HERBS FOR LIVER HEALTH
Picrorhiza (Picrorhiza kurroa) is a well-known herb in the Ayurvedic system of medicine. It has traditionally been used to treat disorders of the liver, as well as disorders of the upper respiratory tract and the gastrointestinal tract.
Picrorhiza is also called by other names, including gentian root, titka kul, kutki, katuka, and hu huang lian.
It is a small perennial herb from the Scrophulariaceae family, found in the Himalayan region from Kashmir to Kumaun, and Garhwal regions of India and Nepal, at elevations of 3,000-5,000 metres. The bitter tasting rhizomes of picrorhiza are long and creeping and grow in rock crevices and moist, sandy soil. The leaves of the plant are flat, oval and sharply serrated. The flowers are white or purple, on a long spike.
The active constituents are obtained from the root and rhizomes. Rhizomes are underground modified stems, which grow parallel to the earth surface, having nodes and internodes. Rhizomes take part in storage of food material and vegetative propagation.
Like many species of medicinal plants, picrorhiza is threatened to near extinction, due to over-harvesting.
Active Constituents of Picrorhiza and Therapeutic Applications
Kutki is the active constituent of picrorhiza. This is a compound substance made up of picrosides I, II, and III, kutkoside, androsin, apocynin, and several cucurbitacin glycosides.
Picrorhiza has strong antioxidant actions, especially in the liver, giving protection against free radical damage. Its antioxidant effect has been shown to be similar to that of superoxide dismutase (the body's naturally occurring antioxidant). Like other herbs that have a positive effect on the liver, picrorhiza also increases bile production in the liver, with the flow-on beneficial effects.
Picrorhiza has anti-inflammatory action, and this is attributed to the apocynin constituent, which has been shown to have potent anti-inflammatory properties.
Animal studies have shown that picrorhiza protects animals from damage by several potent liver toxins, offering protection as good as, or better than, silymarin (the flavonoids found in milk thistle). Other animal studies have shown that picrorhiza reduces the formation of liver cancer due to chemical exposures.
To date, there have been relatively few studies carried out in humans. Non-controlled studies treating hepatitis have shown positive results when treated with picrorhiza. Studies have also shown that the symptoms of asthma can improve with this medication.
The active constituents and their known properties would indicate that picrorhiza should be beneficial in the management of liver diseases, and as a 'liver tonic' for better liver function.
Availability and Dosage of Picrorhiza
The recommended adult dose is 400-1,600 mg of powdered root or rhizome picrorhiza per day.
It is available in capsules as "Full spectrum Picrorhiza Kurroa 400 mg capsules" (www.iherb.com)
Picrorhiza root or powder can be obtained from www.herbalveda.co.uk. Taken as a tea, it is quite palatable, though it can taste bitter.
This herb is often combined with other herbs that have a beneficial effect on the liver. Many of these preparations can be found at www.iherb.com
*Copyright 2015: The Huntly Centre.
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