This large thistle-like plant is native to the regions of southern Europe, North Africa, and the Canary Islands. The leaves of the plant are used medicinally. However, the roots and the immature flower heads may also contain beneficial compounds.1
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Indigestion, Heartburn, and Low Stomach Acidity
500 to 1,000 mg cynarin in a standardized herbal extract three times per day
Extracts of artichoke have been repeatedly shown in research to be beneficial for people with indigestion.
Bitter herbs are thought to stimulate digestive function by increasing saliva production and promoting both stomach acid and digestive enzyme production.3 As a result, they are particularly used when there is low stomach acid but not in heartburn (where too much stomach acid could initially exacerbate the situation). These herbs literally taste bitter. Some examples of bitter herbs include greater celandine, wormwood, gentian,dandelion, blessed thistle, yarrow, devil’s claw, bitter orange, bitter melon, juniper, andrographis, prickly ash, and centaury.4. Bitters are generally taken either by mixing 1–3 ml tincture into water and sipping slowly 10–30 minutes before eating, or by making tea, which is also sipped slowly before eating.
Artichoke , in addition to being an edible plant, is a mild bitter. Extracts of artichoke have been repeatedly shown in double-blind research to be beneficial for people with indigestion.5 Artichoke is particularly useful when the problem is lack of bile production by the liver.6 Extracts providing 500–1,000 mg per day of cynarin, the main active constituent of artichoke, are recommended by doctors.
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Artichoke has moderately lowered cholesterol and triglycerides in some trials.
Artichoke has moderately lowered cholesterol and triglycerides in some,7 , 8 but not all,9 human trials. One double-blind trial found that 900 mg of artichoke extract per day significantly lowered serum cholesterol and LDL cholesterol but did not decrease triglycerides or raise HDL cholesterol.10 Cholesterol-lowering effects occurred when using 320 mg of standardized leaf extract taken two to three times per day for at least six weeks.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Refer to label instructions
In a preliminary study of people with irritable bowel syndrome who took an artichoke leaf extract daily for two months, 26% reported an improvement in symptoms.
In a preliminary study of people with irritable bowel syndrome who took an artichoke leaf extract daily for two months, 26% reported an improvement in symptoms.11 Because no placebo group was used in this study and because irritable bowel syndrome has a high rate of response to placebo, additional research is needed to confirm this report. The amount of artichoke leaf used in the study was 320 or 640 mg per day of a 1:5 standardized extract.
The artichoke is one of the world’s oldest medicinal plants. The ancient Egyptians placed great value on the plant—it is clearly seen in drawings involving fertility and sacrifice. Moreover, this plant was used by the ancient Greeks and Romans as a digestive aid. In 16th century Europe, the artichoke was favored as a food by royalty.2
Artichoke leaves contain a wide number of active constituents, including cynarin, 1,3 dicaffeoylquinic acid, 3-caffeoylquinic acid, and scolymoside.12 The choleretic (bile stimulating) action of the plant has been well documented in a controlled trial involving a small sample of healthy volunteers.13 After the administration of 1.92 grams of standardized artichoke extract directly into the duodenum, liver bile flow increased significantly. This choleretic effect has led to the popular use of artichoke extract in Europe for the treatment of mild indigestion—particularly following a meal high in fat. In an uncontrolled clinical trial with 553 people suffering from non-specific digestive disorders (including indigestion), 320–640 mg of a standardized artichoke extract taken three times per day was found to reduce nausea, abdominal pain, constipation, and flatulence in over 70% of the study participants.14
The standardized extract has also been used to treat high cholesterol and triglycerides. In one preliminary trial15 and one controlled trial,16 use of a standardized artichoke extract was found to lower cholesterol and triglycerides significantly when taken in amounts ranging from 900 to 1,920 mg per day. One preliminary trial failed to find any effect.17
While scientists are not certain how artichoke leaves lower cholesterol, test tube studies have suggested that the action may be due to an inhibition of cholesterol synthesis and/or the increased elimination of cholesterol because of the plant’s choleretic action.18 In test tube studies, the flavonoids from the artichoke (e.g., luteolin) have been shown to prevent LDL-cholesterol oxidation—an effect that may reduce risk of atherosclerosis.19
The suggested adult amount of the standardized leaf extract is 300–640 mg three times daily for a minimum of six weeks.20 Alternatively, if a standardized extract is not available, the amount of the crude, dried leaves is 1–4 grams, three times a day.21
At the recommended amount and according to the German Commission E Monograph,22 there are no known side effects or drug interactions. The use of artichoke is not recommended for those who are allergic to artichokes and other members of the Compositae (e.g., daisy) family. In addition, those who have any obstruction of the bile duct (e.g., as a result of gallstones) should not employ this plant therapeutically. The plant’s safety during pregnancy and breastfeeding has not been established.
1. Brand N. Cynara scolymus L.—The artichoke. Zeitschrift Phytother 1990;11:169–75.
2. Brand N. Cynara scolymus L.—The artichoke. Zeitschrift Phytother 1990;11:169–75.
3. Schulz V, Hänsel R, Tyler VE. Rational Phytotherapy: A Physician’s Guide to Herbal Medicine. 3rd ed, Berlin: Springer, 1998, 168–73.
4. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin: American Botanical Council and Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 425–6.
5. Kraft K. Artichoke leaf extract--recent findings reflecting effects on lipid metabolism, liver and gastrointestinal tracts. Phytomedicine 1997;4:370–8 [review].
6. Kirchhoff R, Beckers C, Kirchhoff GM, et al. Increase in choleresis by means of artichoke extract. Phytomedicine 1994;1:107–15.
7. Fintelmann V. Antidyspeptic and lipid-lowering effect of artichoke leaf extract. Zeitschirfit fur Allgemeinmed 1996;72:1–19.
8. Bundy R, Walker AF, Middleton RW, et al. Artichoke leaf extract (Cynara scolymus) reduces plasma cholesterol in otherwise healthy hypercholesterolemic adults: a randomized, double blind placebo controlled trial. Phytomedicine 2008;15:668–75.
9. Heckers H, Dittmar K, Schmahl FW, Huth K. Inefficiency of cynarin as therapeutic regimen in familial type II hyperlipoproteinemia. Atherosclerosis 1977; 26:249–53.
10. Englisch W, Beckers C, Unkauf M, et al. Efficacy of artichoke dry extract in patients with hyperlipoproteinemia. Arzneimittelforschung 2000;50:260–5.
11. Bundy R, Walker AF, Middleton RW, et al. Artichoke leaf extract reduces symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and improves quality of life in otherwise healthy volunteers suffering from concomitant dyspepsia: a subset analysis. J Altern Complement Med 2004;10:667–9.
12. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2d ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996, 42–3.
13. Kirchoff R, Beckers CH, Kirchoff GM, et al. Increase of choleresis by means of artichoke extract. Phytomedicine 1994;1:107–15.
14. Fintelmann V. Antidyspeptic and lipid-lowering effect of artichoke leaf extract. Zeitschrift fur Allgemeinmed 1996;72(Suppl 2):3–19.
15. Fintelmann V. Antidyspeptic and lipid-lowering effect of artichoke leaf extract. Zeitschrift fur Allgemeinmed 1996;72(Suppl 2):3–19.
16. Englisch W, Beckers C, Unkauf M, et al. Efficacy of artichoke dry extract in patients with hyperlipoproteinemia. Arzneimittelforschung 2000;50:260–5.
17. Heckers H, Dittmar K, Schmahl FW, Huth K. Inefficiency of cynarin as therapeutic regimen in familial type II hyperlipoproteinemia. Atherosclerosis 1977;26:249–53.
18. Gebhardt R. New experimental results in the action of artichoke leaf extract. Zeitschrift fur Allgemeinmed 1996;72:20–3.
19. Brown JE, Rice-Evans CA. Luteolin rich artichoke extract protects low density lipoprotein from oxidation in vitro. Free Radical Research 1998;29:247–55.
20. Fintelmann V. Antidyspeptic and lipid-lowering effect of artichoke leaf extract. Zeitschrift fur Allgemeinmed 1996;72:1–19.
21. Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1996, 36.
22. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin: American Botanical Council and Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 84–5.
Last Review: 05-01-2013
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2014.
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