Your liver is the filtration system of your body, cleaning 1,450 milliliters of blood every minute. It takes care of chemicals and is the main organ in charge of metabolizing drugs.
The liver also regulates blood volume (1) and secretes bile into the intestine. This substance contains liver waste and helps digest fats. Crazy enough, your liver is the only organ in your body that can regenerate itself, as long as it doesn’t contain too much scar tissue. Unfortunately, liver disease causes severe damage over time, severely compromising your health and your liver’s regeneration abilities.
What is Liver Disease?
According to the Mayo Clinic: “Liver disease can be inherited (genetic) or caused by a variety of factors that damage the liver, such as viruses and alcohol use. Obesity is also a cause of liver damage. Over time, damage to the liver results in scarring (cirrhosis), which can lead to liver failure, a life-threatening condition.” (2)
Signs and symptoms of liver disease include (3):
- Skin and eyes that appear yellowish (also known as jaundice)
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Swelling in the legs and ankles
- Itchy skin
- Dark urine color
- Pale stool color, or bloody or tar-colored stool
- Chronic fatigue
- Nausea or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Tendency to bruise easily
If you suspect that you might be suffering from liver disease, it’s worth speaking to your doctor as soon as possible for a proper diagnosis.
Fatty Liver Disease Causes
Fatty liver disease is one of the most common forms of liver disease. It can be caused either by excess alcohol consumption (alcoholic fatty liver disease) or excess sugar consumption (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease).
As WedMd writes: “People with fatty liver disease are often insulin resistant. Their bodies make insulin, but it doesn’t work well. Glucose builds up in the blood, and the liver turns that extra sugar into fat.” (4)
The buildup of this fat affects your liver’s ability to handle everyday tasks, such as breaking down red blood cells and filtering your blood.
Risk factors for the condition include (5):
- High cholesterol
- High levels of triglycerides in the blood
- Metabolic syndrome
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
- Sleep apnea
- Type 2 diabetes
- Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
- Underactive pituitary gland (hypopituitarism)
For the most past, you can reverse fatty liver disease through diet and lifestyle changes.
According to Medline Plus, dietary changes for liver disease may involve (6):
- Cutting down the amount of protein you eat. This will help limit the buildup of toxic waste products.
- Increasing your intake of carbohydrates to be in proportion to the amount of protein you eat.
- Taking vitamins and medicines prescribed by your healthcare provider for low blood count, nerve problems, or nutritional problems caused by liver disease.
- Limiting your salt intake. Salt in the diet may worsen fluid buildup and swelling in the liver.
10 Foods to Heal Liver Disease
These foods heal liver disease by protecting your liver from damage and feeding it essential nutrients.
Bananas contain oligosaccharide, a prebiotic that feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut. This dietary fiber lowers blood and liver triglycerides levels by decreasing hepatic triglyceride uptake and lipogenesis (7).
In fact, “…a small 8-week crossover study by Daubioul and colleagues randomized seven patients with biopsy-proven NASH to receive oligofructose or maltodextrine, which served as placebo. Improvements in insulin and aminotransferase levels were reported.”
Other studies found that eating bananas may have significant benefits specific to people with diabetes, who are more likely to suffer from liver disease. A 2015 study even found that the starch in under-ripe bananas might improve blood sugar levels as well as insulin response. Plus, bananas contain B-6, which benefits stress management and metabolism, playing a role in regulating diabetes (8).
This mighty root has many beneficial applications, especially when it comes to the liver. In fact, ginger reverse liver damage caused by bile duct blockage and jaundice (9).
The hepatoprotective effects of garlic (Allium sativum), ginger (Zingiber officinale) and vitamin E, when combined, can be used to prevent carbon tetrachloride (CCl4)-induced liver damage. It works by oxidizing fat cells in the liver and regulating inflammation (10).
3. Sweet Potato
Sweet potato is a great source of vitamin A, vitamin B5, B6, thiamin, niacin, and riboflavin. It’s also low on the glycemic index, helping stabilize blood sugar. Purple sweet potato, on the other hand, has even more benefits (11).
In one study, the starchy vegetable was given to seven-week-old male inbred mice suffering from acute and subacute alcoholic liver damage. They were grouped into five groups: control group, ethanol group, low-dose group (50 mg potatoes/kg body weight), middle-dose group (125 mg potatoes/kg body weight) and high dose group (375 mg potatoes/kg body weight).
“Results showed that all tested parameters were ameliorated after consumption of PSPAs (purple sweet potatoes). Therefore, PSPAs have preventive effects on acute and subacute ALD. It is suggested that PSPAs could be used as a supplementary reagent during prophylactic and curative managements of ALD.”(12)
Cousin of the ginger root, turmeric is no stranger to the world of natural medicine. Its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antifungal, antibacterial and anticancer activities are incredibly well-documented. In fact, turmeric has long been a staple for treating liver-related illnesses (13).
“The curcumin ability to inhibit several factors like nuclear factor-kappaB, which modulates several pro-inflammatory and profibrotic cytokines as well as its anti-oxidant properties, provide a rational molecular basis to use it in hepatic disorders. Curcumin attenuates liver injury induced by ethanol, thioacetamide, iron overdose, cholestasis and acute, subchronic and chronic carbon tetrachloride (CCl(4)) intoxication; moreover, it reverses CCl(4) cirrhosis to some extent,” wrote a 2009 study.
In layman terms, turmeric prevents liver injury caused by eating too much iron, excess alcohol consumption, blocked bile ducts, and exposure to various chemicals.
5. Milk Thistle
Milk thistle is known for its liver-healing abilities, thanks to its flavonoids (silybin, silydianin, and silychristin). Silybin, by far, is its most powerful and well-known compound (14).
Milk thistle’s flavonoids have antioxidant and antifibrotic activity that reduce fat storage in the liver, and prevent toxins from binding to liver cells. The herb also protects against liver injury caused by acetaminophens, carbon tetrachloride, radiation, iron overload, phenylhydrazine, alcohol, cold ischemia, and Amanita phalloides (a poisonous mushroom).
What’s more, the herb can treat alcoholic liver disease, acute and chronic viral hepatitis and toxin-induced liver disease (15).
While milk thistle is generally safe, it can cause upset stomach, diarrhea, nausea, or rash in some individuals. The herb should also be avoided by pregnant or breastfeeding women, people with a history of hormone-related cancers, or people who are allergic to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, chamomile, yarrow, or daisies.
This common weed actually has plenty of medicinal uses. Actually, it’s a potent diuretic and has antioxidant activity that can help prevent metabolic syndrome, a contributing factor towards liver disease (16).
In a study on male rabbits, researchers found that rabbits feed a high cholesterol diet with dandelion supplementation experience positively changed plasma antioxidant enzyme activities and lipid profiles. Rabbits feed dandelion greens or no dandelion at all did not experience these benefits. Researchers also noted that the rabbits in the dandelion root group also experienced fewer instances of atherosclerosis, a condition also caused by poor diet.
“Dandelion is beneficial in preventing hypercholesterolemic atherosclerosis and reducing risk factors for coronary artery disease,” the researchers concluded.
Dandelion root tea is available in most health food stores and online.
7. Black Seed Oil
Nigella sativa (N. Sativa) has antibacterial, antifungal, antioxidant, antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and analgesic properties (17).
Plus, black seed oil reverses oxidative stress to protect the liver against wear-and-tear and chemical-induced injury. In fact that N. Sativa treatment protects the liver against hepatic ischemia reperfusion injury (tissue damage caused when blood supply returns to the tissue after a period of lack of oxygen). The oil also protects against damage caused by toxic metals such as lead and chemicals such as carbon tetrachloride.
8. Raw Vegetables
The non-soluble fiber found in fresh produce is important for proper liver function because this fiber soaks up bile, which contains liver toxins. The bile-filled fiber is then pushed through your intestines and out of your body for elimination. Fiber-rich fruits and vegetable also contain liver-boosting nutrients.
“Based on the most recent literatures in the area, [it’s worth mentioning] the impact of plants consumption on the health of the liver, with special emphasis on the positive and negative influence of dietary and medicinal plants on liver function,” writes one study (18).
Cruciferous vegetables, citrus fruits, caraway seed oils, and Allium species (onion, garlic, etc) are all chemopreventive and beneficial to the liver.
9. Vitamin E
Taking 800 IU vitamin E a day is beneficial for non-diabetic or non-cirrhotic adults with active NASH (Non-alcoholic Steatohepatitis) since it prevents liver disease risk factors such as obesity and diabetes. Plus, it may have benefits for cardiovascular problems too! However, children shouldn’t take vitamin E (19).
This nutrient-dense organ meat contains all the stuff your liver needs to stay healthy and functional. For best results, choose grass-fed organic cow liver and eat it no more than 1-2 weekly. However, liver is very rich in iron, which can cause liver issues if taken in large quantities.
You can find the foods and supplements listed above in most health food stores or naturopath clinics. Since some the herbs mentioned above can have a negative impact on some individuals, it’s best to take them under the supervision and care of a certified naturopath. If it’s for your liver health, anything is worth a try!