Tips to Live By

How to Improve Liver Health

Jan. 16, 2024 - Kim Rivera Huston-Weber

The liver is a powerhouse of an organ. It acts as the body's filter, flushing toxins and bacteria from the bloodstream. It also plays an active role in many functions of the body.

So it makes sense that we'd want to do everything we could to help maintain (or improve) our liver health. There are numerous "liver detox" or "liver cleanse" over-the-counter supplements claiming to help you do just that.

But can any supplements help liver function, or are we better off taking simple actions to keep our liver healthy?

Why liver function is important

The liver is the largest internal organ and gland in the body. About the size of a football, it is involved in more than 500 functions of the body. Some of the liver's most important jobs include:

  • Filtering the blood to remove toxins and poisonous substances
  • Producing bile, the fluid that helps the body digest food
  • Flushing bacteria from the bloodstream
  • Producing the substances that regulate blood clotting
  • Processing carbohydrates, fats and protein to make them usable for the body
  • Processing glucose and storing it as glycogen for the body to reconvert back into glucose
  • Storing vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, B12, D, E, K and iron and copper
  • Processing medications


In addition to its many, many roles, the liver has another interesting characteristic: It has the unique ability to repair itself after damage. According to the National Institutes of Health, the liver can regrow itself after up to 90% of the organ has been removed (though that's not to say that we can get away with mistreating our livers and plan for them to repair and regenerate on command).

"Your liver is a factory with the ability to regenerate and detox itself," says Dr. Mazen Noureddin, a hepatologist with Houston Methodist. "The liver doesn't need extra help to filter toxins unless it's undergone damage or disease."

There are many diseases and conditions that can cause damage that can't be reversed — including alcohol, extra fat, hepatitis, cancers and medication overdoses or misuse.

Can supplements help?

We've all been there. Whether it's overeating or having one more glass of beer or wine than we intended, most of us have been known to overindulge from time to time. Reaching for an over-the-counter liver cleanse or liver detox might sound tempting to help you get back on track after overdoing it. Or you may simply want to get ahead of any harm your liver might undergo to boost your overall health.

Whatever you're looking for, companies are marketing supplements claiming they can help support the many functions of the liver. Whether it's boosting immunity or energy, supporting digestion, detoxing the liver or repairing liver damage, these dietary supplement promise a lot of benefits. Some of the cleanses boast that they're effective and healthy ways to lose weight as well.

These supplements can be a mix of herbs, vitamins and minerals or sold as single-ingredient pills or powders. Common ingredients found in liver detox or liver cleanse supplements can include:

  • Milk thistle
  • Turmeric
  • Dandelion root powder
  • Artichoke extract
  • Burdock extract
  • Chicory extract


While some of these ingredients have shown benefits — milk thistle for lowering liver inflammation, turmeric for protecting against liver injuries — there is not enough evidence-based data to recommend them when you have normal liver function.

"Some of these supplements that we know can lower liver enzymes or could be liver-friendly get mixed with other substances that could be harmful," Dr. Noureddin says. "Many of the supplements out there could be harmful themselves and could have the opposite effect on the liver, especially if they get mixed with something else. And unfortunately, we have seen many patients over the years with liver toxicity because of supplements that they were taking and thought to be helpful."

Another supplement purported to support the liver is a synthetic version of S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM-e), a naturally occurring amino acid found in the body. SAM-e, which Dr. Noureddin has studied, is involved with several body processes, including the immune system, maintaining cell membranes and creating and breaking down chemicals such as serotonin, melatonin and dopamine. The synthetic version can be helpful for people with elevated liver enzymes who don't process the naturally occurring amino well.

If you're concerned about your liver health and want to try a supplement, you should research all ingredients in a supplement before purchasing. LiverTox is a resource from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) that shares information on drug-induced liver injury, and how various herbs and medicines can be toxic to the liver.

More importantly, Dr. Noureddin suggests those curious about supplements or improving their liver function markers should work with their primary care provider. They can help you choose supplements or may suggest you work with a hepatologist to manage your liver health.

How to improve liver health naturally

We can all take steps to keep our liver healthy, and it's by taking actions that can help our overall health as well.

Know your risk factors for liver issues

Talk with your primary care provider about your potential risk factors for liver disease. This can include your family history of any liver disease, and being honest about how much you drink. You'll also want to talk to your doctor about any risk factors and screening for hepatitis C. Many people with hepatitis C do not know they have the infection, which then can progress to liver damage, liver failure, cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Watch your alcohol intake

Dr. Noureddin says that limiting your alcohol consumption can help lower your risk of developing alcohol-related liver conditions. That means ideally having less than two drinks a day for men and one drink per day for women. Keep in mind that the servings are a lot smaller than you might think. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol state that a standard drink in the U.S. amounts to roughly 14 grams of alcohol — and the amount of liquid in your glass doesn't necessarily match the amount of alcohol. So 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or about 1.5 ounces of spirits such as whiskey, vodka or gin are all considered what would be considered one standard drink. So that big pour of wine may easily put you over your daily limit.

Don't drink while taking certain medications

Make sure that you carefully read any instructions before taking any over-the-counter or prescription medicines. There are many medicines that can cause injury to the liver or kidneys when you drink alcohol while taking them. If the medicine label says not to drink while taking the medicine, do not drink for the entire time you are on the medication.

Avoid overuse or incorrect use of medications

Your liver filters and breaks down everything you put in your body. Using drugs chronically or incorrectly, including everything from steroids, inhalants and pain relievers can hurt your liver function. Using street drugs, including heroin, can increase your risk of catching viral hepatitis, in addition to harming your liver function.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle

Being overweight, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and having high cholesterol and triglycerides can put you at risk for metabolic dysfunction-associated steatotic liver disease (MASLD), or what used to be called non-alcohol induced fatty liver disease. While there are no treatments that can reverse MASLD, there are ways to help prevent the condition or slow its progression. Healthy habits, such as exercising, getting good sleep and following a Mediterranean or other anti-inflammatory diet, can all help your liver and overall health. If you smoke, quit — smoking can negatively affect your liver and overall health.

While not exactly a supplement for liver health, drinking coffee has been shown to reduce fat and scarring in the liver. That said, if you're sensitive to caffeine, have a heart condition or anxiety, you should talk to your doctor before adding coffee to your diet. For the most benefit, make sure you're adding just a splash of your favorite cow's or plant-based milk and a little bit of sweetener. Adding too much sugar or dairy can take away the health benefits by adding extra calories to your day.

Because of the liver's ability to detox itself, we often don't have to do much more than make sure we protect it.

"Maintaining a healthy life is key," Dr. Noureddin says. "Most people won't need more than that."

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Categories: Tips to Live By