Did you know that your liver holds around 13% of the body’s blood supply at any given moment? Or that it consists of two lobes, each of which are made up of segments that themselves consist of 1,000 smaller lobes known as lobules? This amazing organ is as fascinating as it is important.
The role of the liver in maintaining good health simply can’t be overstated. Shaped like a cone and weighing approximately 48 ounces, the liver has been found to perform over 500 vital functions in the body. Some of these include:
- Producing bile, which helps remove waste
- Producing cholesterol and special proteins that help carry fats through the body
- Regulating of blood levels of amino acids, the building blocks of protein
- Clearing drugs and other poisonous substances from the blood
- Regulating blood clotting
- Fighting infections by removing bacteria from the blood and making immune factors
- Clearing bilirubin, overaccumulation of which causes jaundice
When you stop to consider the central role the liver plays in so many body functions, it becomes clear that protecting the liver is critical for overall health. That’s where hepatoprotection comes into play.
What is hepatoprotection?
The term ‘hepatoprotection’ refers to an ability to protect the liver. Certain foods, herbs and other compounds have been shown to possess hepatoprotective properties, meaning they can help protect the liver from damage and disease. You may not realise it, but many of the things you eat because they taste good may actually be contributing to the health of your liver. Let’s take a look at one of these hepatoprotective powerhouses: the artichoke.
How do artichokes protect the liver?
Although they possess a number of health benefits, artichokes’ real superpower is hepatoprotection. Research indicates extracts made from artichoke roots and/or leaves can protect your liver from damage, and may even promote the growth of new liver tissue.
One of the liver’s most important functions is removing toxins, and artichokes appear to improve this function. In a study where one group of rats was given artichoke leaf extract before receiving an overdose of paracetamol, pre-treatment with artichoke resulted in less liver damage as well as higher antioxidant levels.
Studies on humans have also shown that supplementation with artichoke extract may benefit the liver. A randomised double-blind placebo-controlled parallel-group trial involving 90 people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease found that taking 600 milligrams of artichoke leaf extract daily for two months led to improved liver function.
Another study looking at obese individuals with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease found that patients who received artichoke extract during the study period experienced an improvement in liver health, including a reduction in inflammation of the liver.
So what gives artichokes their hepatoprotective power? Researchers aren’t sure, although they believe antioxidants like silymarin may be at least in part responsible for the ability of artichokes to protect the liver.
Why is hepatoprotection important for people with Lyme disease?
The liver performs a lot of jobs in a healthy person, but its workload increases dramatically in a patient with Lyme disease. Because a person with Lyme disease is likely dealing with co-infections, the liver needs to work extra hard to remove toxins and generally keep up with negative effects of chronic illness on the body.
Artichokes and other hepatoprotective foods can provide this hard-working organ with the support it needs to function properly, which in turn can help a person with Lyme disease in their struggle for health. Lyme disease has also been associated with liver inflammation and could even lead to hepatitis, so artichokes’ demonstrated anti-inflammatory characteristics could help bring down this inflammation. When a person is already dealing with Lyme disease along with Lyme co-infections, the last thing they need is a diagnosis of liver disease.
What are some other health benefits of artichokes?
A member of the thistle family, artichokes have long been revered for their medicinal properties. Aside from hepatoprotection, some of the health benefits of artichokes are:
- Modulation of cholesterol levels
- Regulation of blood pressure
- Promotion of healthy digestion
- Moderation of blood sugar
Artichokes are also rich in nutrients, meaning they can help fill in gaps for people who aren’t necessarily getting the nutrition they need from diet alone. One of these nutrients, inulin, is a type of prebiotic fibre that can help support a healthy microbiome by feeding the beneficial bacteria in your gut.
The next time you’re strolling the produce section of your local grocery store, stop and consider the artichokes. Although they may not look like medicine, these tasty thistles actually pack a powerful hepatoprotective punch. For patients with Lyme disease who are dealing with compromised liver function, artichokes and artichoke extract supplements may provide the liver with the additional support it needs to continue performing its many crucial functions in the body.