Turmeric May Help Keep Your Liver Healthy
Supplementing your diet with turmeric could help protect the health of your liver, according to some lab and animal studies. Herbal medicines such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) also recommend turmeric for liver health. These traditional medicines often incorporate the deep yellow spice into herbal formulas that include milk thistle and phyllanthus. (vii.192, 279)
What Are the Causes or Risk Factors for Liver Disease?
Liver disease develops from a number of different conditions that damage the liver. These include:
- Alcoholism. (vii.13)
- Autoimmune diseases. (vii.280)
- Bacterial infection (such as tuberculosis). (vii.280)
- Exposure to toxic substances (e.g., certain medications or industrial chemicals such as formaldehyde). (vii.280)
- Fatty liver disease. (vii.198)
- Hereditary disorders (such as Wilson's disease). (vii.280)
- Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). (vii.198)
- Parasite infection (e.g., schistosomiasis). (vii.280)
- Viral infection (such as hepatitis C). (vii.13)
What is Liver Fibrosis?
Fibrosis is similar to a scar forming on an external wound in that it's an impaired healing response. The liver attempts to repair the damage caused to its cells. However, the chronic inflammation and free radical stress from liver disease turns a healing response into a harmful process. (vii.13, 198)
Some of the main contributors to fibrotic scarring in the liver are activated hepatic stellate cells (HSCs). Normally HPCs store vitamin A in the liver. Activated HSCs stop being storage units and produce excessive amounts of structural or connective tissue proteins — mostly type I collagen. (vii.13, 198)
Excess collagen is the same material that produces scars from cuts. With fibrosis, these proteins accumulate and create scars in the liver. Fibrosis interrupts circulation in the liver, impairs liver function, and destroys liver cells. (vii.13, 198)
Causes of Liver Failure
Liver failure is when the liver stops functioning. Fibrosis from any of the above chronic conditions can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and liver failure. It can even progress to liver cancer in some cases. Cirrhosis is actually one of the leading causes of death worldwide. (vii.280, 282)
Acute liver failure can occur within 8 weeks or less. It is typically caused by acute liver injury from exposure to toxic substances. However, it can also occur with overdoses of substances that are usually safe when taken at recommended dosages (such as acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol®). (vii.282-283)
How Can Turmeric Help?
Turmeric's rhizome contains potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. Studies suggest that some of the ways turmeric compounds protect liver cells and can help prevent liver fibrosis are as follows: (vii.13)
- Stimulating transcription factor proteins that prompt genes to generate natural antioxidants (such as glutathione). (vii.13)
- Preventing activation and growth of cells in the liver that produce excess structural components. Hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) and fibroblasts are the cells mainly involved in fibrosis. (vii.13)
- Suppressing inflammatory transcription factors (such as NF-κB) and cytokine proteins (such as TNF-α) that can activate HSCs directly and/or indirectly. For example, TNF-α directly blocks signals from insulin, the hormone needed to metabolize blood sugar. Impaired sugar metabolism can activate HSCs. (vii.13, 31, 279)
- Promoting other transcription factor proteins, such as PPAR-γ, that block the activation and proliferation of HSCs. PPAR-γ also suppresses the expression of inflammatory proteins, such as the growth factor TGF-β, that promote collagen production. (vii.13, 198)
- Decreasing harmful triglyceride and cholesterol deposits in the liver. (vii.279)
- Reducing type I collagen, the main substance in fibrotic scar tissue in the liver produced by HSCs and fibroblasts. (vii.284)
Treating Already Existing Liver Fibrosis
Turmeric's curcumin compounds may also help reverse fibrosis. In one animal study, 2 months of curcumin significantly reversed fibrosis caused by a toxin. Research suggests curcumin could help the liver recover from fibrosis by stimulating enzymes that break down the fibrous bands. (vii.282)
Restoring Liver Function and Preventing Disease
Results of a clinical study in healthy adults with abnormal levels of liver enzymes showed turmeric was able to reduce them. Elevated levels of these enzymes are potentially signs of liver dysfunction: (vii.285)
|Turmeric Form and Dosage||Study Results||Take Away Point|
60 adults with mild to moderately elevated liver enzymes (but otherwise healthy) were randomly divided and assigned to take either fermented turmeric supplements or placebo. Of the 48 who finished the study, 26 were in the turmeric group. Results showed fermented turmeric significantly lowered high ALT and AST liver enzyme levels compared to placebo. (vii.285)
There were no reductions in enzyme and bilirubin levels that were normal at the start of the study, indicating that turmeric only affects abnormal conditions to help bring them back in balance. (vii.285)
Fermented turmeric with low curcumin content may help normalize liver function and prevent liver disease.
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