This great guest post was written by Dr. Serena Goldstein, a naturopathic doctor specializing in natural hormone balance! I encourage you to go check out her website!
Best Supplements for Liver health
The liver is one of the most important organs in the body, responsible for over 500 reactions, and elevated liver enzymes on blood tests don’t need to be present in order to be mindful about optimizing function. It is involved in hundreds of vital functions, is the only organ that can regenerate itself, and unlike missing a kidney or our appendix, we would not survive in its absence. While a healthy diet and lifestyle also provides nutrients important to liver function, sometimes certain concerns require natural liver supplements specifically for an additional therapeutic benefit.
Symptoms of Liver Disease
The liver is located in the right upper quadrant, underneath ribs 5-10, and houses another organ called the gallbladder, which is responsible for storing bile (essential for fat absorption). According to the Mayo Clinic, signs and symptoms of poor liver health include:
a yellowish hue to skin or eyes
swelling in abdomen, legs, and ankles
dark urine color
pale or tar-colored stool
nausea or vomiting
loss of appetite
tendency to bruise easily
These concerns may be caused by heavy or chronic alcohol intake, unprotected sex, shared needles, chemical exposure, diabetes, obesity, or high triglycerides. Blood tests, imaging, or tissue analysis (biopsy) may be performed to evaluate the degree of disease, and help determine a diagnosis.
Keeping Your Liver Healthy – Apart from Liver Disease
However, the liver does not always need to be in a pathologically diseased state to express symptoms or conditions that may improve upon enhancing its activity. Concerns such as blood sugar dysregulation, inability to lose weight, hormone imbalance, skin conditions, digestive issues, and abnormal cholesterol values all involve liver-related processes, so therapies and treatment plans will ideally encompass the multiple reasons why the body is in a state of dis-ease.
The liver is one of our main detoxification organs and, in addition to any pathology, it is also responsible for metabolizing toxins from the outside world such as cleaning products, air quality, preservatives, beauty products, pharmaceuticals, alcohol, and cigarettes. The first phase makes it less harmful, and the second phase makes it water-soluble to be excreted.
Regular bowel movements and other forms of excretion like sweat and urine become imperative to eliminate these toxins, and proper thyroid health controls the speed of that these processes can occur. Ironically, the thyroid gland produces mostly inactive thyroid hormone (T4) and the majority of its conversion to the active form (T3) happens in the liver.
It also makes sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone (further made by the adrenal glands and gonads), as well as mechanisms such as sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) to bind up excess hormones in order to keep a healthy balance. Excess hormones from exogenous sources like hormone replacement therapy, birth control (especially the pill as the liver has to break it down, versus a local form), or chemicals that mimic estrogen, commonly found in plastics and phthalates, may further hinder its ability to carry out its many jobs.
Moreover, it also has to produce bile, a type of fluid made by the liver and stored in the gallbladder that aids heavily with fat-soluble substance absorption (e.g. fat soluble vitamins, hormones), and aids in tying up a surplus of hormones to ensure balance and elimination.
Best Natural Liver Supplements for Improved Health
The best supplements for liver health will help facilitate the hundreds of biochemical reactions involved not only in detoxification and hormone balance, but bile production, sugar storage, cholesterol metabolism, factors to help blood clot, protein synthesis (tend to be involved if abnormal swelling), vitamin (e.g. A, D, E, K) and mineral (e.g. iron, copper) storage, and nourish the whole body.
Milk thistle is one of the best-known natural liver supplements due to its main constituent silybin, which has been shown to improve all types of liver disease, especially cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. It is anti-inflammatory, anti-fibrotic, and promotes cellular regeneration, while improving markers of oxidative stress, insulin resistance, and liver fat accumulation (Federico, Dallio & Loguercio, 2017). Milk thistle is also kidney protective, another important organ to filter metabolites, as well as having minimal side effects yet the most notable being slightly increased urinary frequency.
Phosphatidylcholine is the building block for all cell membranes, especially important for the liver as a self-regenerating organ (Kidd, 1996). Most liver processes occur in the cell membranes, which can easily be damaged by poor diet, smoking. high stress, endocrine disrupting chemicals, preservatives, and alcohol.
Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is also called a “universal antioxidant” due to it’s ability with it’s metabolized version DHLA to synergistically improve the efficacy of other antioxidants (e.g. vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium), remove metals, quench free radicals, and positively affect gene expression (Packer, Witt, & Tritschler, 1995).
Antioxidants are imperative for optimal liver function because it provides balance by metabolizing excess free radicals that are produced by various compounds throughout the detoxification process. Too many free radicals is termed ‘oxidative stress’, and can contribute to or exacerbate conditions like atherosclerosis, alcoholic liver disease, HIV, AIDS, neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes, and cancer (Casas-Grajales & Muriel, 2015).
Green tea (Camellia sinesis) has prominent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic and anti-angiogenic (blocks growth of new blood vessels, usually found in cancers) effects (Casas-Grajales & Muriel, 2015). It reduces the risk of liver cancer, and helps lower cholesterol and protect against fatty liver disease by stimulating lipid metabolism (Jin, Zheng, & Li, 2007). EGCG, one of the main catechins in green tea, also has a proliferative effect on hepatic stellate cells, which are closely related to the progression of liver fibrosis in chronic liver diseases (Chacko, Thambi, Kuttan, & Nishigaki, 2010).
Dandelion (Taraxacum) is a herb found mostly in the Northern Hemisphere, and specific to gallbladder, gut, and liver-related ailments such as hepatitis and anorexia. Like the other remedies, it also has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anticarcinogenic effects, in addition to being a diuretic, improving blood sugar status, anti-coagulatory, and increases the volume of secretion of bile from the liver (Schütz, Carle, & Schieber, 2006). Its bitter taste helps keep an optimal flow of bile from the liver to the gallbladder, where it is stored and released upon digestion.
The liver is a complex organ with hundreds of functions that even now we still don’t quite understand. Our body is just as complex, and diseases now tend to have multiple risk factors, and therefore potentially multiple symptoms. Adapting a healthy life, while understanding how systems are interrelated and individualizing treatment plans, will help to mitigate concerns and double as preventative care.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014). Liver Disease. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/liver-problems/basics/symptoms/con-20025300
Casas-Grajales, S, & Muriel, P. (2015). Antioxidants in liver health. World Journal of Gastrointestinal Pharmacological Therapies. 6(3):59-72.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4526841/
Chacko, S.M., Thambi, P.T., Kuttan, R., & Nishigaki, I. (2010). Beneficial effects of green tea: A literature review. Chinese Medicine. 5(1):13https://cmjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1749-8546-5-13
Federico, A., Dallio, M., & Loguercio, C. (2017). Silymarin/silybin and chronic liver disease: A marriage of many years. Molecules. 22(2): 191. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28125040
Kidd, P. (1996). Phosphatidylcholine: A superior protectant against liver damage. Alternative Medicine Review. 1(4):258-274. http://www.health-mall.in/files_hl/Choline_A_Phosphatidylcholine_Aprotector_against_liver_damage_copyr.pdf
Jin, X., Zheng, R., & Li, Y. (2007). Green tea consumption and liver disease: a systemic review. Liver International. 28(7):990-996.
Packer, L., Witt, E.H., & Tritschuler, H.J. (1995). Alpha lipoic acid as a biological antioxidant. Free Radical Biology & Medicine. 19(2):227-250.
Schütz, K., Carle, R., & Schieber, A. (2006). Taraxacum—a review on its phytochemical and pharmacological profile. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 107(3):313-323.