Liver Health

Natural liver support

An HSI member named Richard writes: “Do you have information on natural remedies for liver cancer or cirrhosis?”

More than 170 million people worldwide are currently infected with hepatitis C, a blood-borne disease that causes liver cirrhosis. Other causes include excessive alcohol intake, environmental toxins, inflammation, heart failure, and side effects of prescription drugs.

In cirrhosis, scar tissue impedes blood flow through the liver, disabling key liver functions. Chronic cirrhosis may prompt significant immune system and kidney dysfunction, and even mild to severe cognitive decline.

A study reported earlier this year reveals that an herbal formula may be very helpful in treating cirrhosis.

Tried and true

More than 50 years ago, an herbal formula called Liv-52, which is derived from traditional Indian ayurvedic treatments, was first marketed as a liver support product. Over the decades, many studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of Liv-52. But recent research from the Institute of Medicinal Plants (IMP) may be “the best-designed clinical trial of Liv-52 yet published” according to Healthnotes Newswire.

Researchers randomly assigned Liv-52 or placebo to 36 patients with cirrhosis of the liver. During the six-month trial period the IMP team monitored liver function with several methods, including the measurement of various enzymes that mark liver damage, and analysis of ascites (excess fluid in the space between the two membranes that line the abdominal cavity).

Results showed no significant changes in the placebo group. In the Liv-52 group, however, cirrhosis markers were significantly lowered.

Writing in the journal Phytomedicine, the researchers stated: “This protective effect of Liv-52 can be attributed to the diuretic, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, and immunomodulating properties of the component herbs.” Some of the herbs in Liv-52 are believed to boost levels of glutathione, an antioxidant that provides excellent liver support. Supplements of the amino acid N-acetylcysteine (NAC) are also very effective in enhancing the production of glutathione.

Liv-52 can be found at health stores and through a number of sites on the Internet, but those who have hepatitis C, cirrhosis or other serious liver problems should talk with their doctors before using Liv-52.

A number of Ks

Any patient with cirrhosis might also consider increasing their intake of vitamin K.

In the e-Alert “Special K” (3/1/05), I told you about a Japanese study in which 40 women with cirrhosis were given 45 mg of vitamin K2 or a placebo each day for two years. Of the women in the K2 group, only two developed liver cancer, while nine of the women in the placebo group developed cancer. Because of the length of the study, the researchers were confident that K2 supplements helped reduce the risk of liver cancer.

Also in that e-Alert, HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D., explained the difference between the different types of vitamin K: “The plant-based source of vitamin K (K1, or phylloquinone) seems to have no toxic effects in most any reasonable dose. But the synthetic form (K3, or menadione) has caused some liver toxicity and, rarely, a form of anemia when taken in high doses. There’s also K2 (or menaquinones), but K1 and K2 are fine. As usual, it seems best to avoid synthetic forms, if possible. If the individual is on coumadin (blood thinner), he needs to talk with his doctor, as vitamin K can interfere with its effect.”

Good dietary sources of vitamin K1 include dark, leafy green vegetables (such as spinach, kale and carrot tops), cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, endive, lettuce olive oil and avocados. Vitamin K1 is converted into K2 in the intestine, but we also get some amount of K2 in meat, liver and egg yolk, and fermented products such as yogurt and cheese.

More support

Richard also asked about natural remedies for liver cancer. For a condition as serious as liver cancer, Richard should consult a naturopathic doctor who is experienced in treating cancer and can review Richard’s case in detail.

That said, there are a number of vitamins and other supplements that support liver health, which you can read about in the e-Alert “Always At Your Side” (10/6/03), available at this link:

“The Efficacy of Liv-52 on Liver Cirrhotic Patients: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled First Approach” Phytomedicine, Vol. 12, No. 9, September 2005,
“Herbal Combo Protects the Liver” Jeremy Appleton, N.D., C.N.S., Healthnotes Newswire, 12/22/05,
“Role of Vitamin K2 in the Development of Hepatocellular Carcinoma in Women with Viral Cirrhosis of the Liver” Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 292, No. 3, 7/21/04,