The liver is an amazing watchman over our body, like a sentry standing guard. It monitors and protects us from harmful substances. It attempts to neutralize any threat. It metabolizes our food and stores precious nutrients for future use. It is a hard-working organ. Without a well-functioning liver, every other bodily process and organ suffers, so we have to give our liver the support it needs.
In the United States, almost 5 million people suffer from liver disease, contributing to more than 40,000 deaths annually. This is a global issue, however, and these rates are climbing steadily. Liver diseases are now the second-leading cause of death in the digestive disease category. (1, 2)
So, how can you improve your liver function and avoid being a statistic? What foods are good for liver health?
Nutrients for Liver Health
1. Alpha Lipoic Acid
High Omega 6 intake can damage the liver. In addition to Omega 3, alpha lipoic acid may offer some protection from the inflammatory impact of high Omega 6. (3)
Alpha lipoic acid is well known for its antioxidant capacity. It “recharges” other antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E to increase their effectiveness. They work better when taken together. (4)
Our bodies produce alpha lipoic acid, but sometimes we may not produce enough to combat all the oxidative stress that we encounter. Our livers can be especially vulnerable to damage if oxidative stress isn’t kept in check. With it recharging the other antioxidants in the body, alpha lipoic acid can be valuable in maintaining liver health.
Alpha lipoic acid may also reduce reactive oxygen species and lower triglycerides, easing the burden on the liver. It may even lower inflammatory markers and help with insulin sensitivity. (5, 6)
Alpha lipoic acid can be a fantastic addition to any liver support protocol because it enhances the activity of other liver-strengthening nutrients.
Good alpha lipoic acid food sources include: broccoli, brussels sprouts, grass-fed beef, organ meats, and spinach.
2. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
This fat-soluble nutrient is often associated with heart and brain health. But CoQ10 has some valuable implications for a healthy liver as well.
CoQ10 may help the liver adapt to the stress of metabolic processes. We are continually exposed to substances that our liver has to neutralize. CoQ10 may help aid in the liver detox process. It may also considerably lower inflammatory liver enzymes and c-reactive protein. (7)
Certain prescription drugs such as statins may have toxic effects on the liver. CoQ10 can help prevent this damage because of its ability to lower inflammation in the liver. (8)
CoQ10 may be crucial to aiding your liver to adapt to stress and stay healthy.
Good CoQ10 food sources include: broccoli, cauliflower, fatty fish, meat, peanuts, pistachios, sesame seeds, spinach, and strawberries.
The phosphatidylcholine within lipo C is what gives vitamin C its most potent availability in the body, but why?
Choline is a vital nutrient to humans. Our bodies metabolize choline into phosphatidylcholine. Every cell membrane in our body is comprised of 40%-50% phosphatidylcholine, making choline indispensable to our health. (9)
Because it is so similar to our cellular membranes in structure, our cells readily accept and utilize vitamin C surrounded by phosphatidylcholine.
Choline is also a huge component of bile. One of the first signs of being deficient in choline is impaired liver function. Choline is needed to export triglycerides from the liver. Our liver breaks down fats for energy, but if they cannot be exported from the liver, triglycerides accumulate and lead to fatty liver disease. This prevents the liver detox process.
The bile duct can become inflamed and blocked, which results in less flow of bile. Bile has a few different functions. One of them is carrying toxins from the liver to the intestines so they can be removed from the body. If the bile duct is blocked, this liver detox process is inhibited. Lecithin seems to increase bile output as well as help prevent the elevation of inflammatory liver enzymes. It also seems to help repair a damaged bile duct. (10)
Phosphatidylcholine from lecithin can decrease oxidative stress from alcohol. Alcohol can lead to liver injury, but phosphatidylcholine can protect liver cells from fibrosis. It helps the liver sustain better glutathione levels as well. (11)
Good lecithin and choline food sources include: broccoli, cauliflower, cheese, eggs, milk, nuts, organ meats, sunflower seeds, and yogurt.
4. Omega 3
This healthy fat gets a good deal of attention for its effects on brain health. Omega 3 also has some essential benefits when it comes to liver health.
The average person consumes 16 to 25 times more Omega 6 than Omega 3. This severe imbalance creates inflammation and contributes to a much higher rate of mortality. (12)
The liver is the organ that processes all of our dietary fats, so it takes quite a hit when the Omega fats ratio is so askew. The good news is, Omega 3 fatty acids can reverse liver damage, reduce inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity, and lower high triglycerides and elevated liver enzymes. Omega 3 fatty acid was also shown to lower reactive oxygen species in the liver, and may even help to inhibit liver carcinoma. (13, 14)
All these reasons make Omega 3 a valuable part of any liver support protocol.
Good Omega 3 food sources include: chia seed, cod liver oil, fatty fish, flaxseed, and walnuts.
This flavonoid has an amazing antioxidant capacity and is often used as an antihistamine. Quercetin can help heal liver damage and increase its ability to neutralize free radicals. (15)
It also helps to reduce proinflammatory cytokines and protect against liver injury. (16)
Quercetin can help increase glutathione, offering even more liver support.
Good quercetin food sources include: apples, asparagus, berries, capers, green tea, kale, nuts, onions, and spinach.
Current fervor for resveratrol revolves around its anti-aging properties. But could some of these anti-aging effects actually stem from how much this substance assists in maintaining a healthy liver?
Resveratrol seems to help inhibit triglyceride accumulation in the liver. By helping to suppress the genes that are involved with triglyceride formation, it supports liver function. (17)
Resveratrol may assist your cells with detoxification and protection. Liver cells that were pretreated with resveratrol before being exposed to oxidative stress were in effect shielded from its harmful impact. The protective antioxidants that the liver produces increased with resveratrol as well. (18)
Liver cells seem to do so well with resveratrol, that it may even be part of a healthy liver protocol after a transplant. An experiment done in an animal model revealed that when liver cells were transplanted into another animal, the animals survived longer, and there was less rejection when resveratrol was used. (19)
Good resveratrol food sources include: blueberries, cranberries, dark chocolate, peanuts, pistachios, red grapes, and strawberries.
7. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is usually associated with healthy collagen and relief of overall oxidative stress. But it can be of special importance to the liver. Vitamin E works best in the presence of other antioxidants, so vitamin C can help to maximize its effectiveness. (20)
Vitamin C deficiency was found in people that had liver damage due to alcohol or bile duct cirrhosis. (21)
Vitamin C may also offer protection from the pesticides and other toxins that our liver is always working to neutralize. (22)
Vitamin C comes in several forms. It will help to counteract toxins and support liver health in every form. However, one form offers superior absorption and brings another amazing liver repair ingredient with it: Liposomal vitamin C. Lipo C is a vitamin C molecule that is surrounded by phosphatidylcholine from lecithin. This unique delivery system of vitamin C produces a much higher level of absorption than other forms. (23)
This vitamin C also stays in the blood longer, offering more support for healthy liver function.
Good vitamin C food sources include: broccoli, cantaloupe, cauliflower, kale, oranges, pineapple, and strawberries.
8. Vitamin D
The “sunshine” vitamin may do a lot more for you than you think. Low vitamin D levels are associated with all liver diseases. Insufficient amounts of vitamin D seem to inhibit bile production. There also seems to be a correlation between low vitamin D levels and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. (24)
This can also lead to insulin resistance. A lack of vitamin D seems to exaggerate liver inflammation, whereas increasing vitamin D can help decrease the inflammation. Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. Higher vitamin D levels seems to help inhibit replication. (25)
Sufficient vitamin D levels are essential to a healthy liver.
Good vitamin D food sources include: beef liver, cheese, cod liver oil, egg yolks, and fatty fish.
9. Vitamin E
This antioxidant is a fat-soluble vitamin that may improve liver function significantly. (26)
Vitamin E reduces the liver enzymes and inflammation that result from liver stress. It also helps downregulate genes involved with oxidative stress and cholesterol production. Lowering both factors will boost liver repair and liver detox.
Good vitamin E food sources include: almonds, avocados, broccoli, butternut squash, kiwi, spinach and other leafy greens, and sunflower seeds.
Zinc is an essential trace mineral needed for cell development. A deficiency in zinc can lead to problems in the liver. It can result in diminished liver repair, and liver lesions may occur because of inadequate wound healing. Having adequate zinc helps counteract these negative effects. Zinc may also be vital in preventing liver cirrhosis. (27, 28)
The liver is the organ in charge of zinc metabolism, so it's import for a healthy liver is quite clear.
Good zinc food sources include: almonds, cashews, chickpeas, dairy, dark chocolate, eggs, hemp seeds, meat, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and shellfish.
What Does Your Liver Need?
We’ve covered some amazing liver health nutrients and their food sources:
- Alpha lipoic acid
- Omega 3
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
All of them have multiple positive effects on liver repair and liver health. They each have their own unique attributes to support our liver in its constant watchman-like duties. Could you be deficient in any of these nutrients? Which of these do you feel could be of most benefit to you? Supporting your liver health now will help you obtain and keep optimum wellness for many years to come.