~ Help for the Damaged Liver

The New Straits Times, 01-16-06

THE liver is the only organ that's capable of regenerating itself. However, modern living imposes heavy stress on the liver with constant exposure to toxic substances as one of the liver's many functions include detoxification (breaking down toxic substances for elimination).

Most liver functions, including detoxification, occur on cell membranes of liver parenchymal cells (hepatocytes). In order to carry out its functions, the parenchymal cells are densely packed with membranes.

All toxic substances such as drugs, chemical food additives, pollutants and alcohol, can damage the liver and, do so by way of attacking the membrane systems of the parenchymal cells.

Healthy parenchymal cells are equipped with protective antioxidants such as glutathione to neutralise free radicals.

The problem starts when the liver cannot cope with the toxins and become overburdened. Its stores of antioxidants are progressively depleted, which can lead to serious disorders - from fatty liver and viral hepatitis to drug induced liver damage and alcohol induced liver damage.

Many of the toxic substances are fat-soluble which means they dissolve only in the fatty region of the cell (membranes) and not in the watery region. The detoxification system in our liver can be divided into two phases to convert fat-soluble toxins into water-soluble chemicals so that they can be easily excreted via bile and urine.

Phase I involves enzymes on the membranes of liver cells which convert toxic chemicals into harmless chemicals. During this detoxification process, free radicals are produced as byproducts which, in excess, can damage liver cells.

Antioxidants such as vitamins C, E, and Alpha Lipoic Acid reduce the damage caused by these free radicals. If these are lacking, or are depleted by free radicals, these toxic chemicals will become far more dangerous and some may even convert to potentially carcinogenic substances.

Phase II involves a process called conjugation whereby the liver adds on another substance (Glutathione) to a toxic chemical or drug to render it less harmful and at the same time, make it water-soluble so it can be excreted. Glutathione also mops up free radicals.

NUTRITIONAL SUPPORT FOR LIVER

  • Polyunsaturated Phospholipids also known as Essential Phospholipids (EPL) - are important support nutrients for the liver. The main component of EPL is phosphatidylcholine which is the major constituent of cell membrane systems. Phospholipids are highly vulnerable to oxidative attack from free radicals and other highly reactive toxins.

    Under excessive attack, the membrane phospholipids become degraded. Holes begin to develop in the membrane, resulting in loss of control over the cell's internal structure which eventually leads to cell death.

    Viral infection in the liver is similar to toxic chemical attack. It causes the cells to release proinflammatory substances which degrade the phospholipids leading to damage of parenchymal (liver) cell membranes. Damage to the parenchymal cell membrane must be repaired in order to preserve normal cell function and in order to do so, cells need an abundant supply of EPL. Studies show that taking 1-2 grams per day of EPL prevents membrane damage and helps to maintain cell membrane integrity, reduces accumulation of fat in the liver tissue, reduces cell death and fibrosis (fibrous scar tissue) and improve liver functions.

  • Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) - This is sometimes known as the universal antioxidant. Antioxidants as supplements are useful to keep free radicals in check. ALA is both a fat-soluble and a water-soluble antioxidant. This is unique as all other antioxidants can only function in one type of environment such as vitamin E in fatty tissues and vitamin C in watery regions. Hence, ALA can protect the total cell as it destroys fat-soluble free radicals formed on cell membranes as well as water-soluble free radicals.

  • Glutathione - is naturally produced in the body and is found in very high concentrations in the liver for good reasons. First, it is the cell's primary antioxidant against free radicals produced by toxic chemicals and viruses. Secondly, it is an essential part of the liver's Phase II detoxification system. Studies show that there is a strong correlation between liver diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver and low levels of glutathione.

    Researchers have also found that ALA has the ability to boosts glutathione levels in the body. Although glutathione is sold as a supplement, only very small amounts can be absorbed into the bloodstream because of its molecule size that is far too big to be absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract.

    Hence, the best way to boost glutathione levels is to take ALA supplements daily.

    Polyunsaturated Phospholipids combined with Alpha Lipoic Acid help protect the liver against damage from alcohol and infection due to viruses. With this combination, the damaged liver starts to repair itself - tissues slowly resume their function and dead cells are replaced.

    - Article courtesy of Pahang Pharmacy
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