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"All 'Choked Up!" OR "Don't Follow The Heart, Leave With the Leaf!"

A Feel 21, Inc. Health Report
By Anthony Anderson

Okay, let me just start by saying that I absolutely detest artichoke anything. Whether it's the heart, the leaves, or (and I'm sure they're out there) the roots, it's just gross.

But, that's me! I'm pretty sure I'm in the minority. After all, you can find artichoke in spinach dip and you can order it on your pizza (I'll stick to pepperoni) which means it's out there and popular. But why? Dear old Mom summed it up all those years ago, "It's good for you, dear!" And you responded with, "But why?" This goes on until you get bored or Mom decides it's time for ice cream. So why is artichoke good for you? We'll get to that, soon.

Let's begin by answering the age-old question: What is artichoke? (Warning: The following excerpt is for all those who absolutely have to have that injection of technical-science.) Cynara scolymnus "was cultivated more than 2,000 years ago, and was used medicinally as early as 500 B.C. A member of the Compositae family, it is related to milk thistle (Silybum marianum), another traditional liver tonic. Native to the Mediterranean countries, the artichoke was used as a digestive aid in the Roman Empire,"(an early version of the Caesar Salad?) "and as a liver tonic to treat jaundice in the 1700's. In the mid-1800's, when the extract of artichoke leaves was successfully used to treat a child who suffered from jaundice, the first research began into its uses and mechanisms of action."(1) I personally believe that meeting went something like this:

     Mother: "Help, my son is yellow!"
     Doctor: "Quick get the leeches!"
     Nurse: "We're out of leeches!"
     Doctor: "Curses! Get me a young priest and an old priest!"
     Nurse: "Doctor, this is the eighteenth century. This boy isn't possessed, he's sick."
     Doctor: "Uh. . . I knew that. . . Here, take my lunch. It's an old Caesar Salad recipe.
                    The green in the artichoke should counteract the yellow skin."
     Mother: "But that makes no sense!"
     Doctor: "Listen, ma'am, I understand you're under a great deal of stress. I would be
                    as well, if my son were yellow. I'll try to explain. When a tree leaf dies, it
                    turns yellow first. It's lost it's green. So I am giving you're son the extract,
                    the very essence of the leaf to reverse the yellowing."

Afterwards, though the boy was cured, the doctor was committed when it was discovered that he was an escaped mental patient, merely posing as a doctor. Most medical professionals will disavow any relevance to this story and are still quite perplexed by the logic. Hey, it could have happened that way.

Regardless of how it was discovered, it was discovered! Current studies are beginning to uncover the secrets of the artichoke. But they aren't in the ever ubiquitous heart, though it is nutritious. The real fun stuff is being found in the the basal leaves (you know, the stuff you throw away to get to the heart). Those studies are unveiling many possible benefits such as: aiding in digestion, protecting the liver, and boosting heart health. In addition, cholesterol-lowering and cardioprotective effects have been noted and there are potential applications in the treatment and prevention of HIV, cancer and diabetes.(1)

You're probably saying, "Wow! That's amazing!" How does it work?" Or not. Researchers are still working on some of the how's; however, it is known that artichoke leaf extract works by increasing the production and flow of bile. (Hey, I didn't say it was pretty!) The increased levels of bile aid in: digestion in the gastrointestinal tract, the stimulation of peristalsis (improved regularity), and the breakdown and elimination of cholesterol. Artichoke leaf also inhibits the production of cholesterol in the liver, which in turn lowers cholesterol levels.

"Yeah, yeah, but what do studies show? Where are the facts and figures?"
So glad you asked. "A number of studies have pointed out the bile-enhancing, liver-protective and cholesterol-lowering effects of artichoke leaves, as well as suggesting other possible benefits. Research highlights follow.

Liver protection. Artichoke leaf has been used traditionally as a liver tonic for hundreds of years, and appears to work in a manner similar to that of silymarin from milk thistle, protecting the liver against toxins such as carbon tetrachloride and alcohol, and regenerating damaged liver cells. Because testing the effectiveness of artichoke leaf in protection of the liver involves exposure to toxins, studies so far have only been done on animals.

  • In one study, laboratory rats who had a portion of their livers removed were given artichoke leaf extract. The regenerative effects of artichoke leaf were demonstrated by several markers, including increase in total liver tissue, increase in cell division, stimulation of circulation in the liver and increase in liver cell content of RNA.
  • In another study, rats were treated with ethanol. Artichoke leaf was shown to reduce liver damage, and also to lower levels of serum and liver cholesterol.
  • Several studies have examined the effectiveness of artichoke leaf against liver injury. Rat liver cells exposed to poisonous chemicals were significantly protected against injury by artichoke leaf extract. Most of these studies suggest that cynarin is the compound responsible for the liver cell protective effect. Artichoke leaf extract has also been shown to significantly prevent oxidative damage to liver cells.

    Digestion. The first clinical studies on artichoke leaves and digestion were conducted as early as the 1930's. During the past five years, more studies have been conducted, with promising results. Studies have shown that artichoke leaf increases bile secretions significantly, one of the primary mechanisms by which it affects digestive disorders.

  • In one six-week study of more than 500 patients with dyspeptic syndrome, 98 percent of those who were treated with artichoke leaf extract reported feeling "considerably better," "somewhat better," or "equal" compared to their treatment with other drugs. Specifically, improvements were noted for vomiting (88 percent), nausea (83 percent), abdominal pain (76 percent), loss of appetite (72 percent), constipation (71 percent), flatulence (68 percent) and fat intolerance (59 percent).
  • In another study of patients with dyspeptic syndrome, with symptoms including abdominal pain, heartburn, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, more than half of the patients showed significant improvement after two weeks of treatment with artichoke leaf extract.
  • In another study, more than 400 patients with liver or bile duct disease were treated with artichoke leaf extract. After one week, nearly 70 percent of the patients reported improvement of such symptoms as bloating, constipation, lack of appetite, abdominal pain and nausea. By the end of the four-week trial, that number had increased to 85 percent.

  • Cardiovascular health. Early research on the ability of artichoke leaf extract> to promote digestion led to the discovery of its application for cardiovascular health. Researchers noted that artichoke leaf helped reduce cholesterol levels and prevent atherosclerotic deposits. More recent research confirms these findings.

  • In one 12-week, double-blind study, artichoke leaf extract was found to decrease cholesterol levels significantly in those who had high (more than 220mg/dl) cholesterol levels to begin with. Artichoke leaf extract had a tendency to increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels. The study also found that those subjects with the highest beginning cholesterol levels showed the most significant change.
  • A six-week study of more than 300 subjects showed an average reduction in serum cholesterol of nearly 12 percent, and a reduction in serum triglycerides of nearly 12 percent.
  • Other applications. Chlorogenic acid in artichoke leaf has been identified as a potent antioxidant, and researchers are examining its possible application in treating cancer, diabetes and HIV. Chlorogenci acid has also been shown to be an antioxidant against peroxynitrite, one of the most damaging oxidants, and one that is associated with heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases and inflammatory disease.

  • In one study, chlorogenic acid was shown to both prevent and reduce existing precancerous lesions in the colons of rats. Other studies have suggested that chlorogenic acid helps inhibit carcinogenic reactions and lessens the potential of certain chemicals to be carcinogenic.
  • A study of the application of artichoke leaf for diabetes found that chlorogenic acid helps regulate glucose metabolism, preventing the risk of high rates of glucose output found in diabetic patients.
  • A study of HIV replication showed that caffeoulquinic acids have promise as HIV inhibitors, and that they may be effective against the virus at only 1/100th the concentration at which they exhibit toxicity.
  • How safe is it?
    Because it has been used for hundreds of years, the artichoke leaf is generally considered safe and free of side effects. The extract has few side effects when taken at recommended dosage levels. In one study, only one out of 100 people reported mild side effects -- most notably, a temporary increase in flatulence. Because it promotes the formation of bile, it should not be taken by people with bile duct occlusions, including gallstones. For people who are allergic to artichokes, artichoke leaf extract may be contraindicated, even though no reactions have been seen thus far."(1)

    There you have it! All the information you ever wanted to know about artichoke leaf extract, but were afraid to ask. Why you're afraid to ask is up to you to discover.

    You may be wondering to yourself, "Where can I get this wonderful product?" Well in case the plethora of links in the story weren't enough for you, or you just don't want to scroll back up, you can simply click here.

    Click here for more Health Reports.

    Click here to read the current Health Report!


    1. Turner, Lisa: Supplement Spotlight: Artichoke extract, Vitamin RetailerTM, Feb. 2000.

    This article is provided for educational purposes only, by your local retailer. No part of this article is intended as medical advice. Always consult your health care provider for any medical problems.

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