Autumn: Seasonal Support for the Liver
In traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, autumn is known as a cleansing time for the liver.
The liver is the body’s blood filter, removing toxins and unhealthy substances. The liver is also responsible for the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, specific proteins, free fatty acids, volatile fatty acids, sugars, and glycogen. The liver produces bile that is essential for the absorption of fats. Bile, due to its alkalinity, supports the correct pH of the small intestine.
Common stressors that can reduce the liver’s capabilities include: vaccinations, dewormers, medications, NSAIDs, pesticide and herbicides, and heavy metals. Bee stings and bug bites also produce toxins that the liver must then filter. Toxic plants that may not be deadly or even cause noticeable symptoms will still put stress on the liver. A healthy liver can handle toxins, but when the liver is overloaded, the functionality of the liver decreases.
In Ayurvedic medicine, the liver is composed of five digestive fires that correspond to the five basic elements: earth, water, air, fire, and space. If the fires burn too high or too low or unevenly, then toxins will enter the blood or build up in the liver.
The liver as a detoxifier
Because the liver is a filtration system, a healthy liver protects the body from the effects of toxin buildup. So, liver support foods and herbs can be an important addition to the diet for 30 to 60 days in the fall. By supporting the liver once a year we can keep this important organ from suffering more serious diseases and dysfunction.
Providing liver support
I use the herb milk thistle together with BioStar’s True Balance EQ to provide liver support for my horses in the fall.
Milk thistle is a tonic for the liver that also helps to repair it. It is a powerful antioxidant, which helps protect the liver from harmful oxidation due to increased free radicals from the exposure to environmental toxis. It also supports the growth of new liver cells.
Note – milk thistle is NOT to be fed to mares or dogs who are pregnant or nursing.
For horses, I use Starwest Botanticals’ Organic Milk Thistle seed powder, and give 1 tablespoon twice per day. You can also use milk thistle for dogs: feeding the powder, you would give 2-5 mg per pound of the dog’s weight twice or three times per day (or roughly ¼ tsp to ½ tsp per 10 pounds of the dog’s weight).
For basic liver support I use the organic seed powder. Milk thistle extracts are stronger than the seed powder (containing a higher percentage of silymarin), but I recommend the extracts for more serious liver issues. If you use a liquid extract, give ¼ teaspoon per 20 lbs. of the dog’s weight.
BioStar’s True Balance EQ provides holy basil (also known as tulsi), which is classified as an adaptogen—a compound that is balancing to the glandular, endocrine, and circulatory systems of the body.
Holy basil supports the liver, kidneys, and adrenal glands, and increases the body’s levels of antioxidant molecules such as glutathione, superoxide dismutase and catalase, thus helping to reduce inflammation.
True Balance EQ additionally provides the medicinal mushrooms reishi, shiitake, and turkey tail. These mushrooms help protect liver tissue and restore liver antioxidant systems to normal function while inhibiting liver enzymes that produce excessive oxidative stress.
There are also herbal supplements such as Silver Lining Herbs’ Liver Support that include milk thistle and various other liver-supportive herbs.
If your horse has been diagnosed with liver disease, it is important to follow veterinary protocol. Feed changes can include lowering dietary protein and adding foods that provide BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) such as beet pulp and wheat bran. Apple cider vinegar can be added to help reduce ammonia production. Folic acid, the B vitamins, and vitamins A, E, D, and K need to be supplemented if the horse is not on a commercial complete feed.
Liver support in the springtime
Dandelions are wonderful supportive plants for the liver, and I often wonder if Mother Nature made sure of a widely available spring liver tonic for horses with the arrival of dandelions. I don’t do supplemental liver support in the springtime because my horses have plenty of dandelions to munch on.
The liver is an amazing organ
The liver can regenerate itself unless it is damaged from eating a plant like tansy ragwort, which damages the liver because the alkaloids in the plant inhibit cell division. Chronic exposure leads to irreversible liver damage.
Supporting the liver during a month or two of the fall season helps the liver to function optionally and play its critical role in metabolism, blood filtering, and the production of bile.