Your liver is vital to your health. When working well, the liver efficiently detoxifies chemicals and built-up metabolic waste. It also stores sugar as glycogen, breaks down old red blood cells, and produces hormones and proteins. Natural medicine can go a long way in improving liver health. Read on for a full breakdown of the best liver-protective foods and supplements.
Foods that Are Good for the Liver
People who have liver problems are often told to closely examine their diet and supplements regimen. The same goes for anyone who wants to support their liver health.
Many “fad” diets restrict important food groups. Some go as far as to exclude many healthy fats, which is often detrimental to overall health.
As a general rule, it’s important not to stress the liver by eating more than the body needs. However, a plethora of research highlights the importance of getting a variety of nutritious, antioxidant-rich foods, and healthy fats [1, 2].
Remember to speak with your doctor before making any major changes in your diet.
The following natural substances have shown promise for supporting liver health in limited, low-quality clinical trials or animal studies. Additionally, some human studies look only for associations, which means that a cause-and-effect relationship can’t be established.
Therefore, there is currently insufficient evidence to support the use of the foods listed below in the context of liver disease, and they should never replace what your doctor prescribes.
Remember to talk to your doctor before starting any new supplement or making significant changes to your diet.
Seafood has taurine, which seems to protect against oxidative stress-induced liver damage and fibrosis in rats .
Seafood is also rich in omega 3 fatty acids that are hypothesized to have beneficial effects on liver lipid metabolism, fatty tissue function, and inflammation .
Omega-3s may also decrease liver fat according to one study .
A meta-analysis indicates that eating plenty of white meat or fish might reduce the risk of liver cell carcinoma (HCC), but far more research is needed .
Egg yolks abound in choline, which is thought to enhance the liver’s detoxification of fats and cholesterol. Hence, eating more eggs is hypothesized to prevent Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD), but large-scale human data is needed to confirm this link .
On the other hand, the consequences of choline deficiency on the liver are well known. According to one study, 77% of men and 80% of postmenopausal women deprived of dietary choline developed fatty liver or muscle damage. Once they were given choline, their liver function recovered .
Intravenous choline improved hepatic steatosis associated with parenteral nutrition in one study, but larger trials are needed .
Animal liver contains uridine and choline, which are often seen as essential for a healthy liver. Beef liver is the richest source of choline (333 mg in 100 gms of food) .
Chicken contains carnosine, which is hypothesized to protect against toxin-induced liver injury in rats due to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties .
According to one limited cohort, white meat (like chicken) intake was associated with reduced risk of chronic liver disease and liver cancer in both men and women. Better-designed trials are needed to determine the impact of white meat intake on liver cancer risk .
5) Blueberries & Probiotics
This one seems like an unlikely combination. But scientists think that both blueberries and probiotics may protect animals from acute liver injury. They are hypothesized to reduce liver cell injury, inflammation, and pro-inflammatory cytokines and improve antioxidant activity. Human data are lacking .
Blueberries are rich in antioxidants, while probiotics have many potential benefits on overall gut and liver (and brain) health. Read more about probiotics here.
Also, proanthocyanidins from blueberry leaves are being investigated for suppressing the replication of the hepatitis C virus in test tubes – though it’s far too early to draw any conclusions .
Beets contain a pigment called betalain, which may protect the liver from oxidative stress and chronic inflammation based on animal experiments .
The liver-protective potential of beetroot (table beet) and beetroot extracts (betacyanin) are also being investigated in mice [16, 17].
7) Olive Oil
An olive-oil rich diet decreased the buildup of triglycerides in the liver in limited clinical trials. Scientists think it might be helpful for Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) patients who have high triglycerides, but large clinical trials are needed to confirm this .
One small study in patients with NAFLD demonstrated that olive oil has protective effects. The authors said it may improve glucose and lipid metabolism and prevent atherogenesis (hardening of the arteries) . They also mentioned the Mediterranean diet, in general, as potentially good for people with NAFLD.
In animal experiments, extra virgin olive oil and its extracts had protective effects against oxidative damage of the liver tissue when exposed to toxins (by preventing excessive lipid peroxidation) .
Biofortified Carrot (carrots with increased bioactive compounds) intake increases liver antioxidant capacity and Vitamin A status in animals .
Carrots are also being researched for protecting against liver injury, modifying bile acid excretion, and increasing antioxidant status in animals [22, 23].
In rats chronically poisoned with alcohol, oral supplementation with β-carotene seemed to reduce oxidative stress, cell death, and inflammation .
Human data are lacking.
Garlic is often described as a powerful nutraceutical, but its effects on liver health are still largely unknown.
One study suggested that 15-week garlic supplementation may decrease body fat mass among NAFLD patients. The authors hypothesize that garlic may reduce the amount of fat in the liver and prevent or delay the progression of NAFLD, but larger trials are needed to verify these claims [25, 26].
Some small human studies suggest that Garlic might protect the liver from toxic agents like Tylenol .
Black garlic (fermented, aged garlic) had liver-protective effects in mice. It’s also an antioxidant abundant in sulfur compounds .
Researchers are investigating whether Ginger can improve insulin sensitivity in liver cells (using the active compound gingerol) .
Ginger appeared to protect against alcohol-induced liver toxicity in rats. It normalized the levels of the antioxidant SOD (Superoxide dismutase), catalase, and glutathione (GSH) in rats. Human studies are required [30, 31].
According to one study conducted by Japanese researchers, avocados contain some liver protectants that are being researched for reducing liver damage. No clinical trials have yet been carried out .
Refined avocado oil fed to rats decreased triglycerides in the blood and liver .
Another study suggested that avocado oil may improve mitochondrial ETC (Electron Transport Chain) function by reducing the deleterious effects of oxidative stress in the liver of diabetic rats. Damaged mitochondria can’t turn food into energy. As a result, oxidative stress increases and the liver suffers the consequences .
More research is needed.
A number of experimental studies have mentioned that Coffee (Coffea arabica) seems to have protective effects on the liver.
Drinking coffee in moderation is hypothesized to help prevent chronic liver diseases (from steatosis to fibrosis) and liver cancer. In fact, moderate daily unsweetened coffee can be used as an add-on therapy for patients with liver disease [35, 36, 37].
In a large prospective study of participants with advanced Hepatitis C-related liver disease, regular consumption of coffee was associated with lower rates of disease progression .
Coffee consumption was also inversely related to the severity of steatohepatitis in patients with NAFLD (Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease) .
In one study, coffee consumption was associated with an improvement in liver enzymes ALT, AST, and GGTP, especially in people at risk of liver disease. Also, patients with liver disease drinking 2 or more cups of coffee per day have a lower incidence of cirrhosis and fibrosis – as well as lower mortality rates .
However, these studies dealt with associations. We can’t know if coffee caused people to have fewer liver complications or not. Well-designed clinical trials are needed.
13) Green Tea
A meta-analysis concluded that green tea (Camellia sinensis) has the potential to reduce the risk of liver disease, but they stressed that larger and longer trials are needed .
In one association study, individuals who consumed more than 10 cups of green tea/day seemed to have a lower risk of liver cancers .
According to one small randomized clinical study, Green tea extract (GTE) (500 mg GTE tablet per day) lowered markers of liver damage (ALT and AST levels) in NAFLD patients after 12 weeks .
EGCG in green tea is being researched for its potential inhibitory effect on the proliferation of liver stellate cells, which are closely related to the progression of liver fibrosis in chronic liver diseases .
The seed coat of Cocoa (Theobroma cacao) may support liver health, but human studies have yet to be conducted. Dark chocolate (85% cocoa) with liquid meals improved liver function after cirrhosis in animals. Cacao polyphenol extract appeared to prevent liver and kidney damage in rats, possibly through its antioxidant properties [45, 46].
Ayurvedic practitioners sometimes use turmeric (Curcuma longa) for liver support . Curcumin – the most important and active component in turmeric – is being researched for helping prevent liver inflammation and damage in animals and cells.
In animals, curcumin reduces liver injury induced by alcohol, thioacetamide, iron overdose, cholestasis, and carbon tetrachloride .
Curcumin is also hypothesized to reduce injury from drugs such as paracetamol , chloroquine , methotrexate , erythromycin estolate , isoniazid, rifampicin, and pyrazinamide , based on animal data.
Researchers suspect its antioxidant ability may help offset drug-induced liver damage, but clinical trials haven’t yet looked at this.
Dietary curcumin in animal models reduced fatty liver, necrosis, and inflammation .
Scientists are investigating its mechanisms in cells, particularly on PGC-1α, HBV (Hepatitis B virus) gene expression, hepatitis C replication, and the PI3K/Akt-SREBP-1 pathway [55, 51].
In a randomized clinical trial in patients with Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), artichoke had liver protective and hypolipidemic effects. The authors said this may be due to the presence of constituents like flavonoids and caffeoylquinic acid .
Extracts of Artichoke (Cynara scolymus) are commonly found in liver detoxification supplements. Artichoke may also act on the liver to lower cholesterol levels .
Larger trials are needed to determine its safety and effectiveness.
Asparagus roots and shoots have a stimulating effect on both the liver and kidney and are said to increase the flow of liquids from the body. Scientists are investigating whether extracts from A. officinalis have a protective effect on liver cells exposed to toxic substances .
Asparagus increased the levels of antioxidant liver enzymes like catalase, superoxide dismutase (SOD), glutathione reductase and glutathione peroxidase in hypercholesterolemic rats .
Alcoholic extracts of Asparagus (A. racemosus) seem to lower high alanine transaminase (ALT), aspartate transaminase, and alkaline phosphate levels in rats with liver damage .
Walnuts (Juglans regia) contain high levels of l-arginine, an amino acid, glutathione, and omega-3 fatty acids. They might help detoxify the liver of ammonia, though this is uncertain. Walnuts also help oxygenate the blood, and extracts from their hulls are often used in liver-cleansing formulas .
In one animal study, walnut oil inhibited lipid accumulation in the liver and modulated the liver gene expression in fatty acid influx or lipoprotein assembly. Thus, walnut oil was hypothesized to modulate liver steatosis in obese rats .
A polyphenol-rich extract from walnuts in mice reduced liver weight and liver and serum triglycerides (TG) .
Clinical data are lacking, however.
Dill (Anethum graveolens) has potential liver protective effects against liver damage in rats, but its impact on liver health in humans is unknown [64, 65].
In hypercholesterolemic animals, Dill tablet or Dill extract reduced the levels of ALT (Alanine transaminase) and AST (Aspartate transaminase), which are markers of liver injury .
One study recommends that dietary intake of a plant mixture of celery, chicory, and barley at 15% (5% of each) concentrations may be beneficial to patients suffering from hypercholesterolemia and liver diseases. Large trials are needed .
Chicory (Cichorium intybus) seemed to have antihepatotoxic potential in CCl4-induced liver damage in animal models [68, 69].
21) Vegetables and Fruits
Some research suggests that vegetables like broccoli , onions , dandelion greens, kale, cabbage, cauliflower and brussels sprouts  may have a cleansing effect on the liver. This may be due to their antioxidants or sulfur compounds.
Fruits like apples, plums, grapefruit, oranges, and lemons are also considered to be helpful in “cleansing” the liver. These fruits are generally healthy, but their liver effects haven’t been researched in humans.
Kombucha: Protective or Harmful?
Kombucha is a beverage with many purported health benefits. Its effects on the liver are controversial, and quality clinical trials are lacking. We advise special caution with this drink in people with liver problems.
In studies on mice, kombucha tea (KT) showed liver-protective effects against chemical- and drug-induced toxicity [73, 74].
But in few other studies, Kombucha caused liver and gastrointestinal toxicity – possibly due to its high levels of certain acids [75, 76].
Several case studies and reports of adverse reactions to this beverage have been noted .
Also, some people experience allergic reactions and stomach upset from drinking Kombucha .
People have also died after drinking large amounts of potentially contaminated Kombucha , although the exact cause of death was unclear.