Artichoke-Leaf Extract

Globe artichokes aren't just for dinner: The plant's leaves offer detoxifying properties, and may even lower cholesterol.

Artichoke-Leaf Extract
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Native to the Mediterranean region, the globe artichoke (Cynara Scolymus) dates back to the fourth century B.C. Still relatively rare at that time, it was prized by ancient Greeks and Romans as an edible delicacy and a powerful digestive aid. Over the centuries, European herbalists have prescribed the plant's leaf to stimulate bile flow, which promotes digestion.

How it works
"Artichoke-leaf extract improves the liver's eliminative function," says Amelia Hirota, D.Ac., Dipl. C.H., an acupuncturist, herbalist, and clinician at Center of Balance in East Greenwich, R.I. The acid components in the extract stimulate production of bile, a detergentlike fluid responsible for transporting toxins out of the liver and into the intestines for excretion. Bile is also essential for the body's breakdown of fats and cholesterol, and the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, such as A, D, E, and K.

An irregular, fat-laden diet, too much alcohol, and excessive exposure to environmental toxins can all overload the liver, leading to symptoms such as headaches, constipation, indigestion, low energy, and even elevated cholesterol levels. "If the liver gets behind on its detoxing duties, hypercholesterolemia can set in," Hirota says.

The artichoke leaf's potential to soothe upset stomachs has strong scientific support. In a 2003 study published in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 129 patients with functional dyspepsia (a condition that can include stomachache, belching, nausea, gas, and bloating) were given 640 milligrams of artichoke-leaf extract daily (divided into two doses), while 115 patients took a placebo. After six weeks of treatment, subjects answered questionnaires about their dyspeptic symptoms and quality of life. Those who received artichokeleaf extract reported a significantly greater reduction in symptoms and improvement in quality of life than patients who took a placebo.

In addition, according to a study published in the journal Phytomedicine in 2002, even lower doses may be effective. The two-month experiment involved 454 dyspepsia patients, about half of whom were given 320 mg of artichoke-leaf extract daily, while the other half took 640 mg a day. Both the low-dose group and the high-dose group reported a significant- and similar-drop in dyspeptic symptoms, and their anxiety levels dropped too.

Very few well-designed human studies have set out to test the cholesterol-lowering effects of artichoke- leaf extract. In one doubleblind, placebo-controlled study published in Germany in 2000, patients who took 1,800 mg of standardized extract every day sub-stantially reduced their previously elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels. But in 2003, a review published in the medical journal Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews concluded that scientists need to conduct more research before they can establish whether artichoke-leaf extract is truly effective for treating patients with high cholesterol.

How to take it
Artichoke leaf comes in capsule and liquid forms and is available at most health-food stores. While experimental doses vary from study to study, the standard recommended dose is 320 mg three times a day with meals.

Due to its bile-stimulating effects, patients with gallstones or other bileduct occlusion, or diarrhea-dominant irritable bowel syndrome, should not take the extract; it may aggravate symptoms. Women who are pregnant or nursing should consult a physician before taking artichokeleaf extract.

Artichoke-leaf extract has shown promise as a safe and effective remedy for dyspepsia. More research is needed to determine its effects on hypercholesterolemia.