Everyone says that it’s dog that’s man’s best friend. I don’t totally dispute that. After all, my dog is loyal and he doesn’t give me back talk. What’s more, he’s a good spotter. Sometimes, when I bring Brooklyn to the gym and I can’t find a squat box, the dog just jumps right in, stands perfectly still and gives a yelp when my ass puts too much pressure on him. Now that’s loyal!
But I digress. What I intented to tell you about was getting the most out of your training/supplementation routine. In training, getting the most out of your effort can also be as simple as relying on good form, adequate rest, superior nutrition, and a gold standard supplementation routine. The trouble is, we often end up taking our innards for granted, especially when we decide to partake in some chemical warfare.
Well, let me tell ya’, your innards, particularly your liver, can also be your best friend.
Meet the Amazing? Liver
One can argue that the most vital organ to preserving health in the body is the liver. The liver is responsible for “detoxifying” practically every substance that we ingest via the oral route. That being said, it’s a good idea to review exactly how the liver functions.
Would you believe that the liver is involved in over 500 metabolic functions? Without doubt, outside of the ol’ gas pumper and brain, the liver is the organ that you most want to care for.
This large organ is responsible for converting T4 into T3 (active thyroid), building amino acids into plasma proteins, storing glucose as glycogen, regulating blood sugar, and conserving iron from old red blood cells, as well as detoxifying substances such as alcohol and drugs. The major liver metabolic functions are described as follows:
• converts various types of sugars into glucose
• acts as a glucose buffer
• converts amino acids and glycerol to glucose when glycogen stores are low
• converts glucose to fat for storage
• is primary site of fat burning (beta-oxidation)
• stores fats
• forms lipoproteins for transporting fat to and from tissues
• synthesizes cholesterol and bile salts.
• deaminates amino acids for conversion into glucose and cellular energy (ATP)
• forms urea, removing ammonia from the body
• forms plasma proteins to support the immune system, promote anabolism, and bolster thyroid function
• converts amino acids from essential to non- essential
• stores vitamin A for 1-2 years
• stores 1-4 month supply of vitamin D and B12
• stores iron (as ferritin) and releases it into the blood as needed.
• converts drugs from active to inactive substances via synthetic reactions, yielding metabolic products which can be secreted by the kidneys
• transforms drugs or substances via nonsynthetic reactions from active substances to more active, active, or less-active substances
• process bilirubin, eventually yielding bile pigments
• metabolizes blood-borne hormones to forms that can be excreted in urine
It’s apparent that the liver’s responsible for detoxifying substances such as drugs, medicines and alcohol. And it’s not a secret that we, as weight-lifting athletes, sometimes push the chemical envelope in an effort to maximize muscle growth. As such, it’s important to learn how to maximize liver function.
The following list describes some herbs or herbal formulas that have been found to be beneficial to the liver:
Fenugreek: This is an annual herb that’s native to the Mediterranean. It’s officially known as Trigonella foenum-graecum or Greek hay. Research indicates that Fenugreek has the potential to help in the regulation of blood sugar (through its active component known as 4-hydroxyisoleucine), in addition to reducing blood cholesterol. It’s also known to improve insulin and glucose response to glucose challenges (eating an entire box of Twinkies) and it may increase appetite.
In short, fenugreek is good for keeping your cholesterol in check, stabilizing blood sugar and promoting muscle growth through efficient uptake of glucose into the muscle cells. The typical therapeutic dosage is 1.5-2.0 grams per day of the extract, or 6 grams per day of the whole seed.
Milk Thistle: This plant neither contains milk or thistles, but rather is a fruit that has been used medicinally since Greco-Roman times. The official name for Milk Thistle is Silybum marianum. It’s also known as blessed milk thistle and St. Mary thistle. From a therapeutic standpoint, it’s important to concentrate on the extract of Milk Thistle.
There are three principle components or active constituents of this herb. The flavanolignans silybin, silychristin, and silidianin are collectively known as silymarin. Silymarin makes up 1-3% of Milk Thistle. Silymarin has been found to play a role in human regeneration of liver cells after damage from alcohol and/or liver disease (hepatitis, cirrhosis); as a treatment for promoting wound healing (for example, in burns); as an anti-inflammatory agent; and as an anti-oxidant. It can also decrease elevated liver enzymes induced by drug usage.
Silymarin is thought to alter the structure of the outer cell membrane of liver cells, thus preventing penetration of liver toxins into the cell. In this manner it may help protect your body against potential damage from substances that are solely or partially metabolized in the liver. Further research points to silymarin having the ability to increase the action of nucleolar polymerase A, which in turn, promotes protein synthesis and the regeneration of liver cells, while having anti-oxidant action.
Finally, the components of silymarin, chiefly silibinin and silichristin, have been found to actually imitate steroid hormones (the ones we like!) by stimulating protein synthesis via enhancing DNA activity in a non-select manner. This means that silymarin may further potentiate your muscular growth while protecting your liver.
In summary, when using Milk Thistle, look for brands that contain at least 140 mg silymarin per serving. Research indicates that a dosage of 200-400 mg silymarin per day is best (taken in two equal divided doses) for obtaining a therapeutic and protective effect.
Soy Lecithin and Soy Phospholipid: Lecithin that’s derived from the soy seed and that contains 73-79% phosphatidylcholine has been shown to have pharmacologic effects. The soy phospholipid is rich in the essential fatty acid linoleic acid. The German Commission E (their equivalent to the FDA, but more progressive) has approved soy lecithin and phospholipid for moderate disturbances in fat metabolism (especially high cholesterol), along with neurological disorders and liver disorders (fatty liver and substance, induced liver damage, and hepatitis). It seems that both of these soy-derived agents have no estrogenic effects, but rather can help the liver stay healthy, while providing benefit to the heart.
The Merck Index classifies lecithin as a lipotropic, meaning that it can aid in fat metabolism. Anybody who’s concerned about their cholesterol levels or drinks alcohol more often than recommended, as well as those people who use pharmaceutical agents, should include soy lecithin and phospholipids in their daily diet routine. The data from German documents and studies indicate that the recommended dose for lecithin is 3.5 grams per day and soy phospholipids is 1.5-2.7 grams per day.
Artichoke Leaf: Believe it or not, there are constituents of the artichoke leaf that have been found to have pharmacologic effects. The active components include phenolic acids (chlorogenic and cynarin), along with lactones, glycosides, phytosterols and other minor items. Artichoke leaf has been used since Roman times as an aid for liver dysfunction, a sluggish gallbladder, and as a diuretic. Don’t dismiss this funky looking vegetable!
Medical studies from Germany and other European countries indicate that artichoke leaf is useful for lowering cholesterol, promoting the forward flow of bile (aids in fat metabolism), and protecting the liver, along with having mild appetite stimulating effects. Other clinical trials also indicate that artichoke leaf can help reduce dyspepsia (bloating, abdominal pain, flatulence and nausea). Perhaps artichoke is the natural Propusid!
The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, The Merck Index, and The African Pharmacopoeia all approve or indicate that artichoke leaf at a dose of 500 mg extract, or 6 grams per day, of the dried cut leaf can both be liver protective and stimulating. It’s important to note that the product you use has approximately 10-60 mg of cynarin (the major active component) per serving.
Boldo Leaf: Introduced to American and British physicians in 1875 as a treatment for mild stomach, liver and bladder discomforts, and as a mild sedative, its therapeutic applications are underappreciated. In fact, recent excavations in Monte Verde, Chile has revealed Boldo was even used over 12,000 years ago. There’s even evidence that this plant can have mind-altering effects when chewed.
Boldo’s active components include alkaloids, essential oils, glycosides and tannins. Animal studies suggest boldine has the ability to reduce inflammation via altering prostaglandin synthesis. Further research indicates that Boldo may relax smooth muscle and prolongs intestinal transit (giving your body a better chance to absorb as many nutrients as possible). Probably the most important aspect of Boldo to people who may engage in steroids or other pharmacologic aids is that new studies strongly point to this herb enhancing liver function (maintains liver function in response to toxic agents) while promoting the healthy metabolism of fat.
As with many medicinal plants, there’s a component of Boldo that has toxic effects. Avoid any Boldo preparation that contains ascaridole. When using Boldo, look for it to contain at least 0.1% alkaloids, calculated as boldine and flavonoids. The typical dosage therapeutically is 3 grams of dry herb per day or 3 milliliters of a fluid extract.
Quercetin: The hotbed of research in the nutrition community is enhancing antioxidant activity in the body. There are many things such as alcohol, drugs, medications, smoke, stress environment, over-exercise and other factors which increase free radical activity in the body. Free radicals can cause damage to the cells in our bodies which ultimately are linked to premature aging, decreased immune function, heart disease, cancer and impaired recovery from exercise. Yeah, but you knew all that.
Unfortunately, there hasn’t been that much research examining the enhancement of antioxidant activity in local areas of the body. Quercetin is one exception. A study at the University of Georgia in Athens has determined that the flavonoid quercetin (found in many fruits, vegetables and now, dietary supplements) enhances the antioxidant capacity of the liver and colon. The importance of this study is that it demonstrated another good reason to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to enhance liver function, and, perhaps more importantly, it also gives you another supplement weapon to incorporate into your routine if you’re exposed to agents which potentially can stress the liver. In my book, count quercetin in.
Vitamin E: is also known as alpha tocopherol. It appears that D-alpha tocopherol is the most absorbable type of vitamin E. As a ubiquitous free radical scavenger, vitamin E can act as a mild blood thinning agent, promote red blood cell formation (thus allowing muscles to get the oxygen they need for nourishment), promote the recycling of vitamin C, and protect the liver and immune system. It also has cardioprotective and anti-cancer effects, and it may reduce muscle soreness and it can enhance athletic recovery.
Without doubt, vitamin E should be included in your nutrition armament. Typical athletic dosage is up to 1000 IU per day.
Gamma Linoleic Acid (GLA): is typically found in the dietary supplement evening primrose oil, but now is being sold on its own as a dietary supplement. GLA is a source of essential fatty acids. It also has a synergistic effect with vitamin E. GLA has been shown to reduce liver damage, act as an anti-inflammatory, suports the immune system, and it may reduce the factors that cause blood clots which lead to heart attacks.
The Cheat Sheet to the Liver
The liver is a complex organ, but taking care of it and getting it to perform optimally isn’t. Taking care of it is important for everyone, but for those of you who are using oral steroids, it’s imperative! Some easy to implement guidelines for optimizing your athletic performance and muscle potential are as follows:
• Include soy lecithin/phospholipids in your dietary routine. An easy way to do this is to sprinkle one or two teaspoons of lecithin onto your cereal or in your oatmeal. Alternatively, you can mix the lecithin into your post workout shake.
• Take a good multivitamin daily and include extra vitamin E and quercetin.
• Incorporate Milk Thistle into your supplement routine before, during and after using any performance-enhancing drug.
• Try Fenugreek and/or Artichoke leaf as a means to support normal liver function and keep the liver in check.
• To get Gamma Linoleic Acid into your diet, eat more fish and other foods that contain the heart (and liver) healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Aim for at least 4 to 6 servings weekly or 10-15 grams daily.
• Consider using Boldo as an adjunt to your “liver-support program.”
• Brush its coat once a day, and give it plenty of chew toys to keep it healthy. Damn! Got my liver confused with my dog again! Sorry.
It goes without saying, but to keep your liver lively, avoid oral steroids where possible, minimize alcohol intake, and of course, incorporate the suggestions made within this article.
Putting your Nutrition Support Program Together
You’re training hard, believe you’re training smart, but you’re not making the gains that you think you should be making. Frustrating, isn’t it? It happens all the time. Don’t blame yourself?well, at least not totally. I contend that until you try to apply all of the principles of good training, supplementation, and assistance available, you won’t “be all you can be”.
As a frequent contributor to T-mag and a devoted reader, I know the articles posted are all geared to help you achieve your goals.
This article postulates that if you’re training hard, smart, and want to get even more gains while promoting better health, incorporating some or all of the herbs and nutrients discussed herein to support your liver and health may be the key to unlocking a new you.
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