Liver Supplements & Herbs
The liver, like the heart, is an organ we cannot live without. The largest organ in the body, it is responsible for hundreds of vital functions, many of them essential to our existence. The liver acts as a kind of transfer station where some chemicals, like bile, are produced and others are broken down and converted into forms that are easier on the body or that the body can dispose of, like bilirubin. It is the body’s largest filter, as all the blood leaving the stomach and the intestines passes through the liver to be detoxified, and its production of bile is critical to the digestive process. The liver is also largely responsible for the synthesis of key proteins and glucose. From an Ayurvedic perspective, the liver is the seat of the five bhuta agnis, physiological manifestations of agni that correlate to each element. These bhutas are responsible for transforming ingested food into biologically useful substances. And finally, as if the liver wasn’t already amazing enough, it is the only organ capable of regenerating itself if damaged. Even with this remarkable capacity, however, it can only tolerate so much insult. The importance of liver health cannot be overstated—it is integral to the quality of our life and overall well-being. There are many natural and holistic ways we can offer our liver support in all its vital functions.
Herbs for Liver Health
Unique to Ayurveda is the concept of the six tastes—sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent—and their accompanying qualities. They are said to not only affect the tongue and our senses, but all parts of the body, including the liver. Of all the tastes, bitter is considered the “best.” Bitter possesses the qualities of cool, light, and dry, and is purifying and tonifying—which is good news for the liver. Because the liver is a hot organ associated with pitta dosha, these qualities are beneficial and protective of liver function—thus liver health supplements and herbs will often contain this bitter property. The following is a brief overview of some liver-cleansing herbs:
- Bhringaraj is an Ayurvedic herb with similar properties to dandelion; it is bitter and tonyifying and considered a rejuvenative tonic for the liver.
- Bhumyamalaki is another bitter herb from the Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia that has an affinity for the liver, gall bladder, and digestive tract. It is used to further support and strengthen the liver’s natural cleansing and detoxifying actions.
- Guduchi also promotes the healthy elimination of toxins, thus offering support to the liver, kidneys, and blood. Guduchi was so well-respected by the ancient Ayurvedic seers as a health tonic, that is was referred to as “Amrita,” or “Divine Nectar.”
- Banyan offers all of these herbs and more in one convenient formula simply called Liver Formula. Liver Formula can be used as a daily supplement for liver support or as additional boost to a cleansing or detoxification regimen
How to Improve Liver Health
For a more comprehensive guide and Ayurvedic approach to liver health you will want to read our Liver Health Guide. One suggestion for improving liver health is to give it periodic rest. What does this mean exactly? Our liver is always working. One way of giving the liver some reprieve is an intentional cleanse or fast. There are many approaches to cleansing. This can entail a very simple whole-foods diet, where processed foods are eliminated, or, it can take the form of a “mono-diet.” Some people opt for a juice cleanse for a period of days. As part of an Ayurvedic protocol, a kitchari cleanse is often recommended. Kitchari is a simple meal of dal and rice, and often seasonal vegetables. It is easily digested and still provides the body whole nourishment. The idea behind any cleanse is to limit the amount of input to the liver, thus reducing the amount of toxins.
Foods to Favor and Avoid for Liver Health
Aside from periodic cleansing, a supportive diet is the next best thing you can do for your liver. A pitta-supportive diet is generally proactive for liver health—emphasizing cooling foods over warm or hot, raw fruits and green veggies, whole grains and seeds. Like bitter herbs, bitter greens are especially beneficial for a healthy liver, as is staying hydrated. Starting the morning with a warm glass of lemon water is a simple way to stimulate the liver and other vital organs. Minimize heating foods like eggs and hard cheeses. And try to avoid stimulants like caffeine and nicotine. Alcohol is also heating and generally not a good idea for liver health as it slows down liver metabolism, especially in excess. Remember, the more toxic substances taken into the body, including medications and airborne chemicals, the harder the liver has work.