It’s called a “powerhouse organ” and “master multitasker”—and for good reason: More than 500 vital functions have been identified with the liver, including production of bile, which helps carry away waste and break down fats in the small intestine during digestion; resisting infections by making immune factors and removing bacteria from the bloodstream; and regulation of blood levels of amino acids, which form the building blocks of proteins (1).
“Today we know that without a healthy liver, it’s impossible to have a properly working metabolism, healthy circulation, balanced hormones, clean blood and strong digestion,” reports Jillian Levy, CHHC, in “How to Improve Liver Function (in 5 Steps)” on DrAxe.com. Listing the benefits of a “well taken care of liver,” Levy points to increased energy levels, clearer skin, stronger immunity, better mood, a sharper mind and more (2).
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with a nutrient-rich diet and exercise will naturally help the liver do its job, but supplements can offer a helping hand in optimizing liver function. Eight to consider:
1. Milk Thistle (silymarin): Available in capsules, powders, and extracts, milk thistle is the most commonly used herbal supplement in the U.S. for liver concerns (3). Andrew Weil, M.D., tells his readers: “Silymarin has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that may help the liver repair itself after being damaged by toxins.” It is nontoxic, he adds, “and European research shows that it stimulates regeneration of liver cells and protects them from toxic injury. It can also be useful in reducing allergy symptoms and indigestion” (4).
2. Turmeric: This spice has taken the spotlight as one of the hottest ingredients on the market. It has been shown to offer several health benefits, including helping liver detoxification. “Medicinal uses for turmeric began in ancient times when it was noted as an anti-inflammatory agent, as well as helping ease a wide variety of conditions, such as jaundice, menstrual problems, blood in the urine, hemorrhaging, toothaches, bruises, chest pain, flatulence and colic,” says Dr. Mercola in an article titled “What Is Turmeric Good For?” Turmeric, he writes, “is loaded with essential minerals, including magnesium, potassium and calcium. It’s also an excellent source of fiber, vitamin B6 and zinc, and contains healthy amounts of vitamin C and magnesium. Research also suggests that turmeric may be helpful in treating inflammatory bowel diseases, lowering cholesterol levels, supporting cardiovascular health, relieving indigestion, improving liver function and even reducing your risk of Alzheimer’s disease” (5).
Brand new research using Sabinsa’s Curcumin C3 Complex with BioPerine suggested “beneficial effects of combined curcuminoids and piperine supplementation on disease severity in patients with NAFLD [Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease]” (6).
3. Chlorella: Dr. Axe outlines the benefits of this freshwater green algae in “7 Proven Chlorella Benefits” (7). “One of chlorella’s most significant health benefits is that it wraps itself around even stubborn toxins residing in our bodies, such as lead, cadmium, mercury and uranium, and keeps them from being reabsorbed,” he writes. “Regular consumption of chlorella can even help keep heavy metals from accumulating in our bodies’ soft tissues and organs in the first place.” (For more on this useful algae, see Immune Support)
4. French oak extract: Sold under the branded ingredient name Robuvit, studies suggest this extract might benefit liver function in view of hepatic challenges. Discussing the science in a recent Vitamin Connection, Frank Schönlau, Ph.D., Director of Scientific Communications for Horphag Research, told Dr. Richard Passwater, “Studies support liver health improvements. A clinical study demonstrated that supplementation with Robuvit helped protect and restore hepatic health subsequent to a one-off alcohol intoxication. Judged from liver enzyme counts, Robuvit protected the liver with significantly better liver values on alanine-transferase and gamma-glutamyl transferase” (8).
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5. Activated Charcoal: This detox all-star has a long history, notes Dr. Mercola. “Activated charcoal is now making waves in both the medical and cosmetic industry because of its supposed ability to improve well-being. But this is not an entirely new trend; Egyptian records as early as 1,500 B.C. showed that activated charcoal was already being used to absorb unpleasant odors from putrefying wounds” (9).
Activated Charcoal works by collecting toxins along the digestive tract and binding to them, in turn, eliminating them through waste, explains Jill Carnahan, M.D., in “4 Detox Methods That Actually Work” (10). And according to Dr. Axe, activated charcoal helps promote a healthy digestive tract by removing toxins that cause allergic reactions, oxidative damage and poor immune system function” (11).
A word of warning: Charcoal doesn’t discriminate, and can remove things other than toxins, including medication. Consumers should be reminded, as with all supplements, to consult with a doctor before ingesting charcoal.
6. Choline: An estimated 90% of the U.S. population is deficient in choline (12). And according to an article by Ann Louise Gittleman, Ph.D., titled “Choline Clears the Fat Log Jam,” just a few weeks on a choline-deficient diet has been shown to cause abnormal liver function (13). She explains that choline is vital to controlling fat and cholesterol buildup in the body—regulating the kidneys, liver and gallbladder, and banishing fatigue. “As an added bonus,” Gittleman says, “choline helps form phosphatidylcholine, which is needed for proper mental functioning. Providing your body with adequate choline while you are young can help diminish memory deficits as you age. Choline can nourish your brain and your liver while it helps you lose weight. That’s quite a deal.”
7. Dandelion: “Most homeowners hate the dandelion, as it populates yards every spring,” says Dr. Josh Axe. “But, this flower, and its root, are actually packed with vitamins and minerals. Dandelion root has a natural diuretic effect, allowing your liver to more quickly eliminate toxins. It also helps to strengthen the immune system, balance blood sugar levels, relieve heartburn, and soothe digestive upset. Burdock root is another option in the same plant family as dandelions that can help detox your system by cleansing the blood, therefore helping to support liver function. Like milk thistle, both dandelion root and burdock root can be taken in both supplement form or as a detox tea” (14).
8. Glutathione: Glutathione is known as the “master antioxidant” (15). It’s been shown to help eliminate toxins from cells and to protect against the damaging effects of radiation, chemicals, and environmental pollutants. It also has the ability to enhance the performance of other antioxidants, making it a good idea to sell glutathione with other antioxidants. As pointed out in an article in the November issue of WholeFoods, Glutathione: The Master Antioxidant, glutathione can be depleted by poor diet, pollution, toxins, radiation, and stress, among other things, making it an important supplement for your customers to discuss with their doctor (15). WF