Bringing Back Bitters: Transforming an Old Medicine Into a New and Improved Nutraceutical

Sponsored by Quicksilver Scientific

By Christopher Shade, PhD

The use of bitters as a therapeutic tool can be traced back to ancient Egypt. Eventually, around the 1800s, these combinations of medicinal herbs became a popular cocktail. Today, there is a resurgence of interest in bitters as both a custom cocktail addition and as a powerful supportive aid to digestive health.

When it comes to digestive health, ingestion of bitter herbs acts along two proposed pathways:1

  • Binding of receptors that act reflexively to increase saliva and vagal tone of digestive organs.
  • Stimulation of local receptors to increase digestive secretions.

Strong bitter herbs like gentian, for example, stimulate stomach acid and other digestive secretions, while slightly milder bitters, like sweet orange essential oil, not only calm digestive upset but also balance the central nervous system. In fact, the health benefits of bitters go far beyond the digestive system and have been shown to positively impact liver, kidney, immune and detoxification functions.2 Bitter taste receptors exist throughout the digestive system and are located in other areas of the body as well.3 These bitter receptors have been shown to trigger a whole host of biological processes including blood sugar regulation and immune stimulation in response to infection.4

From a clinical perspective, to get the full range of benefits from bitters, bitter herbs should be selected that not only impact digestion but also support the liver and the kidneys. Some examples of bitter herbs that do just that are milk thistle, dandelion, burdock, and goldenrod. In addition to providing digestive benefit, this will also ensure efficient detoxification.

After an exhaustive review of the vast amounts of research on individual bitter herbs, I have found that nine herbs rise to the top of the list when it comes to effectively supporting the liver, kidneys, and gastrointestinal tract, and subsequently promoting efficient detoxification. Those nine herbs are dandelion, milk thistle, goldenrod, gentian, burdock, and essential oils of sweet orange, myrrh, juniper, and clove. When these bitter botanicals are delivered in liposomes, detoxification is enhanced even further.5

The liposomal delivery system also provides phosphatidylcholine, the primary phospholipid of which cellular membranes are comprised. These phospholipids form the external sphere of the liposomal package, and facilitate cellular delivery by fusing with the cell’s phospholipid membrane.6 By bathing the cell in phospholipids which are necessary for membrane repair and communication, we ensure proper function for absorption of nutrients and excretion of cellular waste products and toxins.

Bitters are a powerful tool that integrative practitioners can use to not only support healthy digestion, but also positively influence liver and kidney function and thereby promote optimal detoxification. The integration of a comprehensive bitters combination with a liposomal delivery system is a perfect example of how innovative technology can take a historical home run and make it even better.

This information was brought to you by Quicksilver Scientific.

About the Author

Christopher Shade, PhD, obtained bachelor of science and masters of science degrees from Lehigh University in environmental and aqueous chemistry, and a PhD from the University of Illinois where he studied metal-ligand interactions in the environment and specialized in the analytical chemistries of mercury. During his PhD work, Shade patented analytical technology for mercury speciation analysis and later founded Quicksilver Scientific, LLC, to commercialize this technology. Shortly after starting Quicksilver Scientific, Shade turned his focus to the human aspects of mercury toxicity and the functioning of the human detoxification system. He has since researched and developed superior liposomal delivery systems for the nutraceutical and wellness markets and also specific clinical analytical techniques for measuring human mercury exposure. He used his understanding of mercury and glutathione chemistry to design a unique system of products for detoxification that repairs and then maximizes the natural detoxification system.


  1. McMullen MK, Whitehouse JM, Towell A. Bitters: Time for a new paradigm. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015 May 4.
  2. Shaik FA, et al. Bitter taste receptors: Extraoral roles in pathophysiology. Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2016;77:197-204.
  3. Jaggupilli A, et al. Analysis of the expression of human bitter taste receptors in extraoral tissues. Mol Cell Biochem. 2017;426(1-2):137-147.
  4. Lee RJ, Cohen NA. The emerging role of the bitter taste receptor T2R38 in upper respiratory infection and chronic rhinosinusitis. Am J Rhinol Allergy. 2013;27(4):283-6
  5. Shade C. Liposomes as advanced delivery systems for nutraceuticals. Integr Med. 2016;15(1):33-36.
  6. Berggren S, Gall C, Wollnitz N, et al. Gene and protein expression of P-glycoprotein, MRP1, MRP2, and CYP3A4 in the small and large human intestine. Mol Pharm. 2007;4:252–7.