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5 Supplements for a Healthy Liver


The liver is one of the largest and most important organs in the body. About 1 in 10 Americans (30 million in total) has some type of liver disease, and 5.5 million have chronic liver disease or cirrhosis.

The liver performs many essential functions. In addition to storing and releasing energy from food, the liver acts as your body’s natural detoxification and filtration system to remove toxins and waste from your system.

Given how important the liver is to your health, supplement manufacturers have jumped on the liver detox bandwagon with several supplements marketed that contain ingredients such as milk thistle, artichoke leaf, cysteine, burdock, dandelion root, and tauroursodeoxycholic acid or better known as TUDCA.

Living supplements claim to “detox,” “rejuvenate,” and “save” your liver, but do liver supplements really work? Does the evidence support the marketing claims? And does the organ responsible for detoxing the body really need to detox itself?

How does the liver work?

Almost all patients with liver disease, especially advanced liver disease, have some evidence of malnutrition, including mineral/vitamin deficiencies.

The liver has many important biological functions. It converts nutrients from the food you eat into substances your body uses. It also absorbs toxic substances, converts them into harmless components and releases them from the body.

After your stomach and intestines process the food you eat, it travels through your bloodstream from your liver to be filtered. With the help of vitamin K, the liver produces proteins that are vital for blood clotting.

The liver plays an important role in processing food for nutrients and metabolism. It controls blood sugar, removes and breaks down glucose, extracts energy from amino acids when absorbing and digesting protein, and breaks down fats for energy in the process of lipolysis. [R].

Dietary supplement for a healthy liver

Malnutrition and isolated nutrient deficiencies are associated with liver disease. Implementing a healthy, balanced diet and plan can correct many of the underlying problems associated with liver health before supplementation can be used as a therapeutic intervention for liver health, especially those associated with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

1. Milk thistle

Milk thistle is one of the most popular supplements used for liver health. Milk thistle or silymarin is the active ingredient extracted from it Silybium marianum A member of the daisy family whose leaves have prominent white veins.

Many studies have investigated the effects of milk thistle and its hepatoprotective effects on various forms of toxic hepatitis, fatty liver, cirrhosis, ischemic injury, and virus-induced liver disease due to its antioxidant and antifibrotic effects with varying results.

A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial has been published in Journal of Hepatology Investigation of the effects of silymarin in patients with cirrhosis. 170 patients were given 140 mg of milk thistle daily, for an average duration of 41 months. The results showed that milk thistle was effective in patients with alcoholic cirrhosis [R].

Conversely, no beneficial effects were found with the use of 150 mg silymarin 3 times a day in a study of 200 patients with alcoholic cirrhosis. [R].

Both studies have significant methodological flaws, including high patient dropout rates and compliance issues.

A systematic review, found in the Cochrane Database, analyzed 18 different randomized controlled trials that evaluated 1,088 patients with alcoholic liver disease and/or viral hepatitis B or C. The review found that most were of poor quality, with only 28.6% reporting Trials with high methodological quality characteristics did not find a significant difference between the treatment and placebo groups [R].

2. Glycyrrhizin (licorice root)

The active ingredient in licorice root is Glycyrrhizin, a combination of glycyrrhenic acid and glucuronic acid, which may help repair damaged liver cells. Licorice root has been used for centuries in Middle Eastern medicine for its anti-allergic, detoxifying and antiviral effects.

Licorice root has several proposed mechanisms that may be beneficial to liver health. The hepatoprotective effects of glycyrrhizin include its antioxidant, immunomodulatory, and anti-inflammatory properties. [R].

Clinical trials using glycyrrhizine (IV) as a potential curative therapy have predominantly involved the treatment of hepatitis C, specifically, patients who are intolerant or intolerant to interferon therapy. Interferon is a natural substance that helps the body’s immune system fight infections and other diseases, such as cancer. Glycyrrhizin is found in in the laboratory Studies of endogenous interferon production.

Due to the small sample size, lack of definitive results, and poor methodology and treatment protocols, most research using licorice root has no plausible results.

One study, conducted in Japan, used a standard glycerine preparation with glycine and cysteine) in 133 patients who tested positive for chronic active hepatitis. After one month of treatment, transaminases decreased by 40% in the treatment group versus 2% in the placebo group. However, this study has significant drawbacks and limitations due to its short duration [R].

3. Chlorella

Chlorella is a microalgae, used in a variety of foods Green and red powders, as well as one standalone dietary supplement. It provides high amounts of amino acids, minerals, fiber and bioactive compounds.

A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial conducted at the University of Tabriz, Iran, investigated the effect of Chlorella vulgaris supplementation on liver enzymes, blood glucose, and lipid profile in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Fifty-five of the 70 patients recruited with NAFLD completed the study. Patients with liver diseases such as Wilson’s disease, autoimmune liver disease, hemochromatosis, viral infection and alcoholic fatty liver were excluded, as were patients with hepatotoxicity, lipid-lowering, consumption of metformin and antihypertensive drugs, contraceptives and estrogens.

Patients were randomly assigned using a computer-generated random sequence into two groups: ‘intervention’ and ‘placebo’. Patients in both groups received 400 mg of vitamin E, a vitamin commonly prescribed for patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The groups were supplemented with 1200 mg of chlorella or a placebo for 8 weeks.

After 8 weeks, chlorella supplementation compared to placebo could reduce weight and blood glucose better and improve lipid profile as well as liver function in patients with NAFLD [R].

Recommended product: greens + red (natural orange)

4. Torsodeoxycholic Acid (TUDCA)

Studies have shown that tauroursodeoxycholic acid (TUDCA) may stimulate liver cell proliferation. Hepatocytes are an important cell type in the parenchymal tissue of the liver and are involved in many liver functions, such as detoxification, carbohydrate metabolism, fat metabolism, albumin secretion, clotting factors, and supplementation. [R].

Studies have shown that TUDCA has the ability to reduce several markers of cirrhosis, such as ALT, AST, and ALP levels [R].

ALT is an enzyme found in the liver that helps convert proteins into energy for liver cells. When the liver is damaged, ALT is released into the bloodstream and levels increase. Aspartate aminotransferase (AST) is an enzyme that helps metabolize amino acids.

The normal AST:ALT ratio should be less than 1. In patients with alcoholic liver disease, the AST:ALT ratio is >1 in 92% of patients, and >2 in 70%. AST: ALT scores >2 highly suggestive of alcoholic liver disease and scores <1 more suggestive of NAFLD/NASH [R].

High levels of AST may indicate liver disease or damage. TUDCA has been shown to reduce AST and ALT levels.

Burdock root (Arctium lappa L.)

Burdock is found in a variety of liver supplements, however there are no studies showing that it provides any hepatic effects or benefits. Rat studies have shown a connection between induced liver damage and burdock supplementation that could be due to it’s antioxidant activity, which reduces oxidative stress of liver cells. [R].

Although animal studies show some evidence that burdock can reduce signs of liver damage, there are no known human clinical trials that show or support this conclusion.

Do liver supplements work

According to the available research, current evidence is weak, and/or does not exist to support the use of nutritional supplements such as milk thistle, licorice root, dandelion, or TUDCA, for indications related to liver disease or liver health due to flawed methodology and study design. Further investigations with superior methodology to draw conclusions and evidence-based findings are required to indicate whether or not herbal supplements can be used for beneficial treatment of liver health.

Malnutrition and deficiency of isolated nutrients is directly linked to liver health. Optimizing your nutrition including healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables should be your first priority to provide the nutrients you need for proper liver function.

If you don’t know how to improve your nutrition, or need a customized nutrition plan, schedule a free consultation with a certified nutrition coach at Swole Kitchen.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) results directly from obesity and overweight, which causes insulin resistance, in which cells do not absorb sugar in response to the hormone insulin, and high blood sugar (hyperglycemia), which indicates prediabetes or diabetes mellitus. Type 2 as well as high levels of fats, especially triglycerides, in the blood.

Inherited acute or chronic liver diseases including hemochromatosis, Wilson’s disease, antiprotease (antitrypsin) deficiency, and cystic fibrosis have not been investigated. Because these disease conditions are indicated and characterized by a specific mineral imbalance, which affects the liver and its function, supplements and herbs are not indicated to treat or cure any hereditary liver disease condition.

Systematic reviews reveal that certain supplements and herbs may improve disease end points and outcomes related to NAFLD and/or nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). An improvement in liver function tests was noted. An improvement or reduction in lobular inflammation, hepatic steatosis, and fibrosis was also observed. However, there are no well-designed studies showing improved clinical outcomes [R].


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