Is life worth living? It depends on the liver!
The liver is the largest glandular organ in the body, and has more functions than any other human organ. A person's entire blood supply passes through the liver several times a day, and at any given time there is about a pint of blood there. The Liver has a pivotal role in human metabolism.
- The liver produces and secretes bile (to be stored in the gallbladder until needed) that is used to break down and digest fatty acids.
- It also produces prothrombin and fibrinogen, both blood-clotting factors, and heparin, a mucopolysaccharide sulfuric acid ester that helps keep blood from clotting within the circulatory system.
- The liver converts sugar into glycogen, which it stores until the muscles need energy and it is secreted into the blood stream as glucose.
- The liver synthesises proteins and cholesterol and converts carbohydrates and proteins into fats, which are stored for later use.
- It also produces blood protein and hundreds of enzymes needed for digestion and other bodily functions.
- The liver also produces urea, while breaking down proteins, which it synthesises from carbon dioxide and ammonia. It is eventually excreted by the kidneys.
- The liver also stores critical trace elements such as iron and copper, as well as vitamins A, D, and B12.
- The liver is also responsible for detoxifying the body of poisonous substances by transforming and removing toxins and wastes. There are five main sources of body toxins and wastes that the liver deals with: toxins from food (traces of pesticides, preservatives)and alcohol; toxins from outside (drugs, adulterants, and environmental pollutants); internally produced chemicals, such as hormones, that are no longer needed; nitrogen-containing waste left over from protein re-use; and energy production. These toxins and wastes are converted into less harmful substances by the liver and then eliminated from the body.
Because of the significant role the liver plays in maintaining our health, we must do all we can to keep it functioning properly.
Symptoms of a "sluggish liver"
These are fatigue, general malaise, digestive problems, blood sugar regulation disorders (such as hypoglycaemia), high cholesterol, psoriasis, allergies and chemical sensitivities and constipation. Extreme cases of liver problems would be jaundice, hepatitis and cirrhosis.
In this article, we'll review the most common liver disease - hepatitis and cirrhosis. Then will see what Ayurveda can offer for the protection of this vital organ and survey Ayurvedic treatment of liver disease.
Among the many diseases that can affect the liver the most common is 'viral hepatitis' (Inflammation of liver caused by viral infection). Hepatitis can be caused by drugs, viruses, bacteria, mushrooms, parasites like amoebas or giardiasis. The most common hepatitis viruses affecting the liver are named for letters of the alphabet: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, hepatitis D, and hepatitis E.
Hepatitis A - takes 14 to 21 days after infection to cause symptoms. It is transmitted through food. Once infected with HAV, some symptoms such as dark yellow urine and fatigue will begin to appear within 25 days.
Hepatitis B - is on the increase world-wide. It is transmitted through direct contact with blood, serum, saliva, faeces, urine, and sexual contact.
Hepatitis C - is a truly serious disease with no known effective treatment. It is transmitted through blood and body fluids in transfusions, injections, the sharing of IV needles with drug users, and possibly by sexual contact with exposed partners.
Hepatitis D- only occurs in the presence of Hepatitis B virus.
Hepatitis E - is another common type of hepatitis in developing countries. It occurs in epidemics. The infection route for it is faecal-oral, the same as the route for Hepatitis A virus; therefore, again, you must be very careful in what you eat and drink.
Treatment of Hepatitis
Usually Hepatitis A is self-limiting. Most of the Hepatitis A virus patients will return to normal in between four to six weeks time. The antibodies that the body's immune system develops kill the infection and also produce immunity to Hepatitis A virus
But with Hepatitis B virus and Hepatitis C virus, many people will go into a chronic phase that leads to chronic phase. With chronic HBV and HCV, 30% of patients develop cirrhosis of the liver or hepatocellular carcinoma.
In modern medicine, the only protection against hepatitis are the HAV and the HBV vaccines. There is nothing available for HCV protection so far. Therefore, limiting our exposure to hepatitis is the best prevention. We have to take the responsibility for prevention of hepatitis ourselves. This means using safe sexual practices, taking precautions when exposed to blood and blood products; avoiding the sharing of IV needles; taking care to eat in restaurants that enforce hand-washing policies among their employees; and avoiding scavenger seafood. These measures can cut your chances of being infected with hepatitis to a minimum.
Cirrhosis of the liver is a chronic, diffuse degenerative liver disease in which the parenchyma (the functional organ tissue) degenerates, the lobules are infiltrated with fat and structurally altered, dense perilobular connective tissue forms, and areas of regeneration often develop. Cirrhosis is the seventh leading cause of death by disease in the United States. In most cases, though, there is a loss of liver cell function, and an increased resistance to blood flow through the damaged liver tissue (a condition known as portal hypertension) leading to oesophageal varices. Severe cirrhosis leads to ammonia toxicity, hepatic coma, gastrointestinal haemorrhage, and kidney failure. As liver cells are destroyed, they are systematically replaced by scar tissue. The most common cause of cirrhosis is believed to be alcohol abuse Though it affects many organs, alcohol is especially harmful to the liver, and is a factor in about three-fourths of the cases of liver cirrhosis . Alcohol must be metabolized, and the liver performs most of that job, suffering serious damage in the process. Not only does alcohol destroy liver cells, it also robs them of their ability to regenerate. Such cofactors as hepatitis C virus can increase the risk of cirrhosis
Treatment of liver cirrhosis
More than half of all liver disease could be prevented if we acted on the knowledge we already have. Avoiding or limiting the use of alcoholic beverages. Man-made chemicals also pose an extreme threat to the liver Once cirrhosis has been diagnosed, sodium and fluids should be restricted, and all alcohol consumption must cease. Antiemetics, diuretics, and supplemental vitamins are prescribed. Patients should avoid exposure to infections and eat small but frequent meals of nutritious foods. The liver is the only organ that can generate healthy, new tissue. It is therefore possible to regenerate a cirrhosis-damaged liver if extraordinary therapies are followed and the underlying cause of the cirrhosis is eliminated. Interferon-alpha, a powerful antiviral, may reduce the risk of cancer in some cirrhosis patients. In cases of total liver failure, transplantation has been successful.
Ayurvedic Medicine in Treating Liver Disease
Hepatitis A virus can be taken care of very easily with herbs. Many of the Ayurvedic herbs have shown remarkable results in clinical trials and studies. One of these is Eclipta Alba (Bhringaraj), others are Boerhavia diffusa (Punarnava) , and Picrorhiza kurroa (Katuki).
It is recommend that people take these herbs on a prophylactic basis when travelling to parts of the world where hepatitis infection is a risk.
HBV and HCV are more serious infections. We must be careful how we use Ayurvedic herbs for prevention of HBV and HCV. The herbs mentioned earlier have shown a protective action in HBV, and using them on a regular basis may be a good way to prevent HBV. Ayurvedic medicines play a significant role in protecting the liver from cirrhosis and from liver cancer. Animal and clinical studies done with Phyllanthus Amarus, Phyllanthus Niruri, and Eclipta Alba have proven their ability to reverse HBV infections in approximately 60% to 70% of patients. More significantly, with these herbs we are able to stop the process, which leads to cirrhosis and cancer of the liver.
This means that even if we are not able to make some patients negative for HBV and HCV, we can still protect them from cirrhosis of the liver, in which the liver stops functioning, and liver cancer.
Take very good care of your health. To protect your liver, avoid alcohol and caffeine. Drink green tea, exercise, reduce stress, and use the herbs mentioned above. Give this hard-working and essential part of your body a rest and a tune-up, and you will be rewarded with better health, more energy and higher disease resistance.
Research work on Hepatoprotective Plants -
Andrographis paniculata (kalmegh)
Andrographolide, the active constituent isolated from the plant Andrographis paniculata, showed a significant dose dependent (0.75 - 12 mg/kg p.o. x7) protective activity against paracetamol-induced toxicity on ex vivo preparation of isolated rat hepatocytes. It significantly increased the percent viability of the hepatocytes as tested by trypan blue exclusion and oxygen uptake tests. It completely antagonized the toxic effects of paracetamol on certain enzymes (GOT, GPT and alkaline phosphatase) in serum as well as in isolated hepatic cells. Andrographolide was found to be more potent than silymarin, a standard hepatoprotective agent. For centuries Andrographis has been an important herb in the Asian healing systems of Ayurveda, Unani and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Traditionally this herb has been used to potentiate immune system response to inflammation and infections, and as an anti-inflammatory, antipyretic (lowers fevers) and a hepatoprotective (liver protector).
Phyllanthus Amaris (Bhuiamala)Phyllanthus Amaris has been researched for its effects on hepatitis, and in 1988 Thyagaran et al. (ibid) reported that 22 of 37 cases of Hepatitis B lost their "carrier" status after using the herb for a month. In the placebo control group only 1 person out of 23 had equivalent results!
Boerhavia diffusa (Punarnava)
An alcoholic extract of whole plant Boerhavia diffusa given orally exhibited hepatoprotective activity against experimentally induced carbon tetrachloride hepatotoxicity in rats and mice. The extract also produced an increase in normal bile flow in rats suggesting a strong choleretic activity. The extract does not show any signs of toxicity up to an oral dose of 2g/kg in mice.
Eclipta alba (Bhringaraj)
The hepatoprotective effect of the ethanol/water (1:1) extract of Eclipta alba was studied at subcellular levels in rats against (CCl4) -induced hepatotoxicity. The loss of hepatic lysomal acid phosphatase and alkaline phosphatase by (CCl4) was significantly restored by Ea. The study shows that hepatoprotective activity of Ea is by regulating the levels of hepatic microsomal drug metabolising enzymes.
Swertia Chirata(Chirayata) Simultaneous treatments with S. Chirata (in different doses, viz, 20, 50, and 100 mg/kg body wt daily) and (CCl4) caused improvement at both biochemical and histopathological parameters compared to that of (CCl4) treatment alone but it was most effective when S. chirata was administered in a moderate dose (50 mg/kg body wt).
Terminalia belerica(Baheda) Compound I isolated from fraction TB5 of Terminalia belerica and finally identified as 3,4,5-trihydroxy benzoic acid (gallic acid) was evaluated for its hepatoprotective activity against carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) - induced physiological and biochemical alterations in the liver. Administration of compound I led to significant reversal of majority of the altered parameters. Our results confirm the presence of hepatoprotective activity in altered parameters. Our results confirm the presence of hepatoprotective activity in Compound I.
Tinospora cordifolia(Guduchi) Outstanding results in people suffering from jaundice have been obtained using a herb called Tinospora Cordifolia: In 1993, Rege et al. (ibid) used the herb in malignant obstructive jaundice: half of the group received conventional treatment - drugs and drainage - the other half were treated with drainage plus T. Cordifolia. After conclusion of treatment, 50% of the drug-treated group were found to have blood poisoning while none of the herb treated group developed this problem. After surgery, only 40% of the drug-treated group survived, whereas an amazing 92.4% 0f those treated with the herb lived.
The hepatoprotective effect of T. Cordifolia has been studied in carbon tetrachloride induced liver damage in rats. While acute damage was enhanced by prior exposure to the drug, it proved effective in the prevention of fibrosis, and in stimulating regeneration of hepatic tissue.
Picrorhiza kuroa (Katuki) Picrorrhiza Kurroa is one of the herbs they recommend to support the liver not only in everyday situations, but in cases where severe viral infections attack: a 1996 study by Vaidya found protection against viral hepatitis, and other studies have demonstrated its helpfulness in protecting against alcohol.
The hepatoprotective activity of picroliv, the irridoid glycoside mixture from Picrorhiza kuroa, was determined in adult male albino rats. Pretreatment with picroliv prevented the hepatotoxic effects of paracetamol and galactosamine as evidenced by varios biochemical and histopathological observations. Maximum hepatoprotective effect was observed with daily oral doses of 6 and 12 mg/kg for 7 or 8 days. The antihepatotoxic action of picroliv seems likely due to an alteration in the biotransformation of the toxic substances resulting in decreased formation of reactive metabolites.
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