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How Does Turmeric Damage Or Benefit the Liver?

by
author image Janet Renee, MS, RD
Janet Renee is a clinical dietitian with a special interest in weight management, sports dietetics, medical nutrition therapy and diet trends. She earned her Master of Science in nutrition from the University of Chicago and has contributed to health and wellness magazines, including Prevention, Self, Shape and Cooking Light.
How Does Turmeric Damage Or Benefit the Liver?
Turmeric gives curry its rich color. Photo Credit rustic curry and spices image by christopher bishop from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>

Turmeric is a plant widely used as a spice in curry dishes. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, it has also been used for 4,000 years to treat a variety of ailments. Turmeric is not known to damage your liver, but it is known rather for its liver-protective effects.

Liver Function

Your liver is the largest and one of the most important organs inside your body. It is responsible for converting food to energy; cleaning toxins from your blood; and producing bile, a liquid that aids digestion. Several issues can compromise your liver function, including viruses, such as hepatitis, chronic alcohol consumption, oxidative stress, certain medications and drugs, as well as cancer. However, turmeric appears to exert positive effects on liver function.

Improves Liver Detoxification

In a controlled animal study published in the July 2003 "Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology," rats were injected with D-galactosamine--a hepatotoxin that injures liver tissue and induces hepatitis. One group received turmeric extract for 15 days, while the control group did not. The rats were injected with 99m Tc-Mebrofeni--a substance used to assess liver function. When liver function is compromised, 99m Tc-Mebrofeni takes longer to clear the system. The study found that rats not treated with turmeric experienced a delay in 99m Tc-Mebrofeni excretion, but mice treated with turmeric excreted 99m Tc-Mebrofeni at a near normal rate. This model suggests turmeric may improve liver function by increasing detoxification ability.

Protects Against Oxidative Stress

Studies indicate turmeric may help reduce free radical damage. Free radicals are highly reactive, unstable molecules with an unpaired number of electrons that can damage your cells and tissues. According to an eight=week study published in the January 2006 journal "Basic and Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology," lead toxicity induced mice were divided into groups. One group received turmeric, a second group received myrrh, a third group received turmeric and myrrh simultaneously, while another group received neither. The group receiving turmeric showed significant decrease in oxidative stress and increase in glutathione S-transferase, an enzyme your liver produces, which acts as the primary antioxidant. The group receiving myrrh also showed significant glutathione increase. However, the group receiving both turmeric and myrrh simultaneously showed the most increase in glutathione and decrease in oxidative stress. Yet the control group that received neither, did not. This model suggests turmeric and myrrh, separately and together, may protect against oxidative stress by improving glutathione production.

Precautions

The use of herbs does not replace traditional medical treatment. It is important to consult your doctor before taking turmeric. Turmeric may lower blood sugar levels, and when combined with diabetes medications may induce hypoglycemia. You should not take turmeric if you are currently taking blood-sugar-lowering medications. Turmeric can also increase bile production, which can complicate your condition if you have gallstones or gallbladder disease.

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