The liver is the largest organ inside your body. It plays the following key roles in the body:
There are many things you can do to keep your liver happy and healthy, including healthy eating, lifestyle, and supplementation.
Liver supplements can help protect the liver from oxidative stress and support its overall wellness, while also improving general health. Here’s 12 supplements that you should know about when it comes to supporting your liver.
Milk thistle is a popular supplement that has been used by traditional herbal medicine practitioners to provide liver support for hundreds of years. It contains silibinin and silymarin, which both have powerful and antioxidant properties. It has been shown to increase the production of glutathione, one of the major antioxidants made in the body. Today, it is one of the most popular supplements used to foster healthy liver function.
Vitamin B is actually a group of 8 vitamins essential for numerous metabolic processes. Most of the B vitamins cannot be stored in the body and must therefore be consumed in a well-balanced diet that includes foods such as leafy greens, meat, poultry, whole grains, chickpeas, kidney beans, vegetables, and fruits.
In liver health, B vitamins are needed for the liver’s detoxification processes. Methylation, a process required for liver detoxification as well as a host of other bodily functions, requires vitamins B12, B6, and folate. Vitamin B6, or pyridoxal-5-phosphate, is required for glutathione production.
Vitamin B12 can only be found in foods from animal sources, so a vegan diet will be insufficient without foods fortified with vitamin B12, such as some unsweetened plant milks, soy products, breakfast cereals, as well as B12 supplementation. Also, as people age, their bodies do not absorb B12 as efficiently as they once did. Signs of B12 deficiency include fatigue, headaches, cognitive impairment, and swelling of the tongue.
To ensure adequate intake of B vitamins, you can consider taking a vitamin B-Complex supplement.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that can protect against potential oxidative damage from free radicals, toxic chemicals, and pollutants. It also helps provide support with wound healing, immune function, seasonal sinus and lung issues, and fat metabolism in the liver. Good food sources of vitamin C include all citrus fruits, strawberries, cantaloupe, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, peppers, cabbage, and white potatoes. Vitamin C is also widely available as a supplement in pill, powder and liquid form. Quality of vitamin C matters. Extracts of vitamin C from whole foods which also contain flavonoids and other beneficial compounds are likely better absorbed than synthetic vitamin C (just ascorbic acid) for overall health. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 75mg for women and 90mg for men.
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that is well known for its roles in maintaining healthy bones, calcium homeostasis, and mineral metabolism. One way in which adequate vitamin D may support liver health is through the vitamin’s impact on insulin regulation in those with blood sugar levels already in normal range. Healthy insulin and blood sugar regulation is essential for maintaining liver health.
So few foods contain enough Vitamin D to meet the daily requirement 15-20 mcg (600 - 800 IU), so getting enough vitamin D through supplementation can be helpful. Natural sunlight is also an excellent source of vitamin D, though this may prove difficult for those who spend quite a bit of time indoors. Supplementation with Vitamin D and Vegan vitamin D supplements may help.
Vitamin E is a group of 8 fat-soluble compounds that form a powerful antioxidant that can break the chain reactions of oxidative stress that can occur from free radicals. It is needed for proper immune function and cellular signaling, and evidence shows therapeutic benefit on liver health. Foods rich in vitamin E include olive oil, almonds, and sunflower seeds. It can also be found in meats, eggs, poultry, avocado, peanut butter, dairy, leafy greens, and fortified cereals.
Dandelion root has been traditionally used as a liver tonic, a medicinal substance that can boost vitality. It has antioxidant properties that help protect the liver against oxidative stress. Dandelion root is also a type of digestive bitter, a substance that stimulates bile production and enhances bile flow from the liver. Adequate bile production is important for proper digestion of fats and the elimination of toxins and waste products from the liver. Bitters.) work their digestive magic by stimulating the release of the digestive hormone cholecystokinin (CCK) which stimulates bile flow from the liver and gallbladder as well as digestive enzyme release pancreas. Dandelion root extracts are commonly available in liquid dropper form.
Turmeric is a common yellow spice that exhibits antioxidant-like effects, which can help protect the liver from oxidative stress. Curcumin, the major polyphenol in turmeric, can help manage the impacts of fat accumulation in the liver. Turmeric’s active compounds, especially curcumin, have been shown to enhance the activity of enzymes involved in liver detoxification pathways. For example, curcumin has been shown to enhance estrogen metabolism and detoxification. By supporting the efficiency of the detox functions, turmeric aids in maintaining a healthy liver.
The bioavailability of curcumin alone is relatively low. You can enhance absorption by consuming turmeric with black pepper or in combination with a source of fat.
Choline is a vitamin-like compound that is involved in the metabolism of fats in the liver. It aids in the transport and metabolism of dietary fats and cholesterol, helping to manage the transportation of fats from the liver. Choline is a major component of phosphatidylcholine, a compound essential for cell structure and function including liver cells. Choline is also an ingredient needed for bile acid production which supports digestion and transportation of fats.
You can get adequate choline from choline-rich foods, including beef liver, eggs, beef, chicken, fish, soybeans, and potatoes.
Artichoke leaf works similarly to dandelion root, providing antioxidant-like protection and working as a digestive bitter to support liver health and bile flow. Animal studies have shown that artichoke leaf supplementation enriched with luteolin can decrease fat in the liver%20%5B10%2C11%5D.) and support metabolic markers. Two major polyphenols in artichoke leaves are luteolin and chlorogenic acid. These compounds help protect the liver against oxidative stress. Artichoke leaf extract can boost antioxidant enzymes in the liver, including superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase.
Beetroot, or beets, is a vegetable that is associated with liver and gallbladder health. They are rich in antioxidants, most notably betalains, that give beets their notable red-violet color and help protect the liver against oxidative stress.
One type of betalains, called betacyanins, are known for increasing the abundance of Akkermansia bacteria in the gut. These bacteria have been found to improve metabolic health markers, including those often associated with liver issues.
Another major benefit of beets is that they are a natural source of nitrates, which can be converted into nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide helps relax and dilate blood vessels, improving blood flow and oxygen delivery to the liver. This enhanced blood flow can support optimal liver functioning.
Ginger contains gingerol and the other active compounds that have antioxidant-like properties that can help manage oxidative stress in the body and support liver health. Gingerol is also responsible for ginger’s touted ability to aid digestion and stimulate bile production.
Ginger possesses diaphoretic properties, meaning it can support healthy blood flow. Gingerol, one of the main pungent oils in ginger, can manage the production of leukotriene and prostaglandin compounds in the body which can impact blood flow.
Cysteine is an amino acid that is used to make glutathione, a major antioxidant in the body. Glutathione plays a key role in the liver detoxification processes. Cysteine is found in most high-protein foods and is also produced in the body from methionine, an essential amino acid.
Supplementation of cysteine is most common in the form of N-acetyl-L-cysteine, or NAC. At this time, NAC appears to be more bioavailable than glutathione in the supplement form and therefore a better supplement to boost glutathione. Supplementation of NAC has been shown to support healthy levels of liver markers.
In higher single doses (generally more than 40,000 IU, or about 12,000 mcg), vitamin A can be toxic. Short-term toxicity is caused by one or several repeated incidences of very high doses resulting in symptoms that include severe headache, nausea, vertigo, blurred vision, muscle aches, and lack of coordination. Chronic toxicity occurs when large amounts of Vitamin A build up over a long period of time. These symptoms are much more serious and sometimes cause liver damage. In early stages, this can be easily reversible.
The levels of niacin a person can consume through normal food intake will not lead to problems with the liver. Higher doses are often only possible through long-term supplementation or medication. Doses of 30-50 mg of nicotinic acid (version of niacin that results in flushing) at a time can cause unpleasant symptoms, such as flushing of the skin, but are generally not toxic. Long term use of high doses, often over 1,000 mg per day, can be toxic to the liver. If you’re taking niacin to support healthy cholesterol levels already within normal limits or for other uses, consult your physician and report any unusual side effects. Doses of niacin in many B complex formulations are usually well within safe limits.
Many liver health supplements have proven benefits. However, it's important to note that the effectiveness depends on the specific supplement, individual needs, and overall health status. Certain liver health supplements may provide essential nutrients that support liver function. For example, supplements containing vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are needed for liver detoxification processes may promote liver health if these processes need additional support.
Antioxidant promoting supplements can help manage oxidative stress that can impact overall health. Liver health supplementation should also not be seen as a substitute for a healthy lifestyle, which we’ll discuss further below.
Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider to understand if supplementation may be appropriate for you.
Many non-traditional practitioners have been recommending this unconventional treatment for decades. Its proponents believe a castor oil pack over the abdomen and liver helps the liver to move particles and cleanse the body. While there is little medical research on its efficacy, there is some evidence that castor oil itself has numerous beneficial properties. If you’re up for it, the entire process can take a couple of hours and seems a little messy. Before you begin, be sure to test a small amount of castor oil on your skin to see if you are sensitive to it.
Plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices, and whole grains are among the best sources of antioxidants. As an added bonus, they are also typically high in fiber and excellent sources of vitamins and minerals. Some antioxidant-rich foods include blueberries, strawberries, red cabbage, purple grapes, spinach, beets, orange vegetables, avocados, and even some delicious dark chocolate. And that’s just a partial list. The world’s most popular beverage, coffee, is also a rich, and delicious, source of antioxidants.
Water is by far the beverage of choice for overall health. Medical professionals recommend drinking 11 cups a day for women and 16 cups for men in order to keep your body’s temperature regulated, keep joints lubricated, deliver nutrients to cells, and keep vital organs like your liver functioning properly. You will also feel better. Add some fruit to your water for a little extra flavor, but avoid sugar-sweetened beverages. Read the labels and remember, if it tastes too sweet to be good, it probably is.
One of the primary functions of the liver is to metabolize toxins, hormones, and other compounds that the body wants to eliminate. This process can create oxidative stress, so it is important to eat an antioxidant-rich diet to support antioxidant capacity in the liver. Additionally, amino acids, B vitamins, and minerals are other nutrients that help power these detox pathways.
To support the health of your liver, incorporate antioxidant-rich foods into your daily eating, such as cruciferous veggies, dark leafy greens, garlic, berries, citrus fruits, nuts, and seeds. Also get adequate protein from foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, shellfish, salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel, nuts, whole grains, and beans.
After the liver detoxifies compounds, the compounds need to be eliminated through bowel movements, urine, or sweat. To support this third pathway of detox, eat plenty of plant foods which are rich in fiber and hydrate with water often.
Regular exercise is a foundation of any healthy lifestyle. It can also support liver health. Clinical trials have found that exercise can help reduce fat content in the liver. These beneficial effects occur in both aerobic and resistance type exercises, which means that you can be flexible with your exercise plan and still reap the benefits for liver health. Exercise can help improve the body’s use of insulin and support mitochondrial function, which is key to a healthy liver.
Just like a healthy diet and regular exercise, adequate sleep is essential for optimal health. Studies show that there is an association between liver health issues and sleep issues. One prospective cohort study, which studied young adults over the course of 4 years, found that short sleep duration was specifically associated with an increased risk of liver health issues. Many of the studies on sleep and liver health are observational and provide associations, but there is limited research on how improvements in sleep might actually improve liver health. However, some research shows that the link between sleep and liver health is bidirectional, each impacting the other. We know that adequate, quality sleep is an excellent way to reduce oxidative stress and replete antioxidant status as well as support bodily repair. These are all beneficial factors for boosting liver health.
Is alcohol bad for the liver? Studies show that those who already have liver issues may experience negative health effects from drinking alcohol even in moderation. However, for those looking to maintain health, keeping to the USDA Dietary Guidelines recommendation of no more than 2 alcoholic drinks per day for men and 1 alcoholic drink for women is important. The guidelines also do not recommend that individuals who do not drink begin drinking for any reason for health.
In general, less alcohol consumption is better for health. Alcohol can deplete the body of essential nutrients, all of which are necessary for liver health. In turn, a depleted liver means a stressed liver.
A healthy liver is vital to your well-being. You can take steps to support your body with dietary and supplement sources of specific nutrients that are essential for liver function or are known to support it functioning better. Certain nutrients can act as antioxidants that reduce oxidative stress in the liver, while other substances like specific herbs can enhance bile flow and increase flow of blood to the liver. Additional nutrients including vitamins, minerals, and amino acids directly support the essential detoxification processes that the liver carries out for the health of the whole body.