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Why worry about liver health? Because the liver performs myriad essential functions in the body. This remarkable organ makes various proteins, produces bile and other substances to aid digestion, and stores a reserve of blood sugar in the form of glycogen. Perhaps the liver’s greatest mystique surrounds its role in the detoxification (detox), or breaking down, of harmful byproducts of normal metabolism, as well as environmental pollutants that enter the body.
Is Your Liver Sluggish & Does It Need Support?
If you answer yes to more than five of the questions below, your body’s detoxification system is likely being overwhelmed. By addressing these symptoms and warning signs now, you can ensure better long-term health.
- Do you feel that you are not as healthy and vibrant as other people your age?
- Do you have low energy levels?
- Do you often have difficulty thinking with clarity?
- Do you often feel depressed?
- Do you get more than one or two colds a year?
- Do you struggle with your weight?
- Do you suffer from lack of interest in life or sex?
- Do you have digestive disturbances?
- Do you have dark circles under your eyes?
- Are you constantly hungry?
- Do you have trouble getting to sleep or do you want to sleep all of the time?
- Do you feel anxious or stressed out most of the time?
- Do you suffer from premenstrual syndrome, fibrocystic breast disease, or uterine fibroids?
- Do you crave sweets?
- Do you suffer from allergies?
- Do you have bad breath or body odor?
- Do you suffer from chronic postnasal drip or hay fever-like symptoms?
- Do you have sore or achy muscles?
Top 6 Supplements for Liver Health
It is far better to support your liver health on a daily basis, rather than periodically with a drastic cleanse. Several supplements can support liver function—here are our top picks.
1. N-Acetylcysteine (NAC)
This potent antioxidant is stocked in hospital emergency rooms to treat acetaminophen overdose. Like Amanita mushrooms, acetaminophen damages the liver primarily by blocking the production of glutathione, an antioxidant required for detox. NAC is a precursor to glutathione and can heal the liver if taken soon enough. As a reliable defense against low levels of toxins, take 500–600 mg daily.
2. Milk Thistle
This venerable herb has been used promote liver health for at least 2,000 years. Recent research has clearly demonstrated that it is a powerful antioxidant, protects against liver damage, and reduces the toxic effects of drugs and other chemicals. Silymarin is the concentrated extract of milk thistle, and at least 50 percent of it consists of silybin, a potent constituent. Take 100–200 mg daily of silymarin, the concentrated extract of milk thistle.
3. Alpha-Lipoic Acid
Burton Berkson, MD, of Las Cruces, N.M., has long used this antioxidant to treat patients with liver cirrhosis, liver failure, Amanita mushroom poisoning, and other diseases. He often administers it with silymarin and selenium. Alpha-lipoic acid functions as a precursor to glutathione, helps maintain normal liver function, and can help regenerate damaged liver tissue. Take 100–200 mg daily. Amounts up to 600 mg are safe.
The liver uses selenium to make glutathione peroxidase, one of several glutathione-based compounds needed for liver detoxification. Ideally, it should be combined with NAC or alpha-lipoic acid. Take 200 mcg daily, an amount found in many multivitamin/multi-mineral supplements.
The B-complex vitamins and antioxidants (e.g., vitamins C and E and carotenoids) are needed to support the liver’s Phase 1 enzymes and the initial step in detoxification. Follow label directions in taking a daily multivitamin supplement.
6. Amino Acids
The liver uses these building blocks of protein to support its Phase 2 detoxification enzymes. Methionine and NAC are the most important amino acids in Phase 2 detoxification. You can also opt for a multi-amino acid supplement.
29 Essential Tips for a Healthy, Happy Liver
In addition to the supplements mentioned above, here are some simple ways to support your liver—and overall digestive health and detoxification—on a daily basis.
- Get a good air filter to reduce the amount of toxins that are recirculated throughout your home. Remember the air in your home is full of toxic chemicals, getting rid of them will reduce your overall exposure.
- Make sure the water you drink is purified. Add a filtration system to your shower head to make sure bathing water is clean and toxin free. Remember your skin is an organ and a highly absorbable one at that.
- Every day, drink two to three 8-ounce glasses of water, each with the juice of half of a squeezed lemon. This is an excellent way to increase your hydration levels. Not only does the lemon provide flavor, it adds some extra vitamin C.
- Body healing can’t progress until the digestive tract is healed. Replenish good bacteria in the intestinal tract with live, active probiotics. When you look for a probiotic, make sure the product has a true delivery system that guarantees that a certain amount of live bugs get to the intestine. The most common bugs are Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium longum; take about 2 billion of these daily to ensure a healthy digestive tract.
- Supporting digestive processes with pancreatic enzymes is an effective way to improve digestion. Highly processed, chemical-filled foods, combined with everyday stress, can shut down digestion. But digestive enzymes, especially pancreatic enzymes, closely resemble human enzymes and can greatly facilitate the digestive process.
- To improve the quality and quantity of mucin, DGL is probably the best natural ingredient available. Produced by mucous cells, mucin is a viscous liquid that not only protects the integrity of the intestinal cells, but also protects them from the acidic environment of the stomach. Chew two tablets 15 minutes before meals and as needed between meals.
- Get plenty of antioxidants to help combat free radicals and cellular damage. There are a number of supplemental antioxidants that can help, including those listed above and vitamins C and E, resveratrol, CoQ10, and pomegranate.
- Detoxification is the biggest user of energy outside the brain. Supplementing with 100 to 200 milligrams of CoQ10 per day is beneficial because it will enhance overall energy production.
- Remember: The liver is the most important organ for detoxification. Support the liver in its daily detoxification work with the herbs turmeric, artichoke extract, and dandelion root.
- The best way of reducing toxic metals is to ensure optimal glutathione levels in the body. A few ways of ensuring optimum levels of glutathione are through taking milk thistle, NAC, and alpha-lipoic acid, as mentioned above.
- Incorporate daily exercise into your routine. Exercise helps lymph fluids circulate throughout the body, which removes toxins and other harmful materials. When you go for that long walk, hike, or bike ride; when you lift those weights at the gym or putter in your garden, you are loosening up some toxins. The more intensely you do these activities, the more toxins are released.
- Go for smaller portions. Reducing overall body fat helps the body release stored toxins.
- Eat at home. What do fast-food restaurants and the processed foods we buy at the supermarket have in common? They all contain added chemicals to preserve the food, enhance its flavor, and make it look better. All the more reason to save some dough and pack a lunch.
- Become aware of the foods you consume. Begin eating organic produce that is free of pesticides and herbicides-the cost is not much different. If you can’t get organic, make sure you wash all of your vegetables with natural cleaning solutions and peel your fruit.
- If you are going to eat meat, begin shifting to organically grown meat free of hormones and chemical additives. Be aware of the fish you consume and stay away from farm-raised salmon that have high PCB counts.
- Avoid the following: alcohol, soft drinks, hot chocolate, refined carbohydrates (found in cakes, cookies, muffins, doughnuts, and ice cream), sugar, chemical additives, preservatives, processed meats, fried food, trans fats, and artificial sweeteners, dyes, colors, and flavors.
- Trans fat is by far the worst type of fat. Read labels and rid your fridge and pantry of trans fat-containing vegetable shortening, margarine, salad dressings, cakes, doughnuts, microwave popcorn, cookies, french fries, chips, and snack crackers. Start using healthful fats instead, such as coconut oil for cooking and olive oil for salads.
- Dietary fiber is critical for binding toxin-laden bile and carrying it out of the body. Add more fiber to your diet. Try oats, barley, legumes, fruits, vegetables, wheat, bran, and whole grains.
- Optimize bowel health by getting enough fiber in your diet. Dietary fiber is essential to normalize bowel transit time, blood sugar levels, and blood cholesterol levels. It also supports detoxification mechanisms. When looking for a fiber supplement, make sure it contains a high-quality combination of both soluble and insoluble fiber.
- Include high-quality omega-3 fish oils, specifically EPA and DHA, in your diet. Fish oils benefit heart health, diabetes, depression, and even brain development. When it comes to detoxification, EPA and DHA have the ability to be incorporated into cellular membranes, thus improving cell function.
- Reduce your consumption of sugar (substitute stevia, honey, xylitol, erythritol, monk fruit, or agave nectar) and consume more complex carbohydrates. In addition, you should eat less meat and, when you do, make sure it’s hormone-free, organically grown meat.
- Eat ample amounts of fresh, brightly colored fruits and vegetables, which have naturally occurring antioxidants that act as direct antioxidants and support the production of glutathione. These antioxidants include vitamin C (ascorbic acid), carotenes (such as lycopene and lutein), polyphenols, and dozens of other phytochemicals
- Eat ½ cup per day of cruciferous vegetables, which include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, collard greens, and rapini. These vegetables contain a number of important nutrients, making them extremely beneficial for general health. They are high in vitamin C and soluble fiber, but, more impressively, they contain multiple nutrients with well-known anticancer properties. These include diindolylmethane, sulforaphane, and selenium.
- Eat one clove of garlic per day and handful of cooked onions. Onions and garlic are rich in a variety of organic sulfur compounds. Studies show both of these vegetables help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, regulate blood sugar, and provide antibiotic effects.
- An orange a day keeps the doctor away. Lemons, oranges, and limes have had a long history of use for internal cleansing, and are high in vitamin C and bioflavonoids, phytochemicals with powerful antioxidant effects. These compounds can quench free radicals and thus support the body’s detoxification pathways.
- Eat red fruits. Pomegranate, raspberries, and strawberries contain ellagic acid, a phenolic compound that has some excellent detoxification properties. Ellagic acid not only acts as an antioxidant, it also has liver-protective effects. Some research suggests that ellagic acid may help prevent cancer.
- Eat ½ cup (combined) of liver-friendly foods. Artichokes, dandelions, and beets have all been shown to help move bile more efficiently. Bile is produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder. One of the important functions of bile is to move toxins from the liver to the gallbladder and eventually into the duodenum. Artichokes contain cynarin, which not only improves the flow of bile in the liver, but also helps lower cholesterol. Dandelion has a long history of use in liver conditions and has been shown to enhance the movement of bile from both the liver and the gallbladder. Animal studies have also shown dandelion to significantly increase the clearance of toxins. Beets also improve detoxification processes
- Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of purified water daily. Science tells us that the human body is anywhere from 55 to 75 percent water, depending on body size. To function properly, you need to replace the water lost through sweat and urination on a daily basis. Although our recommendation is for eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day, the precise amount depends on the level of activity, temperature, humidity, and other factors.
- Get your beauty sleep. It turns out that not getting seven to eight hours of sleep per night can have some serious health consequences. In a landmark study at the University of Chicago, researchers found that people that slept 6.5 hours or less had a 50 percent increase in the insulin blood levels compared to those that slept 7.5 to 8.5 hours per night. Make sure that you get your eight hours of sleep each night to ensure optimally functioning physiology and improved detoxification.
Quick Q&A on Liver Health
How Does the Liver Detox?
The liver’s “Phase 1” detoxification enzymes bind with and reduce the toxicity of harmful chemicals. Next, the liver’s Phase 2 enzymes further bind with harmful chemicals, make them water soluble, and prepare them for excretion. Both groups of enzymes depend on various nutrients to do their job, which is a key focus of any liver health regimen.
What Stresses the Liver Most?
Alcohol, fatty liver (often a consequence of obesity), some medications, and hepatitis C infection can damage the liver and lead to life-threatening liver failure. However, nearly all of us live in a highly toxic environment, with daily exposure to air and water pollution, pharmaceutical drugs, pesticides, industrial chemicals (including known carcinogens), and thousands of food additives. Given this unprecedented chemical exposure, the liver must work harder than ever before to break down everything. This is where certain nutrients can provide support for liver health.
How Is the Liver Tested?
Doctors measure levels of two liver enzymes, alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST), to assess liver health. Elevated levels of these enzymes are signs of serious liver irritation or disease. However, less severe liver stresses are not likely to elevate ALT and AST.
What Is Chronic Kidney Disease?
The kidneys work with the liver to remove waste from the body. Chronic kidney disease reduces kidney function over many years and has a poor long-term prognosis. A study by researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, looked at people who ate a pro-inflammatory diet—think junk foods and other types of processed foods. Such a diet was associated with higher blood levels of C-reactive protein (an indicator of inflammation) and reduced kidney function. Some evidence indicates that N-acetylcysteine and vitamin C might help protect the kidneys.