Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
What does the liver do?
The liver. It’s not something that most of us routinely think about. But the liver is the largest internal organ in the body. Its best-known role is that of garbage collector—in a world filled with toxins, it’s the liver’s job to break down the contaminants that come our way and get them ready to be escorted from the body. Ideally, the liver could process all of the toxins we encounter, but due to the sheer volume of industrial chemicals and pollutants that we are exposed to today, the liver’s natural ability to detoxify can have trouble keeping up. The following herbs and nutrients can not only help optimize overall liver function, but also specifically support the organ’s detoxification mechanisms.
5 Supplements for Liver Health
1. Amla Fruit Extract
This is one of the most important foods in Ayurvedic medicine, largely because of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Scientific studies show that amla effectively prevents the toxic effects of many industrial chemicals, heavy metals, and pharmaceutical drugs. Amla is also one of the richest natural sources of vitamin C.
Editor’s Product Pick: Vibrant Health Super Natural C
Is the most powerful antioxidant made by the body, and the highest levels are found in the liver. Often called “The Master Antioxidant,” glutathione is made up of three amino acids—cysteine, glycine, and glutamine. Along with quenching free radicals in the liver, glutathione plays a critical role in Phase II detoxification, a key part of the body’s two-step detoxification process.
Editor’s Product Pick: NOW Foods Liver Refresh
3. Milk Thistle Extract
Is perhaps the best-known herb for liver support. Milk thistle’s most active compound is silymarin, a polyphenol with powerful antioxidant activity that scavenges damaging free radicals. What’s more, milk thistle boosts the activity of the body’s own antioxidants such as glutathione. Studies suggest that milk thistle also inhibits inflammation, stimulates new liver cell production, and prevents glutathione depletion. Artichoke, which is related to the milk thistle plant, is another liver-protective herb.
Editor’s Product Pick: Enzymedica Purify Liver Detox
4. Burdock Root
Is another liver-specific herb. Rich in iron, calcium, and vitamin C, burdock stimulates bile flow and protects and tonifies the liver. A study in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine found that burdock defends against the toxic effects of acetaminophen and the industrial carbon tetrachloride. Taiwanese researchers found that burdock root also helps guard the liver from chronic alcohol consumption.
Editor’s Product Pick: Gaia Herbs Liver Cleanse
Is a single-celled, freshwater alga that has survived on the earth for more than 2 billion years. The secret to its longevity is chlorella’s fibrous outer wall. Hidden within that wall—which is indigestible to humans—are powerful detoxification properties. Fortunately, scientists have found that breaking the wall releases chlorella’s natural ability to bind toxins and heavy metals through a process known as chelation. Chlorella also boasts a wealth of nutrients, including B vitamins, vitamins C and K, minerals, essential fatty acids, and fiber.
Editor’s Product Pick: NovaForme CytoGreens for Athletes, Chocolate
14 Signs of a Compromised Liver
- Abdominal bloating
- Abdominal weight gain
- Chemical sensitivities to irritants such as tobacco smoke, perfume, or cleaning products
- Pain over the liver or between the shoulder blades
- A bitter taste in the mouth
- Intolerance to greasy foods
- Oily or shiny stools
- Light or pale colored stools
- Frequent nausea
- Headache over the eyes
- Easily hung over
- Gallbladder issues