Remember my stress-induced trip to the ER? Although the ultrasound ruled out gallstones, the technician found something else of interest. An enlarged liver. The ER doctor recommended I get some follow-up testing done with my family physician to make sure it wasn’t a sign of anything serious; hepatitis, congestive heart, cancer…oh the nice little list goes on.
I’ll admit with a bit of shame that it took me six months to finally research a family doctor in our new city and make an appointment. My blood work came back negative for anything serious and there seemed to be no explanation for my larger liver.
So. Where does that leave me? I have the liver of a drunken sailor but with no apparent breakdown in my enzymes so there’s nothing else they can suggest to do. The doctor actually told me that it must just be my normal liver size.
But something wasn’t right. You see, over the past six months of stalling, I kept coming across random tidbits and symptoms for a “sluggish” or “toxic” liver. You can’t actually test for such a thing because the enzymes they test to find liver breakdown or disease won’t necessarily be affected by an inefficient liver.
A sluggish or toxic liver can produce:
- Dark circles under the eyes. Traditional Chinese Medicine links the liver with eye health. When the liver isn’t functioning properly, they believe it will be reflected with yellowing of the eye and dark circles underneath.¹
- Over the past year, I’ve been getting really bad bags under my eyes. To the point that people were starting to comment on it! But the more sleep I got, the worse they would get. What gives?!
- I found that I was no longer able to sleep on my left side because of an extremely uncomfortable pain/pressure on my right side. It was like something was pressing down on my insides and if the doctor was right that this was just how my liver “normally is”, than I would have felt that pain all my life, no?
- Another weird one — over the past few months, I’ve found my skin super itchy for no apparent reason. Sometimes it would be my legs but usually it was my arms or hands. No sign of rash, allergic reaction or anything — just itchy all over.
- Boys — don’t look that up.
After getting a dead end from all the lab tests, I began researching detoxes and alternative approaches to cleansing the liver. It was all a bit overwhelming so I decided to just start out slow and try a supplement called milk thistle which is known for cleansing the liver.
The active ingredient — the one that protects the liver — in milk thistle is known as silymarin. Silymarin is actually a group of flavonoids (silibinin, silidianin, and silicristin), which are thought to help repair liver cells damaged by alcohol and other toxic substances. Silymarin also keeps new liver cells from being destroyed by these same toxins. It reduces inflammation (which is why it is often suggested for people with liver inflammation or hepatitis), and is a strong antioxidant.
I made sure to find a milk thistle supplement that was potent enough to get the job done (the Silybum seed of the plant) and started taking about half of the recommended dosage to start out — two capsules in the morning and again in the evening.
And boy has my beefy liver been busy…
Day 1: My skin gets extra itchy.
Within just a few hours of taking my first dose, my skin got super itchy. I took that as a good sign since eastern medicine believes that if you are taking the right herbal remedy, your condition will get worse before it gets better. It’s your body pushing out the cause of the illness rather than our western medicine’s approach to simply treating the symptoms.
Day 5: No more pain when laying on my left side.
I was finally able to sleep on my left side again!
Day 7: First day I forget to take the supplement.
I had the old familiar pain on the lower-right area of my abdomen when I tried to sleep on my left side. Odd that this was the first day I forgot to take the supplement and now the pain was back. A sign that it must be working?
I don’t miss another dose.
Day 11: I weigh myself. I’ve lost a pound.
Weird because I’ve been the same weight for 6 months now — no matter how much I exercise or eat clean.
Day 13: I weigh myself. I’ve lost another pound. Now this is really weird.
I don’t feel like I’ve lost two pounds so I measure myself. Measurements are the exact same as they’ve been for the past six months. Did I just lose two pounds of liver???
Day 14: Grimy skin.
I scratched my back while in the shower and noticed that an oily layer of dark film was under my nails! Ewwwwww. I did it again and sure enough, every time, it was there. Perhaps I was shedding my summer tan? (ewwww again).
Day 15: Grimy skin — without a tan.
I found more of that awful “film” behind my ears…a spot that never sees sunshine so it can’t be just an old tan shedding as I had originally thought. I found more of this oily grossness on areas such as my upper back, my neck, and other spots that don’t have clothing to rub on. It’s common knowledge that a detox of any sort will often excrete the toxins through your skin (our largest organ) so is this literally my liver excreting the toxic crap that it’s been packing for who knows how long?!?
Is anyone else grossed out yet?
It’s now Day 17 and I’ve upped my daily intake of milk thistle to the max recommendation on the bottle. Once I feel the milk thistle has run it’s course, I’m going to do a more aggressive liver cleanse and hopefully get another ultrasound to see if my liver has in fact shrunk down to normal.
Have you ever followed your own health path when the doctors couldn’t tell you what else to do?