Weighing in at approximately 3 pounds– approximately the size of a football– the liver is one of the largest and most important organs in a human’s body. It is located in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen, mostly hidden behind the lower ribs. The liver is responsible for hundreds of functions including removing waste products, filtering and processing chemicals, medications, supplements, alcohol, foods and other substances (CDC, 2022).
The liver thrives off of foods that are considered “hepatoprotective,” hepato referring to the liver, and protective referring to the healing properties of the foods. Examples include: spinach, blueberries, and cinnamon. (Domitrovic, R, & Potocnjak, I., 2016).
In contrast, certain foods such as those high in sugar or preservatives, supplements, and medications can be damaging to the cells of the liver, and are often referred to as hepatotoxic (WebMD, 2020).
Damage to the liver may result in hepatomegaly, or enlargement, which unaddressed can progress to fibrosis and then cirrhosis. Fibrosis is formed when the liver attempts to repair and replace damaged cells, but results in the buildup of scar tissue (Merck Manual, 2022). Cirrhosis on the other hand is more severe widespread damage to the structure of the liver where normal liver tissue becomes replaced with scar tissue (Merck Manual, 2022).
The good news is that given the right support, certain parts of the liver can regenerate and heal after both acute and chronic fibrosis and inflammation (Tanka, M., Miyajima, A., 2016). This article aims to review the 4 best nutrients for healing your liver, including: Probiotics, Alpha Lipoic Acid, Selenium and Milk Thistle.
The relationship between the gut and liver is intimate with each playing part in the health and function of the other. The gut and liver communicate along what is often referred to as the gut-liver-microbiota axis (Albillos, A., et al, 2019).
The gut-liver-microbiota axis communicates through the circulation, biliary tract and portal vein. Products derived from the gut are shipped through the portal vein, directly to the liver, and the liver responds by sending bile, antibodies and other bioactive substances back to the gut, shaping the composition and health of the microbial communities (Sehgal, R., et al, 2020).
Research examining the mechanisms by which the gut and liver influence each other has revealed promising therapeutic potential for targeting the gut in treating diseases of the liver.
A randomized clinical trial examining the effects of a multispecies probiotic in individuals who were diagnosed with cirrhosis, suggested that daily dosing with the experimental probiotic powder might be a well-tolerated and effective method to improve liver function in cirrhosis. The specific bacteria included in the study were: Lactobacillus acidophilus W37, Bifidobacterium bifidum W23, Lactobacillus brevis W63, Bifidobacterium lactis W52, Lactobacillus casei W56, Lactococcus lactis W19, Lactobacillus salivarius W24, and Lactococcus lactis W58 (Horvath, A., 2016).
Best form: Combination product with synergistic probiotic bacteria. The clinically studied probiotic formulation referenced above is available in the United States as Omni-Biotic® Hetox.
Recommended dosage: Daily dosing for a minimum of 30 days under doctor supervision
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is an antioxidant that can be found in foods such as broccoli, beets, and red meat, and is also available in supplements (WebMD, 2022).
In recent years, ALA has gained popularity for its effectiveness as a powerful antioxidant. It appears that ALA can reduce oxidative stress, increase nitric oxide to improve circulation, and reduce inflammation (Nguyen, H, 2021).
ALA is particularly useful for those struggling with: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), hepatitis, fibrosis and in those who also have diabetes (Nguyen, H, 2021).
There are two main forms of ALA that you can purchase in stores. Make sure when you are buying ALA that you get the “R” form. The “R” form is the form of ALA that is biologically active and has antioxidant properties. The “S” form is a chemical that is made in a laboratory” and tends to be less effective (Cain, N., 2021).
Best form: R-Lipoic Acid
Recommended dosage: 250 mg twice per day
Selenium is an essential trace nutrient necessary for liver health. Studies have found selenium supplementation can assist in: liver fibrosis, NAFLD, and in those with liver inflammation due to unknown causes (Reja, M., 2020). Studies suggest that selenium supplementation can help resolve liver cirrhosis and hepatitis (inflammation of the liver), as well as promote liver healing and elasticity.
According to a 2020 report published in Annals of Hepatology, the risk of advanced liver fibrosis and related mortality decreased with increased selenium supplementation (Reja, M., 2020).
Best form: Selenomethionine
Recommended dosage: Approximately 200 mcg twice per day
Milk Thistle (Silymarin/ Silybum)
Milk thistle is an herb that is widely recognized for its usefulness in individuals with both acute and chronic liver disease. Its active constituent is called silymarin, hence the plant’s name (NIH, 2020).
Silymarin is used in liver cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma (Federico, A., 2017), and it appears that milk thistle is most useful in individuals who suffer from high serum levels of transaminases, as found in viral hepatitis. The antioxidant milk thistle supports tissue liver regeneration, helps repair fibrosis, and is useful in autoimmunity (Mayer, K.E., 2005).
Best form: Milk Thistle Seed Extract (Silybum marianum)
Recommended dosage: 450 mg twice per day
Our livers support many vital functions including much of the body’s dirty work processing substances like junk foods, medications, and alcohol. It’s a demanding job subjecting the liver to wear and tear which can lead to more substantial damage and ultimately, liver failure. As such, providing the right restorative nutrients becomes important for all of us. Simple steps like choosing hepatoprotective foods over hepatotoxic ones, selecting a targeted probiotic shown to improve liver function and reduce toxins, and adding powerful liver supportive antioxidants like ALA, selenium, and milk thistle to your daily routine will help keep your liver healthy and happy.
Learn More about natural approaches to liver health in my Natural Liver Support Mastery Course.