What is a Cholagogue?
This is an action that has the specific effect of stimulating the flow of bile from the liver. In orthodox pharmacology there is differentiation between ‘direct’ cholagogues which actually increase the amount of secreted bile, and ‘indirect’ cholagogues (or choleretics) which simply increase the amount of bile being released by the gall bladder. This differentiation is not very important in holistic herbal practice. Hepatics are herbal remedies which a wide range of ways aid the work of the liver. They tone, strengthen and in some cases increase the flow of bile as well. Bitters and cholagogues all act as hepatics to some degree.
How Cholagogues Work
As previously noted, most of the remedies that have the action of bitter or hepatic are also cholagogues. A whole range of plant constituents will have this action on the liver tissue, but without it being forced or damaging. The secretion of bile is of great help to the whole digestive and assimilative process, and as we are what we eat – we are what we digest. The role of bile is primarily that of facilitating fat digestion, but also being a natural laxative, and thus cleansing to the system. Without exploring the vast complexities of liver function, it is worth noting that bile formation and flow and fundamental to all. These herbs have a much deeper value than simply the release of bile, they help ensure a strong and healthy liver and so enliven the whole being.