Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
6 min read
The liver is the largest organ inside your body. While it is primarily associated with detoxification, it also plays a key role in metabolism of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates; enzyme activation; digestion and absorption of nutrition; and the storage of vitamins and minerals. There are many things you can do to keep your liver happy and healthy, including supplementation.
Liver supplements can help protect the liver from oxidative stress and support its overall wellness, while also improving general health.
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. Today, it is one of the most popular supplements used to foster healthy liver function.
Vitamin B is a group of 8 vitamins essential for numerous metabolic processes. Most of the B vitamins cannot be stored in the body and, therefore, must be consumed in a well-balanced diet that includes leafy greens, meat, poultry, whole grains, chickpeas, kidney beans, vegetables, and fruits. Vitamin B-12 can only be found in foods from animal sources, so a vegan diet might prove to be insufficient without fortified foods, unsweetened plant milks, soy products, breakfast cereals, and supplementation. Also, as people age their bodies do not absorb B-12 as efficiently as they once did. Older people might want to watch for signs of B-12 deficiency such as fatigue, headaches, cognitive impairment, and swelling of the tongue. There are many excellent B-Vitamin supplements available.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that can protect against potential damage from free radicals, toxic chemicals, and pollutants. It also helps provide support with healing, immune function, seasonal sinus and lung issues, and fat metabolism in the liver. Good food sources of Vitamin C include all citrus fruit, strawberries, cantaloupe, tomatoes, brussel sprouts, broccoli, red peppers, yellow peppers, chili peppers, all cabbages, and white potatoes. Vitamin C is also widely available as a supplement in pill, powder and liquid form. The recommended daily 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. It also manages insulin sensitivity, which explains how blood sugar is managed by the liver. So few foods contain enough Vitamin D to meet the daily requirement 15-20 mcg (600 - 800 IU) that it is easier to do so with supplements. Natural sunlight is also an excellent source, though few people in this busy world can spend a sufficient amount of time basking in the sun to meet their daily requirement. Fortunately, Vitamin D and Vegan D supplements can certainly do the trick.
Vitamin E is a group of 8 fat-soluble compounds that form a powerful chain-breaking antioxidant in the human body. It is needed for proper immune function and cellular signaling, and also has the most significant evidence of therapeutic benefit on liver health. Most people can easily get enough Vitamin E in their diet. 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.
In higher doses (generally more than 40,000 IU), 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 condition is easily reversible.
The levels of niacin a person can consume through normal food intake will not lead to problems with the liver. Higher doses and long-term supplementation , however, can result in liver damage or liver failure. According to this study, doses above 500mg appear to impact liver lab markers. If you’re taking niacin to support healthy cholesterol levels already within normal limits, consult your physician and report any unusual side effects.
Homeopaths, naturopaths, and many other 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, low in saturated fat, and excellent sources of vitamins and minerals. You can never go wrong with 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.
A healthy liver is vital to your well-being and a balanced diet is an excellent start. Try eating as many colors of the rainbow you can at each meal. Red peppers, yellow peppers, purple cabbage, blueberries, spinach, kale, okra, brussel sprouts – you get the point. Get your protein from optimal sources – meat, poultry, eggs, shellfish, salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel, nuts, whole grains, beans. The sources seem endless. A well-planned, well-executed diet, a healthy lifestyle, some form of exercise, and plenty of water will make your whole body happy. Talk to your health care practitioner about supplements. There are plenty of excellent resources if you need them.