Your liver is one of the hardest working organs in your body, responsible for performing over 500 functions, such as detoxifying every single thing you eat, breathe, drink and apply to your skin; producing bile; metabolizing hormones; breaking down red blood cells; and regulating cholesterol levels. You may not be aware of its efforts, but if your liver isn’t happy, you aren’t going to be happy either. The liver is also critical to fat burning, so if you’re having trouble shedding weight, this post is for you! Learn about the foods and herbs for a healthy liver.
Do you struggle with the following symptoms?
- brain fog
- chronic joint or muscle pain
- digestion issues including gas, heartburn, bloating, diarrhea or constipation, and abdominal pain
- autoimmune diseases
- hormonal imbalances like PMS or menopausal symptoms
- acne or skin rashes
- anxiety or depression
- chemical sensitivities
- chronic bad breath
- weight gain
These are all symptoms that you liver is overwhelmed and congested. Symptoms are your body’s way of telling you something is off balance, so instead of popping a pill, listen up! We are exposed to an unprecedented number of toxins today via pollution and urban living, our food supply, water supply, medications, cosmetics, and home cleaning products. The liver must neutralize these toxins and prepare them for excretion so they don’t damage internal organs. When the liver is overwhelmed by too many toxins from your food and environment, it cannot properly perform its functions, including detox, and toxins build up in your system and are stored in fat tissue.
A study by the Environmental Working Group found a total of 167 chemicals (the average was 91) in the blood and urine of the study’s participants, including 76 carcinogens, 94 chemicals known to be toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 79 that can cause birth defects or abnormal fetal development. EPA biopsies of human fat show that 100 percent of humans contain carcinogenic PCBs, styrene, and dioxins in their fatty tissues. These chemicals build up over time, contributing to endocrine disruption and weight gain.
Toxic overload creates an acidic internal environment and has been implicated in a number of diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic fatigue, allergies, skin conditions, asthma, mental illness, hypertension, gastritis, kidney disease and obesity. Studies are beginning to reveal that toxic overload contributes to more serious conditions such as autoimmune diseases, inflammatory/rheumatoid arthritis, and even neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
According to Chinese Medicine, the liver is the seat of emotion. If you are susceptible to anger, or you get “heated,” anxious or depressed, you could have too much “liver heat,” meaning your liver is congested and overworked. What to do?
I wrote a book on the topic! I am so passionate about helping people feel better that I created a 21 day whole foods based detox program to cleanse your liver and help you feel better. You can read more about the book and start the program here.
I also compiled an easy list of 10 ways you can support your liver daily, whether it’s to maintain the benefits of your detox, or just to keep your liver happy on a daily basis.
Last but not least, food is medicine, and there are foods that provide the raw materials to help your liver detox and perform its other 499 duties.
Foods for a Healthy Liver
If you have many of the above symptoms, I recommend starting with my detox program, then make sure to incorporate as many of the below foods as possible on a daily basis. If you’re feeling good and want to keep it up, include these healing foods, herbs spices and drinks as often as possible and at least every day.
- Beets: rich source of betaine, which strengthens and protects liver cells and bile ducts, crucial for healthy liver function. Also said to cleanse the blood.
- Cruciferous veggies: kale, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, Brussels sprouts, cabbage. The cruciferous veggies contain sulfur compounds that aid in detox and produce liver enzymes that work to neutralize toxins. Broccoli in particular also supports the breakdown of estrogen. Estrogen dominance is one cause of hormonal cancers such as breast cancer.
- Alliums (onions, garlic): also contain sulfur compounds to support detox.
- Green tea: very rich in antioxidants, and the catechins eliminate liver fat accumulation and promote proper liver function.
- Grapefruit: aids the liver in fat burning, and rich in vitamin C that supports liver detox. (note: some medications interact with grapefruit. Check with your doctor)
- Avocados: a rich source of glutathione, an antioxidant that is both liver protective and that supports liver detox pathways.
- Turmeric: a super root! Rich source of curcumin, a potent antioxidant that protects the liver. Turmeric stimulates bile production which aids in fat burning.
- Lemon: rich source of vitamin C, and also increases bile flow for easy removal of toxins. Also stimulates bowel movements first thing in the morning, and pooping is one of your body’s main vehicles for excretion of toxins.
- Spinach (and all leafy greens, especially bitter greens like dandelion): neutralize heavy metals, stimulate bile flow, and contain liver protective antioxidants.
- Artichoke: increases bile flow, helps the liver regenerate, good source of fiber for good, cleansing poops.
- Ginger: I love this warming, spicy root! A recent study in the Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences states that ginger contains a powerful antioxidant that attacks dangerous free radicals and boosts your body’s production of detoxifying enzymes.
- Parsley: good for both liver and kidney cleansing, parsley contains vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, enzymes, and oxygenating chlorophyll. It’s a natural diuretic that encourages toxins to be flushed from the body. Excellent in green vegetable juices.
There are several herbs that support liver detox and offer liver protective benefits: milk thistle, Oregon grape root, burdock root, celandine, yellow dock, and dandelion root, to name a few. I recommend this liver detox supplement that combines the healing power of herbs that enhance liver detox function.
How to Use the Healthy Liver Foods
- Start each day with metabolism-boosting turmeric-lemon tea: 1/2 tsp ground turmeric, juice of 1 freshly squeezed lemon, pinch of cayenne, 1 tsp honey (optional. I am hard core and leave it out). Put everything in a mug and pour hot water over. Stir til combined.
- Sautee leafy greens like kale and collards with garlic and onions, and roast up some broccoli and cauliflower with roasted garlic. Broccoli and cauliflower are both delicious roasted!
- Juice green vegetables and beets for a liver detox boost. I love this afternoon energizer. Add some parsley for extra liver loving.
- Try a grapefruit and avocado salad. A delicious combo that doubles your liver detox efforts.
- Try my purple braised cabbage recipe. Super easy and keeps well for leftovers.
- Raw kraut often includes cabbage fermented with beets, carrots and/or ginger. Seek out these creative and liver-friendly combos, or make your own. BONUS: you’ll get beneficial probiotics to enhance digestion and gut health, too.
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.