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Licorice - A mainstay of Chinese formulas, licorice is used in very small quantities to balance herbal action and often appears as glycyrrhizin (licorice root). However, licorice produces well-documented side effects such as hyperaldosteronism (an increase in levels of the adrenal hormone aldosteron, triggering imbalance of electrolytes) when taken in doses of more than 50 grams a day or for six weeks or longer. However, no side effects have been seen in smaller doses over 30 days or in higher doses for a very short period of time.

Skullcap - Also called scutelleria, this herb is used in many formulas to good effect. However, it appears that the toxic substance, germander, often is substituted for skullcap in formulas without being properly identified. As a result, skullcap looks like the offending substance. Whenever skullcap appears in a formula make sure that it, not germander, is in fact being used. If you cannot be sure, do not take the formula or herb.

Milk Thistle - While milk thistle has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect, it has no antiviral effect and will not cure viral hepatitis. The following is an excerpt from "Milk Thistle & Liver Function" by Elizabeth Burch, ND, that details the impact of this herb on liver disease.

"Q. Is milk thistle really helpful in helping the liver function better? As an ex-drinker, would it be to my advantage to use milk thistle?"

"A. The seed of the milk thistle plant contains high levels of silymarin, a flavonoid complex with very potent liver protective action. Silymarin can prevent liver damage from a variety of toxins. It works by inhibiting factors that cause liver damage and stimulates the growth of new liver cells. Silymarin is a potent antioxidant, protecting the liver from damage by free radical molecules. It also increases glutathione levels in the liver-glutathione acts to detoxify hormones, drugs and chemicals. And silymarin inhibits the formation of liver-damaging leukotrienes, preventing inflammation and damage of the liver cells. Most remarkable is silymarin's ability to stimulate the production of new liver cells to replace damaged ones. In experimental studies, silymarin has been shown to protect the liver from damage by such toxic chemicals as carbon tetrachloride, alcohol and the Amanita mushroom toxin.

Clinical studies with silymarin have shown it is effective in treating a number of liver conditions, including cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis and fatty liver from alcohol intake. Even severely damaged livers were restored to normal cell structure with long-term use of silymarin.

Milk thistle is a very good supplement for an ex-drinker to help restore the normal structure and function of the liver. The dose of milk thistle is based on silymarin content; 70-210 mg of silymarin should be taken three times a day. Look for a product that has a standardized amount of silymarin per capsule.

Studies have shown that milk thistle extracts are essentially non-toxic. Because silymarin causes an increase in bile secretion, large doses may cause loose stools. This can be prevented by the use of fiber, such as psyllium or pectin.

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