Over the last decade, it has become increasingly evident that artichoke has numerous health benefits, including its ability to aid the digestive system.
Artichoke, botanical name Cynara scolymus, is a perennial thistle native to the Mediterranean region best known for its heart, the bottom part of its spiky flower bud which some of us appreciate as a nutritious vegetable. Whilst we consume artichoke hearts, it is the artichoke leaves that have been scientifically studied and shown to be of great benefit.
Artichoke plant as a whole was used as a food and as a medicinal remedy as early as 400 BC. The Greeks, Romans and Egyptians consumed the vegetable for its nutritious value. The aristocracy of the Roman Empire used artichoke as a delicacy, appetiser and as a digestive aid however the vegetable appeared to fall into oblivion until the 1500’s when the medicinal use of artichoke was recorded for helping to treat jaundice and liver problems.
In 1850, a French physician successfully used an extract derived from artichoke leaves to treat jaundice which was not improving with the drugs used during those times. This led to an increase in the numbers of studies carried out and today artichoke is one of the few herbs for which we have a comprehensive knowledge of its components and its mechanisms of action within the body.
What are the health benefits of artichoke extract?
Artichoke extract is made from the leaves of the plant because these have been found to contain the greatest concentration of its active components. Artichoke leaves contain a host of compounds including flavonoids and polyphenols including cynarin and chlorgenic acid. Although scientists initially believed that cynarin was the important compound, today we know that it is actually the whole blend of its compounds that all appear to play a part in artichoke extract’s multiple benefits.
Artichoke leaf extract contains the following compounds:
- Cynarin – This compound acts on liver cells to enhance bile production. Cynarin also acts on the kidneys to increase urine production.
- Cynaropicrin – A compound responsible for the bitter taste of artichoke.
- Cynaroside – A flavonoid with potent anti-inflammatory properties.
- Sterols – Beta-sitosterol and stigmasterol are some of the plant sterols found in artichoke which help to reduce the amount of cholesterol absorbed from the intestine into the bloodstream.
- Organic acids such as malic acid.
Artichokes are rich in antioxidants and artichoke extract provides these in an even more concentrated form. The main antioxidant in artichoke extract is caffeic acid which helps to neutralise damaging free radicals. Free radical damage is the single biggest accepted theory on how we age.
Can artichoke help with IBS?
Dyspepsia is a generalised term which sums up all types of digestive complications including gas, indigestion, stomach upset and bloating. Artichoke extract helps stimulate the production of bile. Bile is very important for the whole digestive process and helps break down fats as well as aiding in the absorption of many vitamins. In a study carried out at the University of Reading on those who suffer from IBS and dyspepsia, one in four patients showed a significant reduction in the incidences of IBS, including a normalisation of bowel movement away from the alternating cycle so often experienced of constipation and diarrhoea. Even better results were observed in those with dyspepsia with a decrease in symptoms of gas, bloating and indigestion in over 40% of the cases.
How does artichoke extract effect the liver?
The importance of optimal liver function cannot be underestimated. The liver processes toxins, chemicals, fats, alcohol, environmental pollutants and numerous other compounds. The symptoms of an over-burdened liver are not specific and include fatigue, headache, bloating, nausea and constipation. Stomach discomfort after meals and intolerance to meals containing any fat are notable exceptions. Artichoke leaf extract helps to increase bile production by the liver which helps remove toxins and digest fats. The combination of enhancing bile production and the antioxidants occurring naturally in artichoke extract make artichoke a very useful herb in protecting the liver.
Alcohol consumption is the most common cause of impaired liver function. Some people’s livers are very sensitive to alcohol whilst others are more tolerant. Alcohol pushes fats into the liver cells rendering them ineffective which is how fatty liver disease occurs. Studies indicate a 28% reduction in this process when taking artichoke leaf extract.
How artichoke can impact cholesterol
Cholesterol is required by the body to manufacture hormones and is produced by the liver. Though not inherently bad for you, many of us consume an excess amount of fat leading to excess cholesterol in the bloodstream. Once oxidised, cholesterol becomes sticky adhering to the walls of the arteries leading to heart disease including high blood pressure. As early as 1930’s, scientists discovered that artichoke extract had a positive effect on plaques found within arteries. Recent research suggests that artichoke leaf extract demonstrated a significant reduction in cholesterol and triglycerides with an average reduction of 11.5% in cholesterol and 12.5% decrease in triglycerides within a six week period. Additionally, though not a full blown clinical trial, the numbers of people involved in the study, 302, makes this a significant result. When a healthy lifestyle is not sufficient to maintain cholesterol levels within the normal range, drugs such as statins are usually prescribed which are not without side effects. Artichoke supplements offer a safe and effective alternative to these.
Artichoke extract by way of supplements is a safe and natural way to improve your overall health and wellbeing. High Strength Artichoke 8000mg by Lamberts Healthcare provides the highest concentration of standardised active compounds found in artichoke leaves. It is these compounds which provide the therapeutic benefits mentioned above. Artichoke supplements can be safely taken with other medications without fear of side effects. Caution: Do not take artichoke supplements if you suffer from gallstones or have an obstruction of the bile duct.