shown to be more powerful than the pancreatic proteolytic enzymes chymotrypsin and trypsin. Serrapeptase appears to thin mucus and modulate molecules involved in both the immune and blood clotting systems. Studies thus far suggest Serrapeptase is a promising, safe and useful supplement to help support the immune system and thin mucus. Other double-blind studies have shown Serrapeptase supports the body’s immune response to infections and that it modulates the body’s immune response after surgery.

    Bromelain—A general name for a family of proteolytic enzymes derived from the pineapple plant. Bromelain effects various systems in the body through a variety of physiological mechanisms, including inhibiting the formation of bradykinin, limiting the generation of fibrin, increasing the breakdown of fibrin, modulating prostaglandins, and decreasing platelet aggregation.

    Nattokinase—This proteolytic enzyme is extracted from a Japanese food called Natto. Is has been identified to be a potent fibrinolytic enzyme, showing as ability to break down fibrin, a blood clotting protein. Supported by strong research and historical anecdotal use, Nattokinase shows promise in supporting areas such as cardiovascular well-being, stroke, angina, thrombosis, atherosclerosis, fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue, varicose veins, and other conditions of chronic inflammation.

    totalhealth magazine is committed to keeping our readers up-to-date as more information is released on the benefits to human health of these and other existing or newly introduced enzymes. In the interim we suggest you seriously consider including digestive and proteolytic enzymes as an integral inclusion in your personal natural health regimen.

  • Humble Herbs Worth Their Weight in Gold

    Written by Suzanne M. Diamond, M.Sc.

    Four humble herbs with an impressive history for helping people to improve their health and overcome disease include burdock root (Arctium lappa L.), sheep sorrel herb (Rumex acetosella L.), Indian rhubarb root (Rheum officinale L.) and slippery elm bark (Ulmus rubra Muhl.). A traditional herbal formulation made with these four herbs is gaining recognition as a good remedy for treating a wide range of health problems. The below information covers some of the impressive research on these four herbs and helps to shed light on how this synergist blend can afford so many profound health benefits.

    BURDOCK ROOT(Arctium lappa L.) Not far from your doorstep, if you look, you can usually find the soft green leaves of burdock, common in most neighborhoods— and based on much scientific and historical data, the root of this plant can dramatically enhance your health by boosting your immune system, improving digestion and thwarting cancer in many different ways. Regularly incorporating burdock root in your daily regime may even be able to increase your lifespan based on anti-aging results found with animals. There are many other documented and accepted health benefits of regularly drinking burdock root tea based on the German Pharmacopoeia, including the relief of gastrointestinal complaints and bone and joint conditions.

    Burdock root, also known as gobo or Poor-man’s potatoes, is an important food in Japan known for its many healing properties. Burdock root can safely be eaten as a root vegetable and is popularly eaten by Japanese people and sushi lovers of all nationalities. When grown in loamy soil, the root grows into a very long, creamy colored tap root similar in appearance to a carrot but much longer. It can grow deeper than most root veggies and is known as a good source of trace elements and minerals accessed from deeper soil layers. Unlike carrots and potatoes, burdock root does not contain starch it contains complex carbohydrates called fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) including 27–45 percent inulin. When people eat starchy roots, this causes a sharp rise in blood sugar and blood insulin levels. But burdock root provides the body with soluble fibers that do not affect blood sugar or blood insulin levels. This makes burdock root and FOS particularly beneficial for diabetics. FOS and inulin have many scientifically documented health benefits including acting as a beneficial prebiotic by feeding beneficial intestinal microflora (BIM) while also eliminating potential gut pathogens, optimizing colonic pH, boosting bone strength through increasing calcium and mineral absorption from food, supporting serum enterolactone and enterodiol concentrations, helping to control blood sugar levels and reducing cholesterol. Other foods that contain inulin include chicory root, onions, Jerusalem artichokes and bananas.

    According to Bengmark (2005), researching out of the Institute of Hepatology, University College, London Medical School, U.K., inulin has prebiotic qualities and can affect intestinal immune cells and potentially repair the gut wall and thereby improve overall immune function. Several recent scientific studies have documented significant immune-enhancing effects of inulin and oligofructose.

    Taking herbal formulas that contains burdock root, rich in natural oligofructose and inulin, have been found to afford many digestive benefits and favorable results have been shown with a number of digestive disorders according to Tamayo and colleagues (2000).

    SHEEP SORREL (Rumex acetosella L.) Sheep sorrel is a common herb found abundantly at roadsides and is otherwise known as sour grass because of its tart leaves. The leaves are popularly used in herbal teas for rejuvenating health and cleansing toxins from the body. Sheep sorrel has powerful phytoestrogen activity (phytoestrogen means plant-estrogen) based on in vitro studies conducted by U.S. hormone researcher, Dr. David Zava in 1998. Sheep sorrel came in tenth out of 150 herbs tested for phytoestrogen activity; the list was headed by soy beans, licorice root and red clover herb, all legumes wellknown for their phytoestrogen activity.

    Sheep sorrel is an important component of ESSIAC® tea and products, together with three other herbs, burdock root, slippery elm bark and Indian rhubarb root. Early research on sheep sorrel herb by famed Canadian nurse Rene M. Caisse and R.O. Fisher, M.D., in Ontario in the 1920s and 30s, found that sheep sorrel liquid extract given to mice with artificially induced tumors caused cancerous tumors to markedly regress and disappear. The other herbs in ESSIAC were said to help with cleansing and eliminating the dead cancer cells and other toxins from the system. Nurse Rene Caisse also reputedly had success with treating cancer patients with ESSIAC together with sheep sorrel extract—including one case cured and two cases improved accepted by a Cancer Commission set up by the Canadian Government in the 1939. There are many more anecdotal reports and some well documented cases of success with ESSIAC for dramatically improving people’s health very quickly.

    Human clinical studies with other phytoestrogen-rich foods and herbs, such as flaxseed and red clover, have also produced profound anti-cancer results. For instance, clinical studies with breast cancer patients given muffins containing 50 grams of ground flaxseed daily (flaxseed contains phytoestrogens called lignans in its seed coat) versus placebo muffins (without flaxseed) conducted by Dr. Paul Goss, Dr. Lilian Thompson and colleagues in 2000 at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, Canada, and a further clinical study conducted by these same researchers with post-menopausal breast cancer patients taking 25 grams of flaxseed daily documented significant anti-cancer effects within 30 to 40 days. A study done with a prostate cancer patient in Australia reported by Dr. Fredrick O. Stevens (1997) and a further randomized, placebo-controlled clinical study with prostate cancer patients conducted by Dr. Jarred and colleagues in England (2002) using red clover isoflavonoid extracts (160 mg/daily for only seven days in the case study and for 30–40 days in the clinical trial) have documented strong anti-cancer effects for red clover isoflavonoid phytoestrogens within days/weeks based on tumorectomies. There were no serious negative side effects noted in any of these studies.

    Foods and herbs rich in phytoestrogens, such as flaxseed (lignans), burdock root (isoflavones), burdock seed (lignans), milk thistle seed (lignans), red clover (isoflavones), soybean (isoflaonves), kudzu root (isoflavones), etc., once eaten, are metabolized within the gut by beneficial intestinal bacteria and the isoflavonoids and lignans that they contain significantly increase serum enterolactone and enterodiol concentrations. According to research conducted by the Australian company, Novogen, certain phytoestrogen metabolites function to inhibit anti-apoptosis proteins in cancer cells thereby causing cancer cells to go through apoptosis or programmed cell death without harming normal cells. Simply put, phtoestrogen-rich foods and extracts can cause cancer cells to simply die and be cleansed from the body without causing terrible side effects. Many phytoestrogens have also been shown to stimulate beneficial anti-cancer enzymes. The powerful and safe anti-cancer activity of phytoestrogen-rich foods and herbs may help to explain the myriad anecdotal reports of spontaneous remissions in cancer patients and miracle cancer cures documented over the centuries with various herbs and herbal combinations. More research is needed in this area to clearly define the anti-cancer activity of different phytoestrogens.

    Many foods, herbs and supplements contain beneficial phytoestrogens and other natural anti-cancer compounds that help to balance hormones in different ways. Sheep sorrel appears to be one that may have great promise for cancer patients. Further human clinical studies with sheep sorrel are needed to confirm the beneficial estrogen modulating and anti-cancer activity of its phytoestrogens and other active ingredients.

    SLIPPERY ELM INNER BARK
    (Ulmus fulva Michx. and U. rubra Muhl.) Slippery elm bark has a long history of use as a medicine and also as a food that can be eaten like gruel and is commonly made into lozenges for sore throats and coughs. The inner bark of this tree has been used as folk remedy for treating cancer and other conditions including: respiratory problems, throat irritation, fever, abscesses, dysentery, urinary and kidney inflammations.

    Choi and colleagues (2002) at Pusan National University in Korea studied slippery elm bark and found that it exhibited dose-dependent peroxynitrite scavenging activities. According to Langmead and colleagues (2002) at the Academic Department of Adult and Paediatric Gastroenterology, London, U.K., slippery elm bark also exhibited potent antioxidant activity using in vitro tests based on chemiluminescence used to detect herbal effects on generation of oxygen radicals by mucosal biopsies from patients with active ulcerative colitis. These researchers concluded that slippery elm and other herbal extracts merit formal evaluation as novel therapies in inflammatory bowel disease.

    Lans, Turner, Khan and Bauer (2007) report the use of Ulmus fulva Michx. in ethnoveterinary medicines used to treat endoparasites and stomach problems in pigs and pets in British Columbia, Canada. The authors note that Ulmus fulva, along with other plants used for this purpose, have mid- to high-level validity for their ethnoveterinary use as anthelmintics (deworming agents).

    Five case studies of patients with psoriasis following a dietary regimen including a pinch of slippery elm bark taken daily with meals found relief of symptoms according to Brown and colleagues (2004) at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, U.S. The five psoriasis cases, ranging from mild to severe at the study onset, improved on all measured outcomes over a six-month period.

    INDIAN RHUBARB ROOT
    (Rheum officinale L.)
    Michael Castleman in his book, Medicinal Herbs describes rhubarb (medicinal rhubarbs, Rheum officinale and R. palmatum; and garden rhubarb, R. rhaponticum noted as having similar but less powerful action) as an odd plant: its roots are medicinal; its stems make tasty pies but its leaves are poisonous. He also notes that Chinese physicians have used rhubarb root since ancient times prescribing it externally as a treatment for cuts and burns and internally in small amounts for dysentery while large amounts have powerful laxative action. Formerly, the root was an important drug in many army camps, said to stop dysentry in its tracks. The active ingredients of Indian rhubarb root include emodin and aloe-emodin, rhein and other anthracene derivatives.

    Conclusion: According to many studies, adding a time-tested herbal formula with these humble herbs to your daily menu may bring a boon to your health resulting in many immediately noticeable benefits to your well-being.

    Formal clinical trials are warranted to evaluate the real anticancer effects of formulas containing these four herbs. Such clinical studies need to be carefully designed, placebo controlled clinical trials with cancer patients scheduled for tumorectomies but not receiving chemo or radiation, in order to avoid confounding variables from these treatments (i.e. similar in design to studies assessing the anticancer effects of flaxseed and red clover).

    For references send a S.A.S.E. to totalhealth.

  • The Liver, A Key Digestive Organ

    Americans are not accustomed to considering the liver as a factor in health and disease. We fear conditions such as heart disease, obesity and cancer, but seldom do we link any of these to derangements in the liver. This is unfortunate because hepatic functions rule much of the body. The liver is the largest organ in the body. It is so large, in fact, that it fills the entire upper right-hand side of the abdominal cavity and spills over into the left-hand side. The bulk of the liver consists of many small functional units called liver lobules; in humans there may be as many as 100,000 lobules constituting the mass of the organ. The size and complexity of the liver is related to the multitude of roles that this organ plays in the body. Considering the indispensable quality of these roles, it is fortunate that nature has built considerable redundancy into the organ. As much as 60 percent of the liver can be damaged without causing obvious illness and, given the proper care, even a severely damaged liver can largely regenerate itself.

    Functions Of The Liver1
    Most conspicuous among the functions of the liver is the secretion of bile. Bile goes first into the gallbladder and then into the small intestine, where it acts to break fat globules into small droplets. The role of bile in the body is more complex than this, however, and is related to the liver’s other functions. These can be divided between the storage and filtration of blood, on the one hand, and involvement in the majority of all of the body's metabolic functions, on the other hand. The range and significance of the liver’s participation in metabolic functions can be seen even from the peculiar fact that the hepatic portal vein delivers blood directly from the gastrointestinal tract to the liver before this nutrient-rich blood is distributed to the rest of the body. All liver cells are continuously in contact with blood from the portal vein. In other words, the liver is to the metabolic system what the heart is to the circulatory system.

    Blood equivalent to just under 30 percent of the heart’s resting output constantly flows through the liver via the portal vein and the hepatic artery. Cirrhosis of the liver, which can result from alcoholism or any number of toxic and viral causes, radically restricts portal vein blood flow because fibrous tissues constrict around the veins that run through the liver. As much as 10 percent of all blood typically is found in the liver and the liver can expand to hold even an entire liter upon demand. Similarly, roughly 50 percent of the lymph formed in the body at rest originates with the liver.

    As might be expected from the degree of blood flow through the liver, detoxification is a primary role of the organ. Large macrophages lining liver tissues routinely capture and degrade the bacteria almost always found in the blood of the portal vein, i.e., in blood that has just come from the digestive tract. The liver likewise detoxifies and excretes into the bile excess and degraded hormones, poisons and drugs such as antibiotics, and the end products of red blood cell disintegration. Indeed, one of the great benefits of soluble and semi-soluble fibers in the diet is that these capture and prevent the reabsorption of many toxins that had been disposed of by the liver via bile salts.

    The two preceding functions of the liver, bile secretion and blood filtration, thus are quite closely linked. The third or metabolic function of the liver is as varied as are the first two. This function encompasses the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins as well as the activation and storage of many vitamins.

    Normal blood glucose levels are maintained primarily by the liver. Although a certain amount of the glucose entering the system after meals is disposed of via the lean peripheral tissues, for the most part it is the liver that either dispenses or withdraws sugar from the blood as needed. This means that it is the liver that produces and stores the preponderance of glycogen found in the body, which converts fructose to glucose, and which creates new glucose from non-carbohydrate sources when blood glucose levels fall too low. It also is the liver that is the site of the production of most of the aspartate, succinate, and other by-products of the Citric Acid or Krebs Cycle for use in the body.

    With regard to fats, the liver performs a number of special operations. For instance, immediately following meals, the chief site for the creation of fat from excess calories derived from carbohydrates and proteins is the liver. Preformed fats consumed in meals, of course, are digested and assimilated through the action of bile, as already mentioned. The lipoproteins that carry all of these fats throughout the body for storage, for the production of hormones and for energy likewise come from the liver. The cholesterol and the phospholipids found in every cell in the body are largely synthesized in the liver. Finally, much of the oxidation of fatty acids for energy takes place in the liver.

    Protein metabolism in the liver may actually be more important to sustained good health than either carbohydrate or fat metabolism. Proteins are necessary for the integrity of all tissues, but this role comes at a high price. The degradation of proteins produces ammonia, which is highly toxic even in small amounts. It is the liver that removes ammonia from the blood and transforms it into urea for disposal by the kidneys. Similarly, it is the liver that deconstructs proteins so that they can be used as sources of energy. The amount of such degradation that takes place outside of the liver is of little consequence to the body. Virtually all of the numerous proteins found in the blood come from the liver, and these proteins control clotting, blood volume and other such duties. Finally, nonessential amino acids and other compounds constructed from amino acids are usually formed in the liver.

    Quite a number of nutrients are stored in the liver. Iron is the best known of these, but the vitamins A, B-12 and D also are stored in this organ. As a related function, it should be remembered that many vitamins can be used by the body only after they have been converted into their co-enzymatic forms, and these conversions typically take place either directly in the liver or through one of the liver’s actions.

    Optimization Of Liver Functions
    Since the liver performs so many roles, it is critical that the vitality of the organ be carefully nurtured. This nurturing consists of three facets. First, it is important to protect the liver from the effects of the various toxins with which it routinely comes into contact. These toxins have many sources. Bacteria and viruses produce toxins, as does the immune system when it combats these. The ammonia from protein metabolism is an ever-present toxin. And then there are environmental toxins, some natural and some produced by modern technology. The former include the aflatoxins found in virtually all peanut products, whereas the latter include pesticide residues, dioxin from paper production and other sources, and the multitude of halogenated products and phthalates now found everywhere, e.g., as plastics.

    A second approach to improving liver function is to encourage the secretion of bile by the liver and then the promotion of bile outflow from the gallbladder. The items involved usually are lumped together under the name of “lipotropics.” These can be divided between choleretics or items encouraging the production of bile, and cholagogues, substances that lead to the release of bile from the gallbladder. Inasmuch as toxins are often removed from the body via the bile and, likewise, the inability of the liver to detoxify properly can lead to the infiltration of fatty deposits into the liver, both of these approaches are needed to safeguard liver health. Both the basic bile secretory functions and attendant removal of bile by the gallbladder must be addressed.

    The third approach to improving liver function involves adding substances to the diet that aid the liver in its actions of transforming proteins, fats and carbohydrates, in changing vitamins into their actives forms, and in pursuing its other metabolic functions.

    Common Liver Protectants

    Milk Thistle Extract/Silymarin
    Silymarin refers to the most active three components of milk thistle. Milk thistle has long been used traditionally to protect and treat the liver, where it increases the content of the antioxidant enzyme glutathione (GSH). Silymarin neutralizes toxins and is known to help regenerate damaged livers and to improve liver function.2 Silymarin can take over many of the detoxification functions of the liver. Since there can be a rebound effect similar to that found with vitamin C after long and extensive use of silymarin, it is advisable to cut back usage slowly after a course of treatment.

    Dandelion Root Extract
    Dandelion root is a classic liver tonic. Dandelion is a “bitter” herb that clears the liver and improves its functions. The presence of fats in the diet and likewise the day-to-day production hormones that are made from fats represent heavy demands placed upon the liver, which must routinely transforms the fats and deactivate the breakdown products of the hormones. In women inadequate liver function plays a primary role in PMS and in difficult menopause. In men the results of poor liver function are just as destructive, e.g., constipation, heart disease and related problems, perhaps increased/premature hair loss. Dandelion is noted for its ability to aid in a multitude of disorders involving the liver.3

    Barberry Root
    One active constituent of barberry is berberine. Traditionally, barberry has been used to treat high fevers, jaundice and chronic dysentery. The alkaloid possesses antibacterial and antifungal aspects, including actions against Candida albicans. In general, berberines are considered to have a soothing effect upon the mucous membranes, including those that line the gastro-intestinal tract. Barberry promotes both the secretion of bile and its elimination via the gallbladder.4

    Licorice Root
    Licorice root is characterized by a remarkably extensive number of healing properties. With regard to the liver, the glycyrrhizin content represents the root’s chief benefit. Glycyrrhizin is known to protect against toxin-induced liver damage and to improve the response to viral hepatitis. Unwanted aldosterone effects from the acid are rare from extracts and generally are limited to licorice-flavored sweets eaten in excess.5

    Artichoke Extract
    Cynarin and other caffeylquinic acids in the artichoke promote bile secretion and flow. Artichoke extracts are used extensively in Europe to protect the liver against toxins and to encourage the regeneration of the liver after damage. Indeed, artichoke extracts have been shown to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels in humans.6

    Fumitory
    Fumitory regularizes the flow of bile from the gallbladder and also stimulates the secretion of bile by the liver. It has long been used to improve response to obstructed bile flow, such as nausea and pain from the gallbladder.7

    Turmeric/Curcumin A plant related to ginger, turmeric is a source of curcumin. This highly colored pigment possesses strong anti-inflammatory properties comparable to those of hydrocortisone, but without the toxicity. Turmeric has a long historical use in the treatment of liver disorders, including jaundice. Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant and a protectant against toxins. Turmeric also inhibits organisms that cause the inflammation of the gallbladder.8

    Bupleurum and Black Radish
    These items are among the standards in Asian medicine for treating hepatic disorders. They commonly are used in cases of chronic hepatitis. They are said to “drain excess fire” from the liver, improve jaundice and generally to promote the excretion of bile. Specially prepared radish is a standard for liver problems in India as well as in China and Japan.9

    Lipoic Acid
    Lipoic Acid, also known as thioctic acid, is a “conditional” vitamin that can be made in limited quantities by the body. Animal experiments have yielded interesting results. Lipoic acid can positively influence some aspects of diabetes, including the neuropathies associated with the disease. As is true of L-carnitine, lipoic acid appears to have immune enhancing properties and also to be able to help protect against atherosclerosis. It contains sulfur and is closely linked to the functions of alpha-ketoglutarate and other alphaketoacids in energy production cycles. Lipoic acid, through its role in the functioning of acetyl-coenzyme A leading into the Citric Acid Cycle, may improve the functioning of the B vitamins and energy levels. This central role in the basic energy production cycle likely serves to shunt calories into activity and away from storage as fats that so often characterizes reduced metabolism.10 Only trace amounts of lipoic acid are needed by the body, yet by improving the liver’s activities in key metabolic pathways, this substance may encourage the more productive use of other nutrients.

    Conclusion
    The liver is a centrally important organ in digestion, the clearance of toxins, and basic metabolism. Many issues in physiology that often are treated directly with pharmaceuticals might be indirectly and more safely addressed by supporting the functions of the liver. A number of inexpensive and readily available herb and other natural compounds can be used for these purposes.

    References

    1. These points are aspects of general anatomy and physiology, for which see: Cecil Textbook of Medicine (fifteenth edition, 1979) under various headings; Arthur C. Guyton, Textbook of Medical Physiology (eighth edition, 1991) 744ff; Gary A. Thibodeau, Structure & Function of the Body (ninth edition, 1992) 201–2, 307–9, 320–1.
    2. Planta Medica 50 (1984) 248–50; Plant Flavonoids in Biology and Medicine (1986) 545–58.
    3. Michael Weiner, Weiner’s Herbal (Mill Valley, CA: Quantum Books, 2nd edition, 1990).
    4. British Herbal Pharmacopoeia (British Herbal Medical Association, 1983). 5. H. Suzuki, et al., “Effects of glycyrrhizin on biochemical tests in patients with chronic hepatitis,” Asian Medical Journal 26 (1984) 423–38; Y. Kiso, et al., “Mechanism of antihepatotoxic activity of glycyrrhizin,” Planta Medica 50 (1984) 298–302.
    5. T. Maros, et al., “The effects of Cynara scolymus extracts on the regeneration off the rat liver,” Arzneim-Forsch. 16 (1966) 127–9 and 18 (1968) 884–6; on hyperliperdemia, see 25 (1975) 1,311–14.
    6. P. Forgacs, et al., Pl. Med. Phyt. 16 (1982) 99ff.
    7. Y. Kiso, et al., “Antihepatotoxic principles of curcuma longa rhizomes,” Planta Med 49 (1983) 185–7.
    8. Oriental Materia Medica.
    9. Maria C. Linder, Nutritional Biochemistry and Metabolism (Elsevier, 1991) 122; H. Ohmari et. al., I. “Augmentation of the antibody response by lipoic acid in mice.” II. “Restoration of the antibody response in immunosuppressed mice,” Japanese Journal of Pharmacology 42 (1986) 275–80; G. Sachse and B. Willms, “Efficiency of thioctic acid in the therapy of peripheral diabetic neuropathy.” Hormone and Metabolic Research 9, Supplement (1980) 105; J.C.H. Shih, “Atherosclerosis in Japanese quail and the effect of lipoic acid.” Fed. Proc. 42 (1983) 2494–7.