Did you know that your liver is the most important detox center in the body? Harmful chemicals from everything you ingest or inhale – food, drinks, medicine, or smoke – transform into less harmful, water-soluble substances in the liver in a 2-phase process and are then excreted. But the first phase of the detoxification process also generates free radicals, which then go on to damage cells and cause inflammation. If the free radicals and their damage are not countered and repaired, over time, they affect the liver’s health and functioning. This is why antioxidants are a must in a liver detox diet. Just as important are foods that lower cholesterol, especially the harmful LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides, a type of fat. Here are the 13 foods, herbs, drinks, and spices that help the liver carry out its detox functions and protect it from damage.1
1. Broccoli And Brussels Sprouts
There’s wisdom in eating your greens, especially cruciferous ones like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and watercress. Cauliflower is also part of this family. These contain helpful chemicals like sulforaphane, indole-3-carbinol, and 1-cyano-2-hydroxy-3-butene (CHB) which block cancer-causing chemicals – such as NNK in cigarette smoke. These also increase the levels of natural antioxidant enzymes essential for the detoxification process.2 When the body is overloaded with toxins, the levels of natural antioxidants go down, thereby slowing down the detoxification process in the liver.
Best for protecting the liver against damage
Eating too much refined and sugary foods also increases harmful LDL cholesterol and a type of fat called triglycerides in the body. And since the liver helps remove excess LDLs from the body, an LDL overload can strain it. Triglycerides, on the other hand, collect in the liver, causing fatty liver or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This raises your risk for liver inflammation (steatohepatitis), which leads to cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer. Cruciferous vegetables contain cholesterol-like compounds called phytosterols which can lower both high cholesterol and triglyceride levels.3
How much should you have? Have 1.5–2.5 cups of dark green veggies, including cruciferous ones, every week.4 If you suffer from hypothyroidism, cook these vegetables well before consuming them.
Best as a preventive against oxidative stress in the liver
Here’s what the violet on your rainbow plate of veggies can do for your liver. Betalains, the antioxidant pigments in beetroot, along with flavonoids, phenolic acids, and vitamin C, protect the liver against oxidative stress from carcinogens or cancer-causing agents.
If you have beetroots regularly, it could modify your body’s metabolism (by reducing the activity of the enzymes that increase free radicals during detoxification) in such a way that your liver would be protected from toxic compounds.5
How much should you have? Beet juice made from 1 large beetroot is safe for daily consumption. Drink the juice 2–3 days a week.
3. Fish Like Tuna And Salmon
Omega-3 (polyunsaturated) fats found in marine fish like tuna, salmon, trout, or mackerel, to name only a few, are good for the liver. They are known preventives (medicines or foods that prevent illness and disease) and inhibit triglyceride synthesis in the liver. But they can also reduce liver fat in people with NAFLD, who also have high cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Omega-3 fats also increase the levels of HDL, the good cholesterol.6
Best for NAFLD patients
Other sources of omega-3 fats are fortified eggs, walnuts, and avocados. But it’s not enough to include these in your diet; you also need to cut down on omega-6 fats like vegetable oils.
How much should you have? The American Heart Association recommends at least 2 servings (3.5 oz per serving) of fatty fish per week if you don’t have a heart condition. You could also have fish oil in a daily dose of 2–4 g if you have high triglyceride levels.[ref]Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids. American Heart Association.[/ref]
4. Amla Or Indian Gooseberry
Amla or the Indian gooseberry (Emblica officinalis) is a natural liver revitalizer. It is commonly used in ayurveda for treating enlarged livers.7
Best for those with jaundice, enlarged livers, and NAFLD
Researchers have found that this fruit, which is rich in vitamin C, can be used to treat liver problems like jaundice. Remember, vitamin C is a potent antioxidant. Since it also lowers cholesterol and triglycerides, amla is also good for anyone with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.8
How much should you have? You can have the fresh fruit or dried fruit powder. The standard dose used in experiments is 1–3 g fruit powder. You can also have 1 fruit a day, raw or in a juice form, preferably spread through the day.
Cleanse your body naturally by giving it plenty of berries rich in polyphenols and anthocyanins, the antioxidant pigments that give them their unique colors. These nutrients are potent anti-inflammatory agents.
Best for preventing NAFLD
One study found that lingonberries, black currants, and bilberries were especially effective in preventing the accumulation of fat in the liver. Lingonberries, in particular, decreased body fat significantly in animals that were on a high-fat diet.9
How much should you have? The standard serving size for berries is 1/2 cup frozen or fresh fruit or 4 oz juice daily. There’s no strict upper limit; however, too many berries might have side effects on people on medicines for blood-thinning and diabetes.
6. Grapefruit And Grapes
Best for smooth functioning of the liver
You may also want to pick up a grapefruit or grapes to cleanse your liver. Grapefruit contains naringenin and naringin, antioxidants that keep the liver healthy by effectively metabolizing alcohol and preventing any negative effects that it might have on the liver. Red and purple grapes, meanwhile, contain another antioxidant called resveratrol which ensures smooth functioning of the liver.10 11
How much should you have? There is no recommended dosage for either grapes or grapefruit, but be sure to restrict yourself to a cup every day. Avoid grapefruit if you’re taking medications to lower cholesterol, high blood pressure, anxiety, insomnia, and allergic reactions. Neurological and psychiatric medications might interact with grapefruit as well.12
7. Prickly Pear
Prickly pear is a type of edible cactus which was used in traditional medicine as a treatment for liver diseases. One study found that the extract of this plant reduced symptoms of a hangover, including nausea, dry mouth, and lack of appetite. This benefit was magnified when they consumed the extract before drinking alcohol. Since alcohol is broken down by the liver, the researchers looked into the exact effect of the extract on the liver and found that it reduced inflammation, which often occurs after drinking alcohol.13
Best for reversing the damaging effects of alcohol on the liver
Another study found that consuming the extract after drinking alcohol normalizes enzyme production and cholesterol levels in the liver and decreases the oxidative damage caused by it.14 However, human studies are needed in order to fully understand the positive effects of prickly pear on the liver.
How much should you have? All of the studies so far are focused on prickly pear extract (1600 mcg dosage on an average). Hence, it’s difficult to tell exactly how much of it you should consume. That said, do ensure you stick to the standard 1 cup (240 ml or 8 oz) a day unless told otherwise by a professional.
Best for preventing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
The healthy fat and nutrient – including vitamin E – content in nuts makes them good for the liver. One study that looked into the effects of nuts on people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease for 6 months found that regular consumption improved the levels of enzymes in the liver.15 Additionally, another study found that men who consumed fewer nuts were at a higher risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease as opposed to those that ate more.16
How much should you have? A handful of nuts, up to 1 oz, every day is recommended for good health.
9. Olive Oil
Best for healthy liver functioning in people with non-alcoholic fatty disease.
Switch your bottle of vegetable oil with olive oil for healthy liver functioning. One small study in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease found that consuming olive oil every day improved liver enzyme and fat levels. Participants also noted a decrease in liver fat as well as better blood flow in the liver. Other studies have also noted that olive oil consumption improves blood levels of liver enzymes.17 18
How much should you have? Based on studies, it’s recommended that you have 1 teaspoon (6.5 ml) of olive oil every day.
The warm earthy heat of ginger doesn’t just spice up your meal but can also be really good for the liver. This root spice, with antioxidant-like gingerols and shogaols, acts on your digestive system, increasing enzyme secretions and boosting metabolism and circulation.
It has been seen to lower oxidative damage in the liver caused by free radicals, whether due to environmental toxins or due to long-term use of medication. It also increases the levels of natural antioxidants in the blood.19
Best for those with NAFLD and liver damage due to medication or drugs
Since ginger can decrease triglycerides, total cholesterol, and the LDL cholesterol, it is a good addition to the diet for people who are at risk of NAFLD.20
How much should you have? For a healthy adult, up to 4 g ginger is considered safe, whether eaten raw, cooked, or as a tea. For pregnant women, however, the dosage is limited to 1 g.21
11. Garlic And Onion
Odd as it may seem, odorous vegetables of the Allium species like garlic and onion are great for liver health. The sulfur compounds in them, responsible for that distinctive smell, help stimulate liver enzymes responsible for detoxification. They also have antioxidants called flavonoids which can both block and suppress the function of free radicals.22 23
Best for patients with alcohol-induced liver damage
The best part about garlic, however, is its ability to reduce alcohol-related liver damage (alcoholic steatohepatitis), whether taken raw, as garlic oil, or as an aged black garlic extract.24 25 Onions too have shown similar effects on alcohol-induced liver damage.26
How much should you have? Most studies use garlic in a dose of 600–1200 mg. However, a few cloves a day is well within the tolerable limit. Make sure you crush the cloves before eating them or cooking them to release the bioactive sulfur compound called allicin. There’s no known upper limit on onions.
12. Coffee And Tea
Coffee lovers, it’s time to rejoice! Finally, there’s a study that tells us your oh-so-favorite morning drink is good for you! If you suffer from liver diseases, a moderate consumption of coffee can actually decrease the progression of the illnesses. For patients who are scheduled for a liver biopsy, caffeine is known to reduce the development of cirrhosis. Although it’s not entirely clear why caffeine helps, we do know that it reduces the risk of developing liver diseases. Thanks to kahweol and cafestol, the 2 naturally occurring substances in coffee, coffee also reduces the risk of liver cancer.27.
Best for patients with cirrhosis
A very recent study on finds that drinking around 3 cups of coffee and herbal tea regularly led to less scarring of the liver. Continuous scarring of the liver due to inflammation and death of liver cells leads to liver fibrosis.28
How much should you have? Just 2 cups of coffee per day is considered the ideal amount, and anything over 5 cups is not advised.29 Also, remember not to have coffee within 2 hours before sleep.
No cleanse list would be complete without the anti-inflammatory and natural healing spice turmeric. Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine have both been using it to treat liver problems for centuries.30
Best for preventing fat accumulation and inflammation
The curcumin in turmeric prevents fat accumulation in the liver, as seen in several animal studies. Test animals consuming curcumin through their diet had lower cholesterol and triacylglycerol concentrations in the liver.31 It also raises the natural antioxidants involved in the detoxification process in the liver.
How much should you have? In Asian and Indian cuisine, turmeric powder is an essential condiment. Include 1.5–3 g powdered turmeric root every day. However, if you suffer from inflammatory bowel syndrome, reduce the dosage to 1–1.5 g.32 Additionally, in order to increase the absorbability of curcumin, experts advise combining it with black pepper.33
|↑1, ↑2, ↑23||Percival, Mark. “Phytonutrients and detoxification.” Clinical nutrition insights 5, no. 2 (1997): 1-4.|
|↑3||Rideout, Todd C., Christopher PF Marinangeli, and Scott V. Harding. “Triglyceride-lowering response to plant sterol and stanol consumption.” Journal of AOAC International 98, no. 3 (2015): 707-715.|
|↑4||The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. USDA.|
|↑5||Krajka-Kuźniak, Violetta, Hanna Szaefer, Ewa Ignatowicz, Teresa Adamska, and Wanda Baer-Dubowska. “Beetroot juice protects against N-nitrosodiethylamine-induced liver injury in rats.” Food and chemical toxicology 50, no. 6 (2012): 2027-2033.|
|↑6||Hatzitolios, Apostolos, Christos Savopoulos, Georgia Lazaraki, Ioannis Sidiropoulos, Persefoni Haritanti, Anastasios Lefkopoulos, Georgia Karagiannopoulou, Valentini Tzioufa, and Koliouskas Dimitrios. “Efficacy of omega-3 fatty acids, atorvastatin and orlistat in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease with dyslipidemia.” Indian Journal of Gastroenterology 23 (2004): 131-134.|
|↑7||Treadway, Scott. “An ayurvedic herbal approach to a healthy liver.” Clinical nutrition insights 6, no. 16 (1998): 1-3.|
|↑8||Mirunalini, S., and M. Krishnaveni. “Therapeutic potential of Phyllanthus emblica (amla): the ayurvedic wonder.” Journal of basic and clinical physiology and pharmacology 21, no. 1 (2010): 93-105.|
|↑9||Heyman, Lovisa, Ulrika Axling, Narda Blanco, Olov Sterner, Cecilia Holm, and Karin Berger. “Evaluation of beneficial metabolic effects of berries in high-fat fed C57BL/6J mice.” Journal of nutrition and metabolism 2014 (2014).|
|↑10||de Moura, C. F. G., F. A. P. Ribeiro, B. A. Handan, O. Aguiar, C. T. F. Oshima, and D. A. Ribeiro. “Grape juice concentrate protects rat liver against cadmium intoxication: histopathology, cytochrome C and metalloproteinases expression.” Drug research 66, no. 07 (2016): 339-344.|
|↑11, ↑13||Madrigal-Santillán, Eduardo, Eduardo Madrigal-Bujaidar, Isela Álvarez-González, María Teresa Sumaya-Martínez, José Gutiérrez-Salinas, Mirandeli Bautista, Ángel Morales-González, Manuel García-Luna y González-Rubio, J. Leopoldo Aguilar-Faisal, and José A. Morales-González. “Review of natural products with hepatoprotective effects.” World Journal of Gastroenterology: WJG 20, no. 40 (2014): 14787.|
|↑12||Grapefruit and medication: A cautionary note. Harvard Health Publishing.|
|↑14||Wiese, Jeff, Steve McPherson, Michelle C. Odden, and Michael G. Shlipak. “Effect of Opuntia ficus indica on symptoms of the alcohol hangover.” Archives of Internal Medicine 164, no. 12 (2004): 1334-1340.|
|↑15, ↑17||Gupta, Vikas, Xian-Jun Mah, Maria Carmela Garcia, Christina Antonypillai, and David van der Poorten. “Oily fish, coffee and walnuts: Dietary treatment for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.” World Journal of Gastroenterology: WJG 21, no. 37 (2015): 10621.|
|↑16||Han, Jung Mi, An Na Jo, Seung Min Lee, Hyun Suk Bae, Dae Won Jun, Yong Kyun Cho, Ki Tae Suk et al. “Associations between intakes of individual nutrients or whole food groups and non‐alcoholic fatty liver disease among Korean adults.” Journal of gastroenterology and hepatology 29, no. 6 (2014): 1265-1272.|
|↑18||Nigam, Priyanka, Suryaprakash Bhatt, Anoop Misra, Davinder S. Chadha, Meera Vaidya, Jharna Dasgupta, and Qadar MA Pasha. “Effect of a 6-month intervention with cooking oils containing a high concentration of monounsaturated fatty acids (olive and canola oils) compared with control oil in male Asian Indians with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.” Diabetes technology & therapeutics 16, no. 4 (2014): 255-261.|
|↑19||Sakr, Saber A. “Ameliorative effect of ginger (Zingiber officinale) on mancozeb fungicide induced liver injury in albino rats.” Aust J Basic Appl Sci 1 (2007): 650-656.|
|↑20||Sahebkar, Amirhossein. “Potential efficacy of ginger as a natural supplement for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.” World J Gastroenterol 17, no. 2 (2011): 271-272.|
|↑21||Ginger. University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|↑22||Hodges, Romilly E., and Deanna M. Minich. “Modulation of metabolic detoxification pathways using foods and food-derived components: a scientific review with clinical application.” Journal of nutrition and metabolism 2015 (2015).|
|↑24||Nencini, Cristina, Gian Gabriele Franchi, Federica Cavallo, and Lucia Micheli. “Protective effect of Allium neapolitanum Cyr. versus Allium sativum L. on acute ethanol-induced oxidative stress in rat liver.” Journal of medicinal food 13, no. 2 (2010): 329-335.|
|↑25||Zeng, Tao, Cui‐Li Zhang, Guang‐Bing Pan, Sheng Zhao, Dan‐Dan Dou, Xing Xin, and Ke‐Qin Xie. “The protective effects of garlic oil on acute ethanol‐induced oxidative stress in the liver of mice.” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 88, no. 13 (2008): 2238-2243.|
|↑26||Nicastro, Holly L., Sharon A. Ross, and John A. Milner. “Garlic and onions: their cancer prevention properties.” Cancer prevention research 8, no. 3 (2015): 181-189.|
|↑27||Muriel, Pablo, and Jonathan Arauz. “Coffee and liver diseases.” Fitoterapia 81, no. 5 (2010): 297-305.|
|↑28||Alferink, Louise JM, Juliana Fittipaldi, Jessica C. Kiefte-de Jong, Pavel Taimr, Bettina E. Hansen, Herold J. Metselaar, Josje D. Schoufour et al. “Coffee and herbal tea consumption is associated with lower liver stiffness in the general population: The Rotterdam study.” Journal of Hepatology (2017).|
|↑29||Coffee consumption and the liver – the potential health benefits. British Liver Trust, 2016.|
|↑30||Turmeric. University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|↑31||Asai, Akira, and Teruo Miyazawa. “Dietary curcuminoids prevent high-fat diet-induced lipid accumulation in rat liver and epididymal adipose tissue.” The Journal of Nutrition 131, no. 11 (2001): 2932-2935.|
|↑32||Mullin, Gerard E., Laura E. Matarese, Melissa Palmer. Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease Nutrition Desk Reference. CRC Press, 2011.|
|↑33||Turmeric. University Of Maryland Medical Center.|