The liver is an amazing watchman over what is in our body, like a sentry standing guard. It monitors and protects us from harmful substances. It attempts to neutralize any dangerous threat. It metabolizes every bit of food or drinks we consume. It stores precious nutrients for future utilization. It is a hard-working organ. The health of our liver is paramount in maximizing wellness. Without a well functioning liver, every other bodily process and organ will suffer. In order for our liver to keep serving us faithfully our whole lives, we must give it the support it needs.
Sobering statistics on liver diseases are sounding the alarm that we need to take our liver health much more seriously. In the United States, for example, almost 5 million people suffer from liver disease, contributing to over 40,000 deaths annually. (1) This is a global issue, however, and these rates are steadily climbing as time goes on. Liver diseases are now considered to be the second leading cause of death in the digestive disease category. (2)
This leads us to question, how can I improve my liver function and avoid being a statistic? What foods are good for liver health? Are there nutrients I can take daily to help my liver cleanse and repair? The good news is there are several different nutrients to bolster your liver health.
Nutrients For Liver Health
1. N-Acetylcysteine (NAC)
This amino acid has been used in medical treatment since 1960. It is considered a safe, effective substance and is on the list of the World Health Organization’s most needed medicines. (3) It is the first line of defense when someone has an acetaminophen overdose, and with good reason. Acetaminophen is very hard on the liver. It rapidly depletes glutathione, an antioxidant we produce to protect our cells from oxidative damage. As long as we have sufficient levels of glutathione, there is no damage to the liver. (4) NAC is a precursor to glutathione. Supplementing with NAC can assist your body in maintaining good glutathione levels. In fact, NAC can help the liver produce other protective substances as well, assisting in liver detox. (5)
We’ve mentioned hypoxia before, and NAC can help to protect from low oxygen damage in the liver. (6) Liver cells that were experiencing hypoxia were able to function better and replicate when they had NAC. NAC is a potent and inexpensive way to support liver health and liver repair.
There are no food sources for NAC, but its one of the most effective nutrients to support liver health because of its protective effects.
2. Vitamin E
This antioxidant is a fat-soluble vitamin that the liver seems to do very well with. Vitamin E may significantly improve liver function. (7) The liver enzymes and inflammation that is produced when the liver is under stress can be reduced when vitamin E is taken. Vitamin E helped to downregulate genes involved with oxidative stress and cholesterol production. Lowering both factors will aid you in liver repair and liver detox.
Good vitamin E food sources include: sunflower seeds, almonds, avocados, spinach, and other leafy greens, butternut squash, kiwi, and broccoli.
To work most effectively, vitamin E has a cofactor that we will discuss next.
3. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is usually associated with healthy collagen and helping to relieve oxidative stress in general. But it can be of special importance to the liver. Vitamin C is a cofactor in the utilization of vitamin E. Vitamin E works best in the presence of other antioxidants, so vitamin C can help to maximize its effectiveness. (8) Vitamin C deficiency was found in people that had liver damage due to alcohol or bile duct cirrhosis. (9) Vitamin C may also offer protection from the pesticides and other toxins that our liver is always working to neutralize. (10)
Another synergistic relationship is that of vitamin C and NAC. NAC helps to recycle vitamin C so that it can have more antioxidant potential. NAC can significantly increase levels of circulating vitamin C. (11)
Vitamin C comes in several forms. It will help to counteract toxins and support liver health in every form. However, there is one form that 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. (12) The vitamin C also stays in the blood longer, offering more support for healthy liver function. The lecithin in this form of vitamin C has powerful liver support properties which we will address next.
Good vitamin C food sources include: strawberries, oranges, broccoli, kale, pineapple, cantaloupe, and cauliflower.
The phosphatidylcholine within lipo C is what gives the vitamin C its most potent availability in the body, but why?
Choline is a vital nutrient to humans. Our bodies then metabolize choline into phosphatidylcholine. Every cell membrane in our body is comprised of 40-50% phosphatidylcholine, making choline indispensable to our health. (13) Because it is so similar to our cellular membranes in structure, our cells readily accept and can 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.
Everyone needs choline, but some humans have a genetic polymorphism that increases their need for choline. This polymorphism is widespread, so the vast majority of people may greatly benefit when it comes to lecithin.
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 being a vehicle to carry 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 seemed to increase bile output as well as helped to prevent the elevation of inflammatory liver enzymes. (14) It also seems to help repair if the bile duct was damaged.
Phosphatidylcholine from lecithin can decrease oxidative stress from alcohol. Alcohol can lead to liver injury, but phosphatidylcholine helped to protect liver cells from fibrosis. (15) It helped the liver sustain better glutathione levels as well.
Good lecithin and choline food sources include: organ meats, eggs, sunflower seeds, and other nuts, milk, yogurt, cheese, broccoli, and cauliflower.
5. 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. (16) This can also lead to insulin resistance. A lack of vitamin D seems to exaggerate liver inflammation while increasing vitamin D can help decrease the inflammation.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver due to specific viruses. There are Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. Higher vitamin D levels seems to help inhibit the virus from replicating so quickly, reducing the viral load the liver has to contend with. (17)
Sufficient vitamin D levels are essential to have a healthy liver.
Good vitamin D food sources include: fatty fish, egg yolks, beef liver, cheese, and cod liver oil.
6. 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 typical diet consumed by people today is unbalanced in regards to the ratio of Omega fats. Ideally, Omega 3 would be close to Omega 6. This is not the case. 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. (18) 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, when Omega 3 fatty acids were consumed, liver damage seemed to reverse itself. (19) Inflammation was also reduced, insulin sensitivity improved, and high triglycerides were brought down. Elevated liver enzymes were also lowered. Omega 3 fatty acid was also shown to lower reactive oxygen species in the liver and may even help to inhibit liver carcinoma. (20)
All these reasons make Omega 3 a valuable part of any liver support protocol.
Good Omega 3 food sources include: flaxseed, chia seed, walnuts, fatty fish, and cod liver oil.
7. Alpha Lipoic Acid
As we just discussed, high Omega 6 intake can have damaging effects on the liver. In addition to Omega 3, alpha lipoic acid may offer some protection from the inflammatory impact of high Omega 6. (21)
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. (22) 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 possibly lower triglycerides easing the burden on the liver. (23) It may even lower inflammatory markers and help with insulin sensitivity. (24)
Alpha lipoic acid can be a fantastic addition to any liver support protocol since it enhances the activity of other liver strengthening nutrients.
Good alpha lipoic acid food sources include: grass-fed beef, organ meats, broccoli, spinach, and brussel sprouts.
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 supported liver function. (25)
Resveratrol may assist your cells with detoxification and protection. Liver cells that were pretreated with resveratrol before exposed to oxidative stress were in effect shielded from its harmful impact. Not only that but the protective antioxidants that the liver produces increased with resveratrol as well. (26)
This powerful nutrient may also help with liver cancer. Cancer cells express their genes differently than healthy cells. Resveratrol seemed to change the way the liver cancer cells expressed their genes, which led to apoptosis, or programmed cell death. (27) It may also help to inhibit the advancement of their cell cycle. (28)
Liver cells seem to do so well with resveratrol, that it may even be part of a healthy liver protocol after a transplant in the future. 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. (29)
Good resveratrol food sources include: red grapes, peanuts, pistachios, dark chocolate, strawberries, blueberries, and cranberries.
9. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
This fat-soluble nutrient is often associated with heart and brain health. But CoQ10 has some valuable implications for having a healthy liver as well.
CoQ10 may help the liver to adapt under the stress of metabolic processes. (30) 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.
Certain prescription drugs such as statins may have toxic effects on the liver. CoQ10 can help to prevent this damage because of its ability to lower inflammation in the liver. (31)
CoQ10 may be crucial to aiding your liver to adapt to stress and stay healthy.
Good CoQ10 food sources include: meat, fatty fish, spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, strawberries, peanuts, sesame seeds, and pistachios.
This flavonoid has an amazing antioxidant capacity and is often used as an antihistamine. Quercetin can help in liver repair as well. It can help heal liver damage and increase its ability to neutralize free radicals. (32) It also helped to reduce proinflammatory cytokines and helped to provide protection against liver injury. (33) Quercetin seemed to help increase glutathione, offering even more liver support.
Good quercetin food sources include: asparagus, onions, apples, berries, spinach, kale, capers, nuts, and green tea.
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. (34) Having adequate zinc helped to counteract these negative effects. Zinc may be vital in preventing liver cirrhosis. (35)
The liver is the organ in charge of zinc metabolism, so its important for a healthy liver is quite clear.
Good zinc food sources include: meat, shellfish, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, cashews, dairy, eggs, and dark chocolate.
What Does Your Liver Need?
We’ve covered some amazing liver health nutrients and their food sources:
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Omega 3
- Alpha lipoic acid
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 watchmen-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.