Fatty liver is a condition in which excessive levels of fat accumulate in the liver. In and of itself, fatty liver isn't a disease, but it is a condition that can eventually lead to inflammatory complications and thus pose a serious health threat. Although small-scale animal studies indicate that flavonoids in chamomile tea may have liver-protective effects, the website Medline Plus says that scientific evidence to confirm chamomile’s hepatoprotective properties is thus far insufficient.
Causes of Fatty Liver
Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH, is the form of fatty liver disease that occurs in people who drink little or no alcohol. Although 10 to 20 percent of all Americans have elevated levels of fat in their livers, only 2 to 5 percent suffer from NASH, which can lead to cirrhosis and cause permanent liver damage, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. NASH most often occurs in people who are middle aged and overweight or obese. Other risk factors for NASH include oxidative stress involving the deterioration of liver cells, insulin resistance, and the release of inflammatory proteins, or cytokines, by fat cells.
Although the periodic consumption of large quantities of alcohol causes an increase in the liver’s fat levels, this is generally a reversible condition provided that the excessive alcohol consumption doesn't continue. However, chronic alcohol consumption in large amounts over an extended period of time leads to alcoholic fatty liver disease, which eventually may progress to alcoholic hepatitis or cirrhosis, according to the Cleveland Clinic's website.
Types of Chamomile Tea
Although they belong to different species, two plants are generally referred to as chamomile and have virtually identical medicinal properties. German chamomile is known scientifically as Matricaria recutita, while the scientific name of Roman chamomile is Chamaemelum nobile, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center website. Tea can be made by steeping the flowers of either plant in boiling water.
Two researchers at Ukraine’s Kharkov Karazin National University conducted an animal study to assess the liver-protective effects of flavonoids in German chamomile against potential damage from substances known to be toxic to the liver. Specifically, the researchers sought to determine how chamomile flavonoids -- present in chamomile tea -- affect sphingolipid and ceramide metabolism in the livers of laboratory rats in which damage was induced by the introduction of carbon tetrachloride and/or ethanol. Dosing the laboratory animals with chamomile normalized sphingolipid and ceramide metabolism, which prevented the death of liver cells that might otherwise be caused by such toxins. Results of this study were published in the 2008 issue of “Lipids in Health and Disease.”
Review of Hepatoprotective Herbs
Researchers at the Himalayan Pharmacy Institute in Sikkim conducted a review of the scientific literature on herbs with liver-protective properties. In an article published in the April 2010 issue of the “International Journal of Research in Pharmaceutical Sciences,” they cite a 2006 study showing that an extract of chamomile effectively protected liver cells from inflammatory damage caused by paracetamol, known in the United States as acetaminophen.
No Definitive Proof of Efficacy
Germany’s Commission E, a regulatory agency that evaluates the healing properties of herbal remedies, acknowledges that chamomile and chamomile derivatives, such as tea, are reputed to have liver health benefits. However, the agency says that the absence of adequate documented evidence of the herb’s effectiveness makes it impossible to recommend its use as a therapeutic application.
- MedlinePlus: Roman Chamomile
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis
- Cleveland Clinic: Alcoholic Liver Disease
- University of Maryland Medical Center: German Chamomile
- Lipids in Health and Disease: Effects of Flavonoids on Sphingolipid Turnover in the Toxin-Damaged Liver and Liver Cells
- International Journal of Research in Pharmaceutical Sciences: Hepatoprotective Herbs -- A Review
- The Complete German Commission E Monographs; Mark Blumenthal (NOTE TO ED: P. 321)