The Health Power of Artichoke


Artichokes offer a variety of health benefits including digestive and cardiovascular health effects.

They can also help protect our cells by way of their strong antioxidant capacity.

With digestive concerns, heart disease, and chronic, low-grade inflammation affecting so many of us these days, this post will highlight the research breakthroughs in these areas.

Artichokes Pack a Healthy Punch

Artichokes (Cynara scolymus) are a member of the thistle family and have a strong history of therapeutic effects on the liver which have been well known since the 17th century.1 Cynara scolymus, also known as Globe artichokes, are one of the most ancient plants grown in the world, and its extracts are obtained from different parts of the plant (leaves, fruits and roots).

Globe artichokes have been ranked among the top 100 richest food sources of polyphenols.2 Their leaves contain the polyphenolic compounds apigenin, luteolin, quercetin, rutin, chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, hesperitin, and more.3

In cultured rat liver cells exposed to a compound that induces lipid peroxidation (a type of cell damage), artichoke extract added prior to administration of the compound lowered levels of malondialdehyde (MDA, a marker of oxidative stress) and cell toxicity while preventing the loss of intracellular glutathione, an antioxidant.4 Further experimentation uncovered an association between lower MDA production and caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, and other artichoke constituents.

Artichokes Support Healthy Digestion

A double-blind crossover study found an increase in bile secretion subsequent to the administration of an artichoke extract, indicating that the extract could be helpful for indigestion, particularly when this is attributable to bile duct dysfunction.5

A review published in Phytomedicine noted that artichoke leaf extracts had antioxidant, liver-protective, and bile-stimulating properties, in addition to reducing low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol oxidation and cholesterol synthesis—the latter of which is attributed to artichoke leaf's luteolin content.6

This is key because oxidation of LDL is one of the first steps in the development of vascular inflammation and the initiation of vulnerable plaque development. Clinical trial participants were observed to have experienced a decrease in lipids as well as digestive effects that include reductions in nausea and intestinal gas, along with a low incidence of side effects.

An open study of 454 subjects with dyspepsia (painful or impaired digestion) found an average decrease of 40% in dyspepsia scores as well as improvement in health-related quality of life after two months among those given 320 milligrams (mg) or 640 mg artichoke leaf extract daily.

A randomized, double-blind trial of 247 functional dyspepsia patients resulted in significantly greater symptom improvement and global quality of life scores over six weeks of treatment in association with artichoke leaf extract in comparison with a placebo.8

Other research has uncovered a benefit for artichoke leaf extract in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a condition that affects an estimated 22% of the population.9 In a study of IBS patients, 96% rated artichoke leaf as better or equivalent to previously used therapies for the condition.

Another study that involved 208 adults with IBS who were also suffering from dyspepsia found a 26.4% decline in IBS incidence and a 20% improvement in quality of life scores following treatment with artichoke leaf extract.10

Artichokes Support Heart Health

A clinical trial in which participants received 1,800 milligrams of artichoke extract powder or a placebo daily for six weeks resulted in a reduction in total cholesterol among those who received the artichoke that was more than twice of that experienced by the placebo group and an even greater reduction in LDL cholesterol, suggesting a benefit for those with elevated lipids or heart disease.11 

In 18 patients with moderately elevated lipids and/or triglycerides, markers of endothelial dysfunction and brachial artery flow-mediated vasodilation improved in those given artichoke juice, indicating better endothelial function.12 Another randomized trial conducted on artichoke leaf juice resulted in significant reductions in systolic and diastolic blood pressure after 12 weeks in participants with mild hypertension compared to values measured in a placebo group.13

If you find purchasing, cooking, and eating fresh artichokes too troublesome, you'll be glad to learn that artichoke leaf supplements are readily available. Canned or bottled artichoke hearts are also a convenient and tasty addition to salads, casseroles, and other dishes.

References

  1. Monaldi Arch Chest Dis. 2013 Mar;80(1):17-26.
  2. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2010 Nov;64 Suppl 3:S112-20.
  3. Ann Pharm Fr. 1989;47(2):95-8.
  4. Toxicol In Vitro. 1997 Oct;11(5):669-72.
  5. Phytomedicine. 1994 Sep;1(2):107-15.
  6. Phytomedicine. 1997 Dec;4(4):369-78.
  7. Phytomedicine. 2002 Dec;9(8):694-9.
  8. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2003 Dec;18(11-12):1099-105.
  9. Phytother Res. 2001 Feb;15(1):58-61.
  10. J Altern Complement Med. 2004 Aug;10(4):667-9.
  11. Arzneimittelforschung. 2000 Mar;50(3):260-5.
  12.  Life Sci. 2004 Dec 31;76(7):775-82.
  13. J Diet Suppl. 2009;6(4):328-41.

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