Your body depends largely on the liver for its overall well-being. The liver breaks down nutrients in your foods and flushes out harmful substances.
Over time, certain things we consume and health conditions can overwhelm the liver and interfere with its normal function, leading to a range of liver diseases, including:
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
- Alcoholic liver disease
- Liver failure
- Liver cancer
Cirrhosis and chronic liver disease alone account for 56,585 deaths every year in the United States. Worldwide, liver conditions account for four percent of deaths, totaling over 2 million deaths annually.
Liver diseases are commonly linked to:
- Excess alcohol use
- Excess weight
- High blood pressure
- High sugar level
- High cholesterol
While conventional liver disease treatments, including traditional pharmaceuticals, immunotherapy, surgical resection, and liver transplant, have their merits, there is a growing interest in natural remedies for liver health. As patients become more aware of the harmful side effects of some medications, many of which can damage your liver, alternative solutions are becoming more popular.
These herbal options below are best for:
- The prevention of liver diseases
- Reversal/reduction of early stages of liver concerns, such as fatty liver
- Collaborative treatment with conventional liver treatment prescriptions.
These natural alternatives are considered safer and gentler on the body compared to pharmaceutical interventions. However, it is recommended that you visit and be prescribed by herbal practitioners who are registered with an appropriate governing body. In the U.S., these practitioners are regulated by each individual state. However, the American Herbalist Guild can provide assistance in selecting qualified candidates on its site. Internationally, the World Health Organization (WHO) operates an “International Regulatory Cooperation for Herbal Medicines (IRCH)” which has been charged, since 2006, to “protect and promote public health and safety through improved regulation for herbal medicines.”
According to the site, “membership is open to any national regulatory authority responsible for the regulation of herbal medicines and regional/sub-regional bodies responsible for the regulation of herbal medicine.”
It should also be noted that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate vitamins, herbs, and supplements. This may mean some products do not have what they claim in them, and instead may have fillers or even dangerous drugs. Working with your healthcare professional, especially when combining herbal treatments with pharmaceuticals, to determine what products are safest for you.
Let’s discuss five natural options, what research says about them, and how to infuse them into your daily life.
Green Tea for Liver Health
Green tea is primarily made by steaming or pan-frying the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant.
Green tea is a standard natural recommendation for various health conditions—including weight loss, type-2 diabetes, and liver disorder.
The catechins, a type of phenolic compound very abundant in tea, particularly epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), have been the subject of reviews on natural remedies for liver diseases for its antioxidant characteristics.
In one study, a 500 mg daily dose of green tea extract (not a tea itself) administered for 90 days significantly reduced liver damage in 80 patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
Another study that administered the same dose of extract over a 12-week week recorded significant improvement in fatty liver and liver inflammation.
Some researchers also suggest green tea may prevent various liver diseases, including hepatitis, liver cancer, chronic liver disease, fatty liver, and cirrhosis.
Here’s a typical green tea preparation guide:
- Drop a bag of green tea in a cup of hot water
- Leave for at least 2 minutes before removing the tea bag
- You may add a few drops of lemon (or honey) to improve its taste and effect
- Serve hot
Drink a cup of your green tea formula each morning and/or evening, but be sure not to go overboard with any additional green tea products. A cup of tea will provide between 50 and 100 mg of extract. The noted study provided 500 mg of green tea extract daily.
Side Effects of Green Tea
Excessive green tea intake, which is typically any amount over 500 mg daily, has been linked to gastrointestinal concerns, including constipation and diarrhea.
Green tea can also cause side effects due to the caffeine naturally found in the herb. These can include anxiety, tremors, irritability, and sleeping problems. Such effects are more likely if you are typically sensitive to caffeine or take larger than recommended doses of the herb. However, side effects are less common with green tea than with other drinks that have caffeine.
For those with diabetes or on any prescription medications, it is recommended to speak to your healthcare provider before adding any green tea extracts to your daily routine.
Milk Thistle to Support the Liver
Milk Thistle, or Silymarin, is another promising natural remedy to improve your liver health. The plant, which has been used for over 2000 years to manage bile duct and liver issues, may contain liver-protective properties.
In a 2014 study, researchers conclude that milk thistle contains flavonoids and antioxidants that combat free radicals responsible for liver toxicity. The authors found that milk thistle may help the liver fight against alcoholic cirrhosis and enhance patients’ overall quality of life.
Overall, the supplement has been shown to prevent the elevation of liver enzymes, which can assist in lowering cholesterol when taken alongside statins.
You can find milk thistle in powder and capsules for more convenient dosing. Use as recommended on product labels.
Although Milk thistle is adjudged well tolerated and safe even in high doses, medical guidance is advised. You should always speak to a healthcare provider before introducing a new supplement to your routine.
Side Effects of Milk Thistle
Some of the short-term effects of milk thistle may include allergic reactions, such as hives, especially when used topically. However, the supplement is generally recommended for oral consumption to help with liver health. Other short-term side effects may include abdominal pain associated with diarrhea and bloating. Other patients may experience muscle cramps.
Those with endometriosis or lower blood sugar levels may find that milk thistle aggravates these conditions.
Milk thistle is not recommended to those who are pregnant or nursing. The herb can also interact with drugs like estrogen pills, statin drugs, which are known to lower cholesterol levels, and diabetes medications. Ask your doctor if taking this supplement is acceptable for you. Be sure to tell them all of the medications you are currently taking, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, herbs, supplements, and vitamins.
Lemon for Your Liver
Lemon juice is a rich source of vitamin C and antioxidants. Its rich antioxidant profile protects your body from free radicals, improving your liver health.
In a study on mice, researchers discovered that lemon juice helped remedy fatty liver caused by alcohol and reduces lipid levels. While reviewing the mice, it was discovered lemon juice’s role in reducing severe alcohol-induced liver damage was an effect attributed to its antioxidant properties.
Here’s a quick lemon recipe you can try to incorporate more lemon into your diet:
- Slice your lemon in halves
- Squeeze the juice from one half into your tea cup
- Add water
- Add a teaspoon of honey (or as desired) to taste
You can also add lemon easily to water, teas, dressings, and seafoods to boost flavor and add more of the fruit into your diet.
Side Effects of Lemon
Due to its acidity levels, lemon juice may not be ideal for persons with stomach ulcers or other sensitive health concerns. It can irritate those with GERD or acid reflux due to the acidity. Other effects included heartburn, vomiting, and nausea.
Tamarind for Liver Health
Tamarind, a tropical fruit with a tangy flavor, is traditionally used across Asia and Africa for liver concerns. Its pulp contains polyphenols and flavonoids, key compounds that may help reduce liver inflammation and oxidative stress associated with fatty liver and other liver disease.
Tamarind may also reduce liver fat accumulation and help reverse NAFLD, according to studies on rats.
An experiment on hamsters with excessive cholesterol levels revealed that tamarind fruits could significantly cut down triglycerides, bad cholesterol (LDL), and overall cholesterol levels, which are key contributors to fatty liver disease.
Incorporating tamarind into your diet may help you manage your liver health.
You can incorporate the fruit to make tamarind tea:
- Boil your peeled tamarinds for about 20 minutes
- Allow to cool
- Add turmeric and honey for improved taste and better effect
Tamarind also is made into a paste (much like tomato paste) to incorporate the ingredient easily into soups, stews, or spicy dishes.
Side Effects of Tamarind
While tamarind is generally safe for consumption, excessive intake may cause diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain, and other digestive discomforts. It may also affect your sugar levels. Those with diabetes or insulin-resistant conditions, such as some polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) patients should consult their healthcare professional before adding the ingredient into their diets. Tamarind pulp has been found to improve insulin sensitivity, but may impact those with such conditions differently than those persons without PCOS or diabetes.
The use of moderate doses (about 10 grams per day or less) may be best, and don’t forget to discuss with your healthcare provider if you notice any strange changes or side effects that come along with your doses.
Turmeric to Prevent Liver Disease
Turmeric, a vibrant yellow spice commonly used in cooking and traditional medicine, has gained attention for its potential benefits in managing liver disease.
The active compound in turmeric, called curcumin, is believed to be responsible for its therapeutic properties. Curcumin, a compound rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, places the herb among the top natural alternatives for liver disease.
In an 8-week study, researchers discovered a reduction in liver fat in NAFLD patients after administering 500 mg daily doses of a curcumin formula.
It is strongly recommended that you add black pepper to your turmeric formula, as black pepper contains piperine, a compound found to enhance the body’s absorption of curcumin, the active compound in turmeric. Some supplements come with both ingredients already in them, while many recipes in the Indian culture combine the two into tasty food combinations.
When researchers administered a combination of 500 mg curcumin and 5 mg piperine daily for 12 weeks to 70 NAFLD patients, they reported reductions in bad cholesterol and markers of inflammation, two key contributors to liver disease.
Remember to add a dash of black pepper to your turmeric formula, if it does not already have some. A pinch (or two) of black pepper will help your body to utilize its potential benefits better. You can incorporate turmeric powder or fresh turmeric root into cooking. For culinary applications, turmeric is often infused into curries.
For a more concentrated and more potent application, consider this turmeric tea recipe:
- Put a pinch of turmeric powder in a teacup of hot water
- Some drops of lemon juice for enhanced taste and a more synergic effect
- Like your regular tea, serve warm
This recipe is an excellent way to kick-start your morning routine each day and add more of the supplement into your diet.
Side Effects of Turmeric
Though it can be a tasty addition to any number of dishes, avoid going overboard with your turmeric doses as it may cause stomach upset, dizziness, diarrhea, or nausea.
In addition to your doctor, you can opt to also seek to discuss additions of turmeric (or other supplements) with a naturopath or clinical herbalist for continuous and safe dosing levels.
When to Seek Help for Liver Disease
Whether you’ve been diagnosed with liver disease already or are just trying to keep your liver in shape, these herbal remedies are great options.
However, if there is no significant improvement after these remedies, you should follow-up again with your physician as more traditional medications may still be required. These options can help your liver conditions, but a doctor may be able to provide a more comprehensive and tailored diet plan and medications that will fit your unique, individual needs.
It’s always best to involve a healthcare professional in your treatment plan, even if you choose to go the herbal route. They can provide personalized advice, monitor your condition, and ensure the treatment aligns with your healthcare goals.