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Herbs for the Liver and Gallbladder

Dear Dr.Kim

I am thinking about taking liver herbs as I heard that it might help my gallbladder. Can you tell me a little more?

T.G. Victoria


Dear T.G.

There are many herbs you can consider to support your liver and gallbladder health. These two organs are among my favourites in human health. The liver is a master organ, said to perform more than 300 functions, and together with the gallbladder, is integral to good digestion. The liver sits on the right side of the body – tucked behind the rib cage. The gallbladder, about the size of a golf ball, sits just under the liver, connected by some ducts.

Among the jobs of the liver is to receive food nutrients from the intestine, receive and process cholesterol, neutralize compounds for elimination, create bile, and store and release glucose, when needed. Some of the signs and symptom I consider as possibly pointing to liver are heartburn, intolerance for rich food, skin troubles that are not due to contact irritants, some headaches, sluggish bowels and superficial sleep – especially persistent waking in the window of 1-3 am.

The job of the precious pouch-like gallbladder is to store and concentrate the bile produced by the liver. The bile carries compounds earmarked for elimination (via your bowel movement), aids in fat digestion (by emulsifying the fats you consume), neutralizes stomach acids (when these fluids merge at the start of the small intestine) and acts as an antimicrobial (supporting microbial health along the digestive tract). When you eat, the gallbladder “squirts” bile into the digestive tract –at the start of the small intestine, at the duodenum. Bile is a well-balanced fluid and as optimal health declines or slips, the balance of bile contents can shift leading to thicker “sludgy” bile and possibly, eventually gallstones. Higher fat meals increase the demand on bile and this is why people with suboptimal gallbladder/liver health can have low tolerance for fatty or rich foods.

Minimize burden on the liver by keeping healthy nutrition habits, following a regular exercise or activity plan, while limiting exposure to chemical toxins. Next, there are many herbs and foods that aid bile flow and can help desludge a bilious brew. Dandelion, artichoke leaf, turmeric, burdock, barberry, garlic, olive oil, beets, and lemon promote flow of this vital fluid. Milk thistle is the granddaddy herb for liver cell repair. I most often favour a combination approach as I like to support repair but want to optimize function and bile flow. Finally, ensure that your fiber intake (at least 30 grams per day) is up to snuff. Fibre binds bile in the digestive tract and further encourages elimination (of cholesterol, hormones, and toxins).

I hope these tips help you to keep things flowing!!

“Health from the inside out.”

Dr. Kimberly McQueen BSc, ND is a Naturopathic Physician in Victoria, BC. In addition to her clinic work she has been a consultant to the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence, Camosun College, Rugby Canada and Rowing Canada. P:778.433.4935 and www.kimmcqueen.com. Kim McQueen is one of the Co-founders of the nourishing Supershake, Rumble.