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Can Artichokes Protect Your Liver?

Artichokes are a delicious treat and can liven up a meal with their freshness. But this almost flower-like vegetable is more powerful than its appearance may lead you to believe. Researchers have discovered its hepatoprotective activity and abundant antioxidants make it a great ally in the protection of your liver. But can it actually help fix a liver problem before it happens or stop it in its tracks?

Liver diseases, unlike ailments that affect other organs like the heart, don’t have too many treatment options. Often, lifestyle changes and alternative therapy are the only course of action. Diet, in particular, plays a central role in managing such conditions and in preventing liver problems. The petals of the artichoke conceal more than just the luscious pulpy vegetable. Studies have revealed its role in keeping your liver healthy and working well, so it’s time you added it to your meals.

Heart Of The Matter

So what’s in an artichoke? According to the US Department of Agriculture, antioxidants – and plenty of them! The humble artichoke clocks in at an impressive fifth place overall on foods with high antioxidant content.1 Each medium-sized artichoke is about 60 calories and has 15 mg of antioxidant nutrient vitamin C. The vegetable has been found to have antiproliferative, antioxidant, and protective effects on the liver, making it a popular remedy for hepatic disorders. When administered as a treatment, it is typically given in capsule form, each containing a dose of artichoke leaf extract.

The Protective Effect Of Artichoke

The liver-healing properties of this beautiful vegetable lie in its phytonutrients cynarin and silymarin.2

Silymarin is a flavonoid and has a protective effect on the liver. It prevents lipid peroxidation from taking place in the cellular membrane of liver tissue. This helps the liver function optimally and keeps it in good form. The hepatoprotective effect has been seen in multiple studies, including those investigating its use in preventing hepatocellular carcinoma.3

Cynarin in artichokes can help give your liver’s bile production a boost. The bile, in turn, helps the body digest fats and eliminate harmful toxins from your body. This has been documented in many studies such as the 2002 study that investigated bile flow and formation in rats treated with artichoke leaf extract.4

Inhibiting Cholesterol Synthesis In The Liver

Artichoke extracts have an inhibiting effect on hepatic cholesterol biosynthesis.5 Researchers also found that the use of artichoke leaf extract helped reduce oxidative stress by lowering cholesterol levels in the animal test subjects’ livers.6

Cancer Protection

Research in Italy concluded that artichoke extract could help protect human liver cells from damage due to the action of the antioxidants in it. The extract was, in fact, also able to hamper the development of cancer in the liver cells of human test subjects.7 A separate study in 2012 found that artichoke extract inhibited a cancer cell line in the breast, lowered cell viability, and inhibited growth, while also activating apoptotic mechanisms. This chemoprotective effect was attributed to the polyphenolic extracts of the artichoke.8

Careful How You Eat It

While fresh artichokes trimmed and prepared from scratch at home are good, buying artichokes preserved in salt and oil may not be as healthy. Artichokes are already rich in natural sodium content. Unfortunately, the high sodium content and oils in which marinated artichokes are preserved could make them a less healthy proposition, so be sure to check the labels before you buy them. Also try and buy organic artichokes as far as possible, because of the high levels of pesticides typically used in cultivating mass-produced ones. Alternatively, rinse them well with a baking soda solution or vegetable rinse to clear them of any traces of chemicals before consuming.

References   [ + ]

1. Data on Food Antioxidants Aid Research, US Department of Agriculture. 2007.
2. Pereira, Carla, Lillian Barros, Ana Maria Carvalho, Celestino Santos-Buelga, and Isabel CFR Ferreira. “Infusions of artichoke and milk thistle represent a good source of phenolic acids and flavonoids.” Food & function 6, no. 1 (2015): 55-61.
3. Ramadan, A., Nehal A. Afifi, Nemat Z. Yassin, Rehab F. Abdel-Rahman, Azza HM Hassan, and M. Hany. “Hepatoprotective effect of artichoke extract against pre-cancerous lesion of experimentally induced hepatocellular carcinoma in rats.” Life Science Journal 11, no. 4 (2014).
4. Rodriguez, T. Saénz, D. García Giménez, and R. De la Puerta Vázquez. “Choleretic activity and biliary elimination of lipids and bile acids induced by an artichoke leaf extract in rats.” Phytomedicine 9, no. 8 (2002): 687-693.
5. Gebhardt, Rolf. “Inhibition of cholesterol biosynthesis in HepG2 cells by artichoke extracts is reinforced by glucosidase pretreatment.” Phytotherapy research 16, no. 4 (2002): 368-372.
6. Küçükgergin, Canan, A. Fatih Aydın, Gül Özdemirler-Erata, Güldal Mehmetçik, Necla Koçak-Toker, and Müjdat Uysal. “Effect of artichoke leaf extract on hepatic and cardiac oxidative stress in rats fed on high cholesterol diet.” Biological trace element research 135, no. 1-3 (2010): 264-274.
7. Miccadei, Stefania, Donato Di Venere, Angela Cardinali, Ferdinando Romano, Alessandra Durazzo, Maria Stella Foddai, Rocco Fraioli, Sohrab Mobarhan, and Giuseppe Maiani. “Antioxidative and apoptotic properties of polyphenolic extracts from edible part of artichoke (Cynara scolymus L.) on cultured rat hepatocytes and on human hepatoma cells.” Nutrition and cancer 60, no. 2 (2008): 276-283.
8. Mileo, Anna Maria, Donato Di Venere, Vito Linsalata, Rocco Fraioli, and Stefania Miccadei. “Artichoke polyphenols induce apoptosis and decrease the invasive potential of the human breast cancer cell line MDA‐MB231.” Journal of cellular physiology 227, no. 9 (2012): 3301-3309.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.