Your liver performs a dizzying range of important jobs: breaking down food and turning it into energy, storing vitamins, regulating hormones, fighting infection, and – perhaps most famously – filtering out toxins.
How does the liver get rid of waste?
There are two phases of detoxification. In the first, enzymes (called cytochrome p450) help convert toxins, such as alcohol or caffeine, into intermediary compounds. In stage two, these compounds become water-soluble so they can be excreted as waste via the kidneys and bowel.1
While it’s remarkably resilient, ‘toxic overload’ can still push the liver to its limits. The British Liver Trust says one in five of us are at risk of liver damage2, suggesting we should look after them better.
Consistently drinking over recommended alcohol limits (14 units a week for both men and women, spread out over three or more days) can lead to liver scarring or cirrhosis.3 And a high-fat diet and sedentary lifestyle can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Fortunately, there are some natural supplements that can help support your liver.
Artichoke for liver health
This fibrous green vegetable, a member of the thistle family, has traditionally been considered a liver-helper, and modern science appears to back these claims up.4 The active ingredients in artichoke include the antioxidants cynarian and luteolin.
One Turkish study found artichoke leaf extract helped decrease fat levels in the liver5, while another in the journal Experimental and Toxicologic Pathways found pre-treatment with artichoke extract protected liver against damage from toxins.6
Artichoke also appears to boost bile production, which is made in the liver and aids our body’s digestion of fats.
Milk thistle aids liver function
The star ingredient in this age-old liver remedy is silymarin, an antioxidant-rich compound. It’s thought silymarin may stabilise the membranes of liver cells, preventing the entry of toxins.
Taking milk thistle may help reduce fat accumulating in the liver, according to one 2014 study published in the World Journal of Hepatology.7
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Peppers to pep up your liver
Capsaicin is the active compound in chilli peppers that make them taste spicy. Research announced at the International Liver Congress in 2015 found regular consumption may have a beneficial effect on liver damage.8
You can find capsaicin in fresh chillies, or try taking cayenne supplements.
Curcumin helps prevent liver damage
It gives turmeric and curries their bright yellow colour, but this antioxidant pigment could help reduce liver damage as well. A joint 2010 study between Austrian and Texan researchers found that curcumin reduced scarring in the liver, and signs of jaundice, although more research is needed to work out its exact effects.9
Friendly bacteria to the rescue
‘Good’ bacteria have been shown to help many digestive conditions including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diarrhoea, or an upset stomach. Now evidence shows they could be good for your liver too.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in the US discovered in a lab study that friendly bacteria can calm liver inflammation and improve symptoms of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.10 A 2014 review of friendly bacteria’s effect on liver health, carried out by the Liver Unit at the Royal Derby Hospital, found their beneficial effects ‘extends to liver function in cirrhosis, non-alcoholic and alcoholic fatty liver disease’11, but concluded that larger clinical studies were needed.
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Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please consult a doctor or healthcare professional before trying any remedies.
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