In preparing for the new year I’d like to talk about natural remedies for liver health and support because let’s face it – livers don’t get a lot of love. It’s really easy to take your liver for granted, never really realizing how much it does for you on a day to day basis. But just in case you aren’t liver-savvy, this organ has got a lot going for it.
What Makes Your Liver so Special:
Your liver is the primary organ of detoxification and it deals with the burden of chemical and toxin exposure from normal everyday living. Let’s learn a little bit about it:
- Your liver lives on the right side of your body at the bottom of your ribcage, right below your diaphragm.
- It’s the only organ in the human body that can regenerate.
- It regulates and stores glycogen (which is your storage form of sugar to protect you when your blood sugar levels fall).
- It produces bile to help you emulsify and digest fatty foods – this bile then goes to the gallbladder to be stored and concentrated for use.
- Your liver manufactures cholesterol, triglycerides and lipoproteins.
- Your liver makes coagulation factors so that your blood can clot when needed.
- Your liver stores basic nutrients for your body to use in emergencies. These include a 1-2 year supply of vitamin A, a 1-4 month supply of vitamin D, a 1-3 year supply of vitamin B12, and also vitamin K, iron and copper.
- It helps break down old worn-out or damaged red blood cells.
- Guesses as to the number of functions your liver is responsible for vary slightly, but most sources say around 500 (!!)
Needless to say your liver is absolutely essential to health, vitality and life itself so it’s important to learn to take care of it adequately.
Signs Your Liver Needs a Little Love
Livers are big organs, and vital so they have a lot of flexibility before there will be real problems and often liver enzymes, which is the quick measure for liver function on your blood work, will be normal even when the liver is mildly compromised. Some signs, symptoms and indications that your liver needs some support include:
- Nausea or low-grade stomach ickiness for no reason.
- Low-grade headaches (like a very minor hangover)
- Loss of appetite
- Itching for no reason – just general skin itching
- Jaundice – this is yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes and if you see anything so serious as this please go see your doctor right away
- Clotting or extremely dark blood in a woman’s menstrual flow
- History of moderate to heavy alcohol use (>14-21 drinks per week for a woman or >21 drinks per week for a man)
- History of smoking
- History of drug use
- More than 3 prescription drugs
- Liver enzymes out of balance or evidence of a fatty liver (always work with your doctor if this is the case).
Natural Remedies for Liver – Foods and Nutrition
Your liver is one of the first places that break-down products from foods go once they’re absorbed into your blood stream so it is very vulnerable to foods and can easily be helped or hurt by foods. Here’s a healthy liver eating guide:
- Eat organic – pesticides, herbicides, hormones and antibiotics in your foods have to be processed by your liver. There are some foods that actually accumulate pestices – for those check the dirty dozen and clean fifteen.
- Filter your tap water – if you don’t filter it, or get purified water, then your liver will have to. Tap water is fine for survival but not optimal for health because it countains small amounts of many pharmaceutical drugs, tiny amounts of metals and small amounts of industrial and agricultural chemicals.
- Drink lots of water – like any other filtration system, your liver works best if there is lots of water flushing through the system helping to keep things clean, so to speak.
- Add lemon juice or apple cider vinegar – adding lemon or lime juice or a little bit of apple cider vinegar to your water can encourage gentle detoxification and the acidity helps to clear bile and sludge from the ducts and gallbladder. It’s gentle but helpful.
- Eat beets – your liver loves beets and they encourage and support liver function.
- Eat dark green leafy vegetables – again, your liver loves these. Especially when there is a hint of bitterness to them like dandelion greens.
- Eat artichokes – you know the weird feeling artichokes give your salivary glands? They do that to your liver too. It’s called a “secretagogue” and it increases saliva and bile production which also helps to flush toxins through the liver and ducts.
- Avoid GMO foods – we don’t really know what the body has to do to detoxify these foods, so they may be just fine but the point is that we don’t really know – in situations like that, it’s best to just avoid as much as possible.
- Avoid processed foods – the more chemicals you can’t pronounce that are in your food, the more chemicals you can’t pronounce that your liver has to figure out how to deal with.
- Don’t eat artificial sweeteners – no matter what anyone says these are chemicals and all chemicals have to be processed by your liver. It increases the burden on your liver (not to mention the neurological reasons not to eat them!)
- Drink coffee – nobody believes me because it sounds too good to be true, but 1-2 cups (6 oz cups – coffee cups are supposed to be small) of coffee per day can protect your liver from damage and even help to protect it from cancer. Here’s a link for more information.
- DeTox Tea – many companies make detox teas that are gentle herbal formulas to support liver function. My favorites are Dandelion tea from Traditional Medicinals and DeTox Tea from Yogi Teas.
- Cook at home – I know it’s not easy – I also live in the modern world where nobody has time and cooking is kind of a pain, but this is the best way to make sure you and your family are eating real food made of real ingredients.
- Moderate your sugar and starch intake – too much sugar is obviously a risk for diabetes, but it also adds to the work your liver has to do – especially when blood sugar levels start getting out of control. This means your liver has to store more glycogen and adapt to ever-rising blood sugar levels.
- Get at least one fruit or veggie with each meal
- Eat enough fiber – the US RDA is 25 grams but the average intake is about 12.5 grams. Make sure you’re getting at least 25 grams of fiber every day to help your bowels move effectively and carry toxins out of your system. If your bowels are slow or there isn’t enough fiber in your digestive tract then toxins can be reabsorbed, which doubles the work your liver has to do.
Natural Remedies for Liver – Supplements
If you’re already eating a liver healthy diet but still having some difficulty then it’s time to support your liver a little bit more strongly. There are some great herbs and nutrients for liver support as well as some great combination products.
- Milk Thistle – seems like everyone knows this one. It supports and nourishes liver detoxification and has been well researched. It’s an antioxidant and hepatoprotectant (meaning it protects liver cells). Milk thistle also boosts production of glutathione which is your body’s central antioxidant.
- Choline – this amino acid acts as a methyl donor in detox reactions
- Methionine – this amino acid also acts as a methyl donor
- Vitamin B-6 – this vitamin is a co-factor in many detoxification reactions
- Vitamin B-12 – this works with B-6. Make sure you’re getting the methylcobalamin or hydroxycobalamin form.
- Folic acid – This vitamin is an important cofactor for detox as well and must be in a methylated form such as methyl-folate, 5-methyl tetrahydrofolate or metafolin.
- NAC – helps your body to build more glutathione, the master antioxidant and protects liver cells from toxin damage.
- Magnesium – helps to balance many detox reactions, including transmethylation.
- Dandelion root – this also encourages bile production in the liver and helps detoxification pathways.
- Cilantro – this detoxifier specifically helps to amplify detoxification of heavy metals.
- Turmeric or curcumin extracts – this reduces inflammation and increases antioxidants and detoxification.
- Chicory root – this aids in liver detoxification and will even help to elminate tiny stones and calcifications.
Just in Case you Want Supplement Names – Here Are My Favorite
- Lipotrophic Factors by Integrative Therapeutics Inc. (ITI)
- Livaplex by Standard Process
- Liver Cleanse by Thorne Research
- Liver Defend by NuMedica
- Deep Liver Support by Gaia
With any liver support, start slowly and always make the dietary changes first to get your body ready for gentle detoxification. Start with just one capsule or tablet daily and see how your body responds. If you’re not noticing anything then increase slowly and it’s always best to work with a practitioner. Natural remedies for liver health are safe and highly effective, but if your liver symptoms get worse then please get checked out by a doctor because liver disease isn’t something to mess with.
Unfortunately I have lost the battle to save my gallbladder. I had it removed in January. Since then I have had lots of undigested food in my stools. There is often too much bile too.
I have heard that taking digestive enzymes might help with this. Do you know anything about that? Do you recommend any certain ones? Any other ideas of what I might be able to do? I don’t want to miss out on all those nutrients getting flushed away.
My question is about the liver and hormone imbalance and how that interacts with digestion. I am the person who gets severe acne around ovulation when the estrogen levels are highest, I also notice that transition from luteal to follicular phase often leads my to have digestion issues. Any idea what the correlation is here?
There’s a huge link. Hormones are processed by the liver and dumped into your digestive tract for detoxification. Humans, being thrifty creatures, then sort through what’s in the digestive tract before it’s eliminated completely and reabsorb anything that might be useful (ahem. hormones) into the blood stream. So that certainly has an effect on digestion. Also, hormone levels directly change the motility of your GI system, so there’s that too. Hormones and gut are very strongly linked.
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Dear Amy I would like to know is there another way to get rid gall stone without surgery,
Gallstones are difficult because we really have to be careful not to trigger gallbladder “attacks” when working with them. There are natural supplements that help to dissolve stones, but it’s slow and I recommend working with a practitioner while you’re using them to make sure you’re using them safely. If you want to do a little backgroud reading there is chanka piedra, which is an herb that has been used to dissolve stones and also Phosfood liquid from Standard Process. Make sure you talk with your doctor or practitioner about it to ensure it is safe for you to use.
Hi Dr. Amy
Is it ok to use phosfood for patients with hyperparathyroid/high blood calcium. Is there a way to prevent stones annnd other problems from the high calcium?
I’d be really nervous using the phosfood in that group. It might be a good idea to call Standard Process and see if they have any information about it’s safety in that situation. And honestly, with hyperparathyroid, surgery is by far the most successful option. Boosting their magnesium can help to balance out some of the muscle cramping and spasms, but they still have trouble with stones etc… Also, make sure the hyperparathyroid isn’t secondary to kidney disease – if it is then helping the kidneys to function better will also help the blood calcium levels. Here’s an article that gives some great information about the surgery vs. non-surgery outcomes. I hope this helps!
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