Before I talk about liver support products, let's get a clear understanding of the liver and what exactly it does. The liver is the largest solid organ in the body. It weighs about three and a half pounds, it measures about 8 inches across, 6.5 inches down and 4.5 inches thick.
- Manufacture (synthesize) proteins, including albumin (to help maintain the volume of blood) and blood clotting factors.
- Synthesize, store, and metabolize fats, including fatty acids (used for energy) and cholesterol.
- Metabolize and store carbohydrates, which are used as the source for the sugar (glucose) in blood that red blood cells and the brain use.
- Form and secrete bile that contains bile acids to aid in the intestinal absorption of fats and the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
- Eliminate, by metabolizing and/or secreting, the potentially harmful biochemical products produced by the body, such as bilirubin from the breakdown of old red blood cells and ammonia from the breakdown of proteins.
- Detoxify, by metabolizing and/or secreting, drugs, alcohol, and other toxins.
So, now that we see what the liver does, it should be said that certain “habits”, such as heavy drinking or drug use – this includes steroids and even some pro-hormones – can be hard on the liver. Indeed, usually any cycle of steroids or the admittedly much weaker pro hormones includes a liver support product both during and after the cycle.
So then liver support products help maintain the health and proper functioning of the liver. Of the nutrients typically used in these products, milk thistle is the most well known and widely used ingredient. Milk thistle, a spiny-leafed plant with reddish-purple, thistle-shaped flowers, has a long history of use both as a food and a medicine. It's main medicinal purpose has been to provide support to the liver. In Europe, silymarin, which are the purified extract of the fruits of the Milk Thistle plant ( also known as Silybum marianum), are used to maintain liver health and for the treatment of diseases of the liver. What other ingredients are used for liver support? N-Acetyl Cysteine , also known as NAC and Acetylcysteine, is another popular liver nutrient, usually combined with milk thistle in the same product.
NAC has powerful antioxidant effects. As an anti-oxidant, NAC scavenges the body for, and neutralizes, harmful free radicals that can cause oxidative damage to muscle tissue, bodily organs, and DNA. In addition to protecting the body from oxidative damage resulting from normal metabolism, NAC has positive effects on liver function, protecting the liver from heavy metals such as lead and mercury. So we see two important ingredients for healthy liver function.
Other important liver support ingredients are:
- Turmeric – helps to increase bile flow which makes it a liver cleanser which could rejuvenate the liver cells and recharges their ability to break down toxins.
- Tinospora Cordifolia -This herb has been used for convalescence from severe illness, liver disease, arthritis and urinary problems. It has also been known to be used to help remove toxins from the body.
- Dandelion -The leaves help to repair damaged tissue and help the liver clear out toxins.
- Burdock– Burdock root gently cleans the liver and blood. It’s also used as a diuretic.
- Promotes healthy liver function.
- Helps prevent liver diseases such as hepatitis.
- Promote detoxification of the liver.
Even prescription drugs and over the counter meds can cause liver problems: Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. You can develop hepatitis by eating poorly, drinking regularly, not taking care of yourself, or sometimes from medication. Large doses of aspirin or ibuprofen, or Tylenol with alcohol, or large doses of niacin can damage the liver. These are just some examples and should be clear reasons to take care of your liver. To achieve peak performance in your chosen sport or achieve optimal success as a bodybuilder, you must look at the basic, often bland types of products that can have profound effects on your over all health and well being. It's not how flashy or exotic the product seems to be, it's how effective that product is at providing results that can make a difference in your fundamental health and well being. This important point is often overlooked and ignored by the appeal of some exotic product that promises big results. Trust me, the more hardcore products will not work as well if your health is compromised.
Many of the choices in this category are formula products although you can buy milk thistle- by far the most popular ingredient – on it's own. Look for the active ingredient silymarin when comparing milk thistle products – the product should read: silymarin, 80% on the label. With the formula products, you have various detoxification and regenerative type products. I always prefer and recommend a formula over a single ingredient because you have a “strength in numbers” situation: several nutrients working toward one goal, not merely one nutrient working towards that same goal. Timing and dosage is as presented on the label, as products vary so will the instructions. As usual, read the label carefully before buying and using.