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Hsiang ju, used in TCM, protects the liver from damage, prevents lipid accumulation

Glossogyne tenuifolia or hsiang ju is a common perennial herb that grows in the coastal areas of Penghu Island in Taiwan. It has a long history of use as a folk medicine and is known for its liver-protective properties.

In a recent study published in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, researchers from Taiwan and Vietnam investigated whether or not hsiang ju could improve acute liver injury caused by diabetes. Using rats with drug-induced diabetes, they tested the effects of this traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and found that it can ameliorate liver damage, thanks to the presence of a free radical scavenger called luteolin.

An antioxidant compound in hsiang ju can protect the liver from injury

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a common disorder marked by accumulation of excess fat in the liver. While fatty liver, the most common form of NAFLD, is not a serious condition, it can become potentially serious when fat buildup in the liver is accompanied by inflammation and different degrees of scarring. These events not only damage the liver irreparably, they also impair the organ’s ability to function properly. Due to the high risk of liver disease observed in obese or diabetic patients, researchers believe that NAFLD and diabetes are linked.

Hsiang ju is traditionally known for its antipyretic, anti-inflammatory and liver-protective effects. These activities, according to studies, are due to its abundance in antioxidant components. For instance, hsiang ju extracts are known to contain three active compounds that contribute to its beneficial activities. These components are oleanic acid, luteolin-7-glucoside and luteolin.

To test hsiang ju’s ability to protect the liver from injury, the researchers gave diabetic rats fed a high-fat diet either a low or high dose of hsiang ju extracts or an anti-diabetic drug in their drinking water for four weeks. They then observed and compared the effects of those treatments on the rats’ livers.

The researchers reported that the injection of streptozotocin and nicotinamide induced hyperglycemia and hepatomegaly (abnormal enlargement of the liver), as well as increased the activation of hypertrophy-related pathways, the expression of pro-apoptotic molecules and the activation of fibrosis (scarring)-related pathways. On the other hand, treatment with either low or high dose hsiang ju extracts decreased the expression of these pathways’ components, suggesting that the extracts were able to suppress lipid accumulation, apoptosis of liver cells and liver fibrosis.

The researchers also noted the free radical scavenging ability shown by luteolin, which they believe helped reduce liver fibrosis associated with matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) enzymes. The activation of MMPs is a key event in oxidative stress injury — the starting point of liver damage. Since free radicals take an active part in the activities of MMPs, neutralizing these harmful molecules is important for preventing liver injury. Hence, the researchers attributed the liver-protective effects of hsiang ju to the antioxidant activities of its luteolin content. (Related: Preventing liver damage with the henna plant.)

Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that hsiang ju can effectively ameliorate liver damage caused by diabetes.

Natural ways to prevent liver damage

The liver is the largest organ in the body and fulfills many vital functions. Some of its most important tasks include producing bile, supporting blood clotting, metabolizing fat and carbohydrates, storing vitamins and minerals, filtering the blood and supporting immune function. Because your body depends on this organ for many processes, you need to take good care of your liver. Here are some tips for maintaining a healthy liver:

  • Manage your weight
  • Eat a balanced diet rich in fiber and plant-based foods
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid exposure to toxins (aerosol products, insecticides, smoke)
  • Limit your alcohol intake
  • Avoid the use of drugs

Keeping your liver healthy should be a top priority. While TCM herbs like hsiang ju can help protect your liver from damage, the best way to fight liver disease is to avoid it. Follow the tips above and protect your liver the safe and natural way.

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