Liver damage caused by OTC painkillers reduced by this folk remedy

Over-the-counter painkillers like acetaminophen can damage the liver and cause serious health problems. A new study by Malaysian researchers suggested that compounds from a common fern can protect the liver from toxic acetaminophen.

Every day, the liver gets exposed to various substances, many of them toxic. It normally detoxifies and expels those toxic chemicals, but overexposure or constant exposure to the toxins eventually overwhelms the organ.

The chemicals release free radicals that damage the membrane of liver cells. As the liver is responsible for regulating numerous physiological functions, the repercussions will affect the entire body.

Pharmaceutical drugs are a prime source of liver damage. For example, acetaminophen (APAP) is considered a “safe drug” and is often used as a painkiller. However, overdosing on APAP will kill hepatic cells and cause liver failure.

Liver damage is treated through various means, many of which are natural products or derived from such. The Old World forked fern (Dicranopteris linearis) was the subject of a different study by Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) researchers, who reported on the protective properties of the plant’s methanolic extract against carbon tetrachloride (CCl4).

The researchers turned their sights from CCl4 to acetaminophen, which uses a different means to damage liver cells. They investigated the protective effects of the forked fern extract against APAP. (Related: Rhubarb shows promise for treating chronic liver disease.)

Methanolic extract from Old World forked fern might protect the liver

The forked fern was collected from the wild. Methanol extracted from the plants. The extract was administered to mice in 5,000 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) dosage to determine acute toxicity.

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Next up for determination were the liver-protecting properties of the extract. The normal control group received the delivery vehicle, the hepatotoxic control was administered acetaminophen, and the positive control received APAP and silymarin, a hepaprotective extract from milk thistle.

The last three groups were given 50, 250, and 500 mg/kg of methanolic extract alongside acetaminophen. They received pre-treatment solutions once per day for seven days before APAP was administered to them.

The UPM researchers drew blood from the treated rats. The animals were euthanized; their livers were examined for histopathology and the presence of endogenous enzymes that produce antioxidants in the liver.

In addition, the methanolic extract from the forked fern was examined for any inhibitory effect on the lipoxygenase and xanthine oxide enzymes that produce inflammatory substances. Finally, ultra-high-pressure liquid chromatography (UHPLC), and gas chromatography-mass spectrology (GCMS) identified the bioactive compounds in the extract.

Bioactive compounds in fern extract confirmed for hepatoprotective activity

The UPM researchers reported that large amounts of the fern extract showed no toxic effects on mice. They did not lose weight or change behaviors, their blood and biochemical parameters remained normal, and their organs showed no lesions or pathological changes.

Hepatotoxic rats showed heavier livers and larger liver/body weight ratios. Pre-administration of the methanolic extract greatly decreased these gains. Silymarin pre-treatment achieved the same effects as the 50 mg/kg extract.

All doses of methanolic extract reduced the levels of ALT, AST, and ALP serum liver enzymes. Along with silymarin, they boosted the activity of the antioxidant-producing enzymes SOD and CAT in the liver, which broke down toxic free radicals that could damage liver cell membranes. The extract also reduced the amount of damage acetaminophen caused to liver cells.

Finally, the chromatographic analyses showed that the extract contained 48 volatile compounds. Some of these anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds might be the ones protecting the liver.

The UPM researchers believed their findings demonstrated the potential application of the methanolic extract from the Old World forked fern as a therapy method for repairing liver damage caused by acetaminophen overdose.

Read about more medicinal plants that protect your liver from toxic chemicals at

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