***This article was originally published in 2014. It has been updated in 2023 to reflect the most up to date science.
Bile is an essential substance produced in the liver and released by the gall bladder. Bile is derived from the amino acids Taurine and Glycine, and is a necessary emulsifying agent needed for fat digestion. Additionally, bile contains conjugated toxins, hormones, drugs, and various metabolites. As such, bile is an essential part of hepatic detoxification, Biliary insufficiency is categorized as an insufficient secretion of bile by the gall bladder. Additionally, biliary insufficiency may accompany the condition NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease), also known as steatosis. Artichoke and artichoke leaf contain various medicinal plant compounds with known biliary stimulating and hepatic detoxifying properties.
Artichokes & Bile: The Liver & Gall Bladder
One of the least consumed vegetables is actually one of the most unique, nutritionally therapeutic, and nutrient-dense: the artichoke. In 2004, the USDA conducted a large scale study investigating the antioxidant compounds found in a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and plant foods. Artichokes were among the top 4 vegetables. Artichokes are a member of the thistle family of plants. The most notable of the thistles is known as ‘Milk Thistle’, whose main constituent, Silymarin is among the most well studied liver-supportive and liver detoxifying plant compounds. Thus, like its close relative, the artichoke also possesses notable hepatic-modulating properties.
Artichokes and their nutrient-dense leaves have been a part of herbal traditions, and have been listed in various herbal materia medica for a very long time. Artichoke leaf extract is a potent “cholagogic” herb. Cholagogues are herbs capable of increasing the secretion of bile. This is largely due to the artichoke’s cynarin content, as well as chlorogenic acid. Cynarin is a unique phytochemical that gives artichokes their semi-sweet taste, whereas chlorogenic acid is hepatoprotective.
Clinical Trial Study: Artichoke Leaf Extract & NAFLD (non alcoholic fatty liver disease)
In 2018, a randomized controlled trial study featuring 100 patients (49=intervention, 51=placebo) with NAFLD (non alcoholic fatty liver disease) used 600mg of artichoke leaf extract daily, or placebo. The artichoke leaf extract intervention group showed: increased hepatic blood flow, reduced hepatic portal vein diameter, reduction in liver enzymes, ALT, AST, reduction in bilirubin, cholesterol values, as well as triglycerides (Panahi, et al; 2018).
More robust evidence for artichoke leaf extract was conducted in a meta analysis of randomized controlled trials in 2020. Reviewing a total of 15 studies, it was determined that the artichoke leaf extract has shown the ability to lower triglyceride values, total cholesterol and LDL-C values by an average of around 17 mg/dl each (Shahinfar, et al; 2020).
In traditional herbal preparations, artichoke leaves are tinctured in alcohol for several weeks, which results in the extraction of their unique phytonutrient and polyphenolic compounds.
Artichokes, like their relative milk thistle also contain silymarin, a phenol compound that is powerfully hepato-protective. Additionally, artichoke leaves contain a number of health-supporting polyphenols such as Rutin, Quercitin and Gallic acid. Gallic acid also seems to possess anti-fungal and anti-viral properties, and is even used to treat psoriasis.
A 2004 study (Bundy, Walker, et al) has found that artichoke leaf extract reduces symptoms of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). As such, artichokes may be part of a nutritional protocol for individuals suffering from GI dysbiosis and gut-related toxicity.
Preparation Of Artichokes
Artichokes can be cooked (preferably steamed), or the leaves tinctured in alcohol. Choose organically grown artichokes that are rich in color, especially when the leaves are tinted purple and violet. These indicate a stronger tendency for higher phytonutrient content.
Steaming an artichoke takes approximately 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, use your teeth to scrape off and eat the nutrient-rich inner contents of the leaves.
Eating artichokes takes time! Once the artichoke leaf meat has been eaten, you may also eat the heart of the artichoke and the stem.
You’ll notice a semi-sweet flavor remaining in your mouth for up to an hour. This is the residual effect of the cynarin. Pay attention to your liver/gall bladder region (upper right quadrant). Most people report feeling a warming sensation, or stimulation in the gall bladder region within 1-2 hours of consuming an artichoke.
If you’re interested in tincturing artichoke leaves, remove all of the raw leaves of the artichoke. Place in a blender, add organic vodka and blend on high for 10-30 seconds. Ideally, artichoke leaf extract is prepared in a 1:2 ratio; that is 1 part artichoke leaf, 2 parts alcohol. Store in glass jar with lid for 4-6 weeks. Shake daily. Use a wine press to extract all of the liquid from the leaf fiber. Alcohol-prepared tinctures can be preserved for several years. Use artichoke leaf in combination with other cholagogic herbs such as bayberry, dandelion root, or aloe vera.