It behooves each of us
to take the time to understand the liver in a little more depth. The
liver is perhaps the hardest working organ of the body. It
has hundreds of tasks to perform, including detoxification
of the blood and removal of excess
hormones. It is also a reservoir for sugar and fat
and is usually congested with surfeit, so much so that average
people, so-called healthy people, often use more than 60% of
their livers just for storage.
There are many systems of healing
in the world. The liver holds a prominent place in all
of them. For instance, in China, the liver is regarded
as the seat of planning. When it is not functioning optimally,
it is difficult to see the future so people become less decisive. In
Ayurveda, the liver is associated with fire, both in its positive
role of providing light and illumination and its negative expression
as pitta derangement: fevers, recklessness, anger,
and even violence.
I have often noted that when
people are apathetic, passive, or preoccupied with incidents
in the past, they need liver formulas. The moment someone
bounces into the office saying, "You know what I decided,"
you know it is safe to cut way back or even discontinue these
It is important to differentiate
congestion from toxicity. Congestion is characterized
more by sluggishness and "the blahs" whereas toxicity
is more snarly and sometimes hostile. When there is congestion,
it is possible to use warmer and more stimulating herbs, but
if you give these same herbs to someone who is grumpy growly,
it is something like pouring kerosene on a fire and you turn
a bit of hissing into an inferno.
What do these statements mean
in practical terms? Some people see floaters. White
or light gray floaters may indicate congestion whereas darker
colored ones may point to more toxicity. Any treatment
of the liver helps with the fire element—light—and
sense of sight.
When the metabolism is a bit
more anabolic than catabolic, there are metabolic residuals
that end up as reserves for future use or as blockages. To
tip the metabolism more in the direction of catabolism, one
needs to augment the gastric fire and this can be achieved
by increasing the flow of gastric juices through stimulation
by savory and pungent herbs and spices or by eating food that
is easier to digest like tempeh instead of animal protein,
yogurt or quark instead of hard cheese, fruit instead of heavy
carbohydrates, vegetable juices instead of microwaved meals,
and bitter beer, like Guinness, instead of light beers. As
one follows such principles, metabolism can be balanced through
better and better dietary choices.
When someone is already exhausted,
stimulation may not work. In this case, supplementation
with digestive enzymes may be necessary, but the spices still
help with digestion, assimilation, and peristalsis. They
are also purifying to some extent, the more so when the spices
are fresh and still contain a lot of wonderful aroma. The
aroma arises from the presence of volatile essential oils and
these neutralize toxic gases and increase absorption of food. The
stimulating effect of these oils also speeds transit time through
the gastrointestinal tract so that nutrients are assimilated
while they are still suitable for rebuilding the body and eliminated
before becoming putrefactive.
In short, spices are important,
but they have to be used much more carefully when people are
already exhibiting signs of irritability. In such instances,
one uses cooler herbs like coriander (seeds and leaf), turmeric,
and even anti-inflammatory spices like ginger, but in moderation.
Every herbal tradition places
a lot of emphasis on foods and herbs that are bitter. Chinese
medicine recognizes five tastes, and Ayurveda
has six: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and
astringent (the missing one in the Chinese system, but really
it is included with the sour taste.) Food and herbs are
bitter because of the presence of alkaloids, and these are
the opposite pH of acids. As you know, pH
is measured on a scale of zero to 14, with 7.0 being neutral. The
most alkaline substances are 14. Many herbs are bitter,
everything from very common herbs such as dandelions and gentian
to Madagascar periwinkle which contains the mother lode of
Other substances can also be
alkaline, sea water or even Willard Water. It has a pH
of 14, but it is diluted before use so it is only a little
bit alkaline. The bases are used to antidote acids so
they play a very important role in our lives, but many foods
that have alkaloids have been supplanted by fast foods that
are laced with sugar and salt. These extend shelf life,
but they play havoc on the body. We need the bitter foods
to aid fat metabolism so a burger with fries is a nightmare
for the body because the combination of foods does not promote
Leafy green vegetables are wonderfully
alkalizing, but for some people, the only bitter they know
is Angostura Aromatic Bitters, which famous as it has been
for almost two centuries is a real herbal bitter. It
was developed on the banks of the Orinoco River in 1824 and
is now produced in Trinidad. However, people might try
arugula, watercress, and endives as well a other bitter formulas.
I am used to talking to patients
and am not quite so erudite on plant chemistry. It is
useful to talk about two basic kinds of digestive bitters. There
are warming digestive bitters and ones that are more cooling. The
most warming one is probably Draksha,
a wonderful Ayurvedic tonic that is made with fermented grapes
but is only about 3% alcohol. It has lovely spices that
feel really wonderful to people with gastric distress. However,
it is not quite so cleansing as a really bitter formula.
This said, next on the spectrum
is probably the Floradix formula, also a bit warming, but because
of the artichokes—a member of the thistle family—and
other ingredients, it is not quite as luscious as Draksha. These
are digestive bitters and there are post-digestive bitters
also. Actually, the Floradix formula can be used both
before and after meals. I like to think of these two
formulas as helping digestion and preventing liver congestion
from becoming worse.
A really bitter formula can also
be detoxifying . . . because organic toxins are acidic as are
the by-products of the metabolic processes of yeast, mold,
bacteria, and viruses. Ideally, we want to arrest those
organisms and clean out the acid wastes.
Just as there is a difference
between liver congestion and real toxicity, there is a difference
between protecting the liver and treating it once damaged.
Studies show that thistle protects the liver from damage caused
by carcinogens as well as cytotoxic drugs. Of all the
thistles, milk thistle is probably the most famous of the liver
herbs. The formulas are made from the seeds, and the plant
gets its name from the appearance of white splashes on the
leaves. Many herb companies produce milk thistle formulas,
but you need to be sure you are getting a superb quality and
taking enough to make a difference. This herb can be
taken both for protection and regeneration.
There are tests to determine
what percentage of the liver is actually free to do the demanding
work required of the liver. As indicated, most people
are conking along with 40% use but some people are down to
5% and this is disastrous on several levels.
Traditionally, the liver was
believed to be ruled by Jupiter: big organ and a big
planet, but the word jovial comes from Jupiter. Without
a healthy liver, not only can one not see the future or plan
ahead, but one cannot be happy. This is why the little Tibetan
goji berries are so remarkable: they not only clean the
liver and blood but they make you happy all day. At least,
this is the legend, but I suspect that if the liver is very
toxic, this joy does not come after the first snack.
Every herbalist has a detoxifying
formula or perhaps several of them. We carry Ayurvedic
ones, Western ones, Chinese ones, and even rain forest formulas. All
these formulas have to decongest and detoxify the liver, but
they do this at varying rates of efficiency. For instance,
the Chinese bupleurum really dredges the liver, but if the
detoxifying mechanisms are sluggish, there could be reabsorption
of toxins that are not eliminated properly. This can
produce irritability and sometimes red blotches on the skin. The
spots could also be itchy and occasionally, they erupt and
discharge morbid substances through the skin. Basically,
these developments suggest that the normal eliminatory channels
are overworked or malfunctioning.
Because liver cells live 18-24
months, a good liver program might take two years, but the
major gains are in the first weeks and months so relatively
rapid improvement is possible. Try this math. Assume
your liver is only working at 5% but you regenerate 5% of the
cells in the first month. That's a doubling of good hours in
the day, and most people see the difference quickly. However,
as there is more and more progress, gains are less remarkable
but nevertheless important.
Therefore, even when feeling better, it is advisable
for most people to continue because a perfect liver is almost
equivalent to bliss.
Cleansing can be reasonably
thorough in 2-6 months. It is not 100% possible to say
how long detoxification will take. However, a few comments
might make it easier to guesstimate. If someone is continually
exposed to toxins as a result of environmental conditions or
work, detoxification may take more time. I have seen
painters, both artists and house painters, who took more time
than those with less exposure to volatile organic compounds,
but printers often take longer still. People who eat
food with preservatives and dyes are usually in worse shape
than those who eat organic food. They may ingest a pound
of chemicals a year. Those who have been on prescription
medications with serious side effects also take longer to detoxify,
but the effort is warranted.
You will know when your liver
cleansing program is complete because your skin will be more
lustrous, your vision will be better, you will be free of red
blotches and itchy spots on your skin, and perhaps even more
importantly, you will be able to make plans for your future.
Regeneration takes longer than
detoxification but it is also easier because the herbs are
more demulcent and nourishing. This is important because
bitters are drying. You need the slimier foods and herbs
to restore moisture. Remember, the liver is the seat
of fire so it overheats. For instance, people who repress
anger may be more pleasant to be around, but the fire stays
inside instead of lunging at others.
When the point comes to shift
protocols, you should be quite clear already. Floaters
should be gone and a few people will actually be less near-sighted.
There will be more energy, clarity, and sense of the future.
I have seen enormous improvements in clarity in as little
as one day on something like our Sundance Elixir. It's
actually a good detoxifier because in addition to supporting
the liver and blood, it promotes peristalsis. It
is similar to the Hoxsey Tonic and can be taken indefinitely
but at significantly lower doses after the first few months.
Very few people understand the
connection between happiness and the liver. Fire is exuberant
so when it is "deranged", it damages our appreciation
of life. It is natural for fire to be enthusiastic, spontaneous,
excited, and joyful, but when we become toxic, we do not feel "ourselves"
and then criticism, impatience, anger, and even hostility can
supplant our normal joie de vivre. So, it's really important
to the quality of life that we keep our livers healthy.
Worse, when the liver is not
in good shape, the rest of the body tends to follow suit because
the blood is passed through the liver and does not get recharged
properly if the liver is torpid. This results in immense
fatigue and sometimes toxemia, chronic diseases, and that really
archetypal liver syndrome: apathy. Keep in mind
this is the antithesis of a normal liver which should be buoyant,
confident, courageous, and even prophetic.
by Ingrid Naiman 2006
There is a recipe on this site for a delicious lycium
berry smoothie. Granted, not everyone will want to drink
this every day, but it would be good to drink it often and
take tablets or tonics on the days when no smoothie is consumed.
there is hardly any food better for the liver than artichokes!
Eat lots of them. Enjoy
them like a fondue. Share one or two artichokes with your partner
or best friend and let the meal linger to the tunes of your
favorite music! A fabulous dipping sauce for artichokes can
be made with flax oil or ghee, turmeric powder, freshly grated
ginger, garlic, a bit of black salt (or none at all), and some
nutritional yeast. Artichokes are fun to eat and because
you cannot wolf them down, you spend time enjoying your feast.
on the Bitter