What we put in our bodies directly relates to how healthy (or sick) our liver is. Making sure we are consuming the 10 healthiest foods to cleanse and protect your liver is a great way to maintain overall health. The liver is one of our most important organs. It carries out our body’s metabolic processes, is a main detoxification organ, and is vital to our immune system. This 3-pound organ is in charge of breaking down substances such as fats, proteins, and alcohol to provide energy and work to rid our body of toxic substances. The liver also creates immune system factors that help fight infection, creates proteins responsible for blood clotting, and stores glucose, vitamins, and minerals (1). This organ is located in the right upper portion of our belly and is right under the ribs. With all the important processes that the liver is responsible for, keeping this organ healthy and protected is vital to avoid serious health problems.
Multiple liver diseases can affect the liver and its function, one of those diseases being liver cirrhosis. Liver cirrhosis occurs when our liver undergoes damage, disease, or injury and attempts to repair itself. When the liver is constantly trying to repair itself, it will cause excess scar tissue known as fibrosis. The more scar tissue present, the less our liver can properly function (3). There are specific liver enzymes that will rise if you are suffering from liver disease, two of which being ALT and AST. The normal range for AST is about 5-40 units per liter of serum. The normal range for ALT is about 7-56 units per liter of serum. When these enzymes read higher than their ranges, that is an indicator that your liver is not functioning properly and facing disease (6). Below is a list of multiple diseases and health issues that can lead to liver cirrhosis:
When cirrhosis is in its early stages and not considered severe, there will be little to no signs and symptoms. However, once the cirrhosis of the liver becomes severe and the damage of the liver is extensive, various symptoms will begin to present themselves such as (3):
Due to the importance of our liver, making sure we are keeping it healthy and protected is a necessity. This can be naturally done through food and positive lifestyle factors. The properties that certain foods have can help naturally cleanse and protect the liver cells. Let's dive into the foods that work to keep the liver healthy and functioning properly.
Cruciferous vegetables are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and provide health benefits to the liver. Examples of cruciferous vegetables include Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, and arugula. A study done in males with fatty liver disease found that broccoli sprout extract improved liver enzyme levels and decreased oxidative stress in the liver(7). An animal study found that Brussel sprouts and broccoli increased levels of liver detoxification enzymes and helped prevent future liver failure. While human studies are limited, cruciferous vegetables show great promise in the area of liver health.
Tea is a well-known beverage that provides many health benefits, some of which help protect the liver. Multiple studies have shown that drinking 5-10 cups of green tea daily could help improve the specific blood markers of liver health such as AST and ALT. Another study showed that people suffering from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease improved their liver enzyme levels, reduced oxidative stress, and reduced-fat deposits in the liver by consuming green tea due to its high amounts of antioxidants (7). The most beneficial teas that provide these liver benefits are green tea and black tea. They can be consumed as a drink or in their extracted form.
Grapefruit holds properties that are extremely beneficial for the liver. Grapefruit contains two important antioxidants called naringin and naringenin. These antioxidants offer a protective effect for the liver against disease by reducing the development of fibrosis and lowering inflammation. This fruit can also reduce the fat buildup in the liver to help prevent non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. In an animal study, naringin has also been shown to improve alcohol metabolism and counteract the negative effects that alcohol has on the liver (7).
Multiple components in lemon juice contribute great benefits to the liver. These components include vitamin C, flavonoids, and pectin. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can help decrease oxidative stress and lipid peroxidation. Pectin can keep the gut lining healthy and reduce the waste that arrives at the liver. Animal studies have shown that in cases of damaged liver, increased lemon juice consumption can return our liver enzymes ALT and AST to normal levels and improve overall improve liver function (9). You can add lemon juice to water, in salad dressings, or pasta.
Olive oil is another great source of healthy fats and provides various health benefits. Studies have been conducted where patients with fatty liver consumed olive oil daily in their diet and showed significantly reduced deposits of fat in their liver. Along with that, the patients showed lower percentages of body fat, and lower levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) (8). You can incorporate olive oil into your diet by roasting your vegetables or fish in olive oil, on pasta, add it to a salad, or drizzle olive oil over your dish as a finishing oil.
Berries such as blueberries and cranberries hold polyphenols that work as a strong antioxidant that help decrease oxidative stress in the liver. Berries also can prevent excessive amounts of scar tissue in the liver, therefore decreasing fibrosis and lowering your risk of cirrhosis (11). With a study conducted in test tubes, it has been found that berries can even inhibit the production of liver cancer cells and dangerous liver lesions (8). You can consume the berries as a snack or find the same benefits in extracted forms.
Turmeric is another great antioxidant that can stop the liver from becoming damaged by toxins. When prescription medications are used, it may cause liver enzymes and oxidative stress to increase and result in serious liver injury. Studies have shown that turmeric holds pharmacological effects that can protect and prevent oxidative stress from causing liver damage (10). Blending this spice in smoothies, or adding it to soups and stews, can be a delicious way to incorporate turmeric into your diet and yield its benefits.
For those suffering from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, adding garlic to your diet can help with liver protection. According to a 2016 study, garlic has been shown to reduce body weight and fat content in those suffering from NAFLD (11). As obesity is one of the major risk factors for NAFLD, garlic can assist with further liver injury and work as a preventative measure. Garlic is a versatile ingredient that can be added to many dishes such as pasta, salads, stews, and soups.
Avocados are well known for their high levels of healthy fats. This fruit also holds powerful nutrients that help rid toxins in the liver, and reduce inflammation that can assist with liver injury. The avocado is also rich in fiber, this assists with weight control and can help battle NAFLD (12). You can add avocado to toast, eggs, or as a mayonnaise substitute. Another way to incorporate avocado is in salads, blended in smoothies, mashed as a guacamole dip, or to sprinkle with sea salt and eat plain.
Fatty fish is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are healthy fats that can reduce levels of inflammation. These specific fats in fatty fish have been proven to help reduce fat from building up in the liver and keeping enzymes at normal levels. These omega-3 fatty acids can be consumed as prevention of fatty liver, or to assist with liver protection and lower fat accumulation for those already suffering from fatty liver (7). Examples of fatty fish include:
Combining these foods with positive lifestyle factors can increase your chances of optimal liver health. Maintaining a healthy weight through a balanced diet, exercise, limiting alcohol use, and avoiding daily toxins are all factors that can improve liver health.
The liver is a major key to overall health. As mentioned before, the liver detoxifies our body of harmful toxins, carries out our metabolic processes, boosts the immune system, and stores important chemicals in our body. Incorporating the healing foods mentioned above, and implementing a positive lifestyle, can help prevent and protect the liver from disease and injury. Hopefully, this article shed some light on the ways you can improve your liver health.