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5 Incredible Liver-Cleansing Herbs

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 12/18/2023

Poor liver function can have serious health consequences, and herbal medicine has been used for centuries to promote liver health and enhance the body’s ability to eliminate toxins. 


Discover five liver-cleansing herbs and learn how making the right dietary choices can support liver function and detoxification.   

Medicinal herbs

Is it possible to cleanse your liver?


The liver is a vital metabolic organ that filters, detoxifies, and eliminates drugs, metabolic by-products, heavy metals, and other potentially harmful toxins. 


A healthy liver is highly efficient in removing toxins from the body and generally doesn’t require liver cleansing.


However, a liver that doesn't function optimally can lead to sluggish detoxification and the accumulation of toxins in the blood, which is linked to various liver diseases, inflammatory conditions, chronic fatigue, and poor immune system functions.


Unfortunately, research published in Clinical Gastroenterology found that the prevalence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), chronic liver disease, and cirrhosis is higher than previously estimated, leaving many at risk of serious health issues. 


It’s generally believed that toxins can accumulate in liver cells and that liver cleansing helps flush out these harmful substances. However, this isn’t accurate. 


The term liver detox really refers to improving liver health and lowering the risk of liver damage, which naturally enhances liver detoxification processes and the body’s ability to eliminate toxins. 


Watch the video below to discover the best foods, smoothies, and supplements for liver support. 

5 herbs for liver health


Several herbal remedies have demonstrated various properties that support normal liver function and protect liver cells from the harmful effects of detoxification.


Here are five of the best herbs for liver support. 


1. Milk thistle 

Milk thistle extract is a rich source of silymarin, a group of bioactive compounds with profound benefits for liver function. 


A study published in Annals of Medicine found that silymarin can neutralize free radicals, which are unstable molecules generated during detox reactions. 


Protecting liver cells from free radicals lowers the risk of oxidative stress and liver injury, enhances detoxification processes, and promotes overall liver function. 


Milk thistle’s powerful anti-inflammatory properties may be particularly beneficial for individuals with fatty liver disease, characterized by liver inflammation and impaired toxin elimination.


2. Turmeric root

Turmeric root contains curcumin, a potent polyphenol that may enhance liver cell function and help the liver function optimally.


Curcumin has been found to stimulate the production and activity of liver enzymes that facilitate conjugation, a chemical process that renders toxins less harmful and enables their safe elimination from the body.   


Curcumin also lowers the risk of cellular damage caused by by-products of detoxification processes, which may lower the risk of liver inflammation and liver disease.   


Research published in Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine summarizes, “Curcumin has many health benefits and may be a potentially efficient agent in the treatment of liver cancer.”


Curcumin is poorly absorbed, and turmeric-containing supplements should be formulated with piperine, a black pepper extract that significantly enhances the bioavailability and effectiveness of curcumin.  

Dandelion roots

3. Dandelion root

Dandelions have a longstanding use in traditional Chinese medicine to support detoxification and liver function


Dandelions have choleretic properties which stimulate bile production. Bile is crucial for detoxification by binding to fat-soluble toxins, which facilitates their passage through the digestive tract for excretion.


4. Spirulina

Although technically not a herb, spirulina has impressive benefits for liver health.


Evidence published in The Annals of Gastroenterology indicates that regular intake of spirulina, a type of algae, promotes liver function and may help prevent fatty liver disease.  


Excessive liver fat accumulations are a leading cause of liver disease, poor detoxification processes, and metabolic and hormonal imbalances. 


5. Licorice root 

Compounds found in licorice root, such as glycyrrhizin and glycyrrhetinic acid, have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, which help reduce liver inflammation. 


Detoxification generates various unstable molecules that can trigger cellular damage and inflammation linked to impaired liver function and liver disease.


In addition, licorice root may enhance the activity of detoxification enzymes, helping the liver process and eliminate toxins more efficiently.

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Potential side effects and risks


While most herbal remedies for liver support are considered safe and generally well tolerated, it's essential to be aware of potential side effects and risks. 


Certain herbs, including milk thistle, turmeric, and dandelion root, can cause mild gastrointestinal discomfort such as bloating, gas, and abdominal pain, especially if consumed in excessive amounts.  


Licorice can cause high blood pressure in some sensitive individuals, and it’s crucial to discuss the use of licorice root with a healthcare provider if you have hypertension or are taking blood pressure medication. 


While allergic reactions to herbs are relatively uncommon, there is always a potential risk, and it’s crucial to seek medical attention immediately if you develop a rash, hives, or breathing difficulties after ingesting any herbal remedy.  


It’s also important to be aware of potential drug interactions, and it’s recommended to discuss the use of herbal remedies with a pharmacist if you are taking prescription drugs to minimize the risk of side effects.  

Human liver illustration

More ways to improve your liver health


In addition to taking liver-protective herbs, you can take several other steps to promote the elimination of toxins, protect liver cells from free radicals and inflammation, and enhance the overall health of your liver.


Here are four ways to improve your liver health. 


1. Ketogenic diet 

A low-carb, high-fat diet helps reduce liver fat, making keto an ideal diet to reverse fatty liver disease and support liver health.  


Excess fat accumulation in the liver impairs normal liver cell function and detoxification and can trigger hepatic inflammation linked to cirrhosis, liver damage, and even liver cancer. 


The ketogenic diet pushes the liver to convert dietary and stored body fat into ketones to fuel your body. This stimulates the increased production of enzymes that speed up the oxidation of fats stored in the liver. 


Research published in Cell Metabolism found that the ketogenic diet reduced liver fat by over 40 percent in obese individuals and concluded, “We observed rapid and dramatic reductions of liver fat and other cardiometabolic risk factors.”


2. Intermittent fasting 

Combining keto with intermittent fasting maximizes the fat-burning effects of a low-carb diet and can significantly benefit individuals with poor liver health. 


“During fasting periods, your body relies on stored fatty acids as an energy source,” explains Dr. Berg. “This means your liver burns the readily available fat stored in liver cells first to generate fuel for your cells.”


Fasting also stimulates autophagy, a cellular repair mechanism that recycles and removes damaged cell components, which helps protect liver cells from inflammation and improves overall liver function.

Choline-rich foods

3. Choline 

Choline is an essential nutrient needed to generate phosphatidylcholine, a phospholipid that oxidizes fatty acids and converts them into energy. 


Lack of adequate choline means that fat can't be released from cells and used as a fuel source, which increases the risk of liver fat accumulation and poor liver function.  


Some of the best dietary sources of choline include eggs, fish, chicken, full-fat dairy, and sunflower seeds. 


4. Bile salts 

Bile salts play a crucial role in maintaining the health of both your liver and digestive tract. 


Bile salts emulsify lipids, which enables them to bind to certain fat-soluble toxins and facilitates their elimination without being reabsorbed in the large intestines. 


Taking tauroursodeoxycholic acid (TUDCA), a natural derivative of bile acid, has been found to promote balanced liver enzyme levels, protect liver cells from oxidative stress, and may help reverse fatty liver disease.  

Bottle with a toxic warning label

6 worst herbs for your liver 


While various herbal remedies promote healthy liver function, some herbs are toxic to your liver. These herbs contain compounds that can damage liver cells, especially if taken in large quantities.  


Here are six herbs that can potentially harm your liver: 

  • Kava Kava

  • Chaparral 

  • Germander 

  • Impila

  • Red clover

  • St. John's wort 

Liver and smiley face on a post-it note

Key takeaways


The liver plays a crucial role in metabolism, detoxification, and nutrient absorption, and supporting a healthy liver promotes overall health and well-being.


Milk thistle, turmeric, dandelion root, and licorice root are some of the best liver-cleansing herbs that enhance your liver’s ability to eliminate toxins and protect your liver cells from the harmful effects of detoxification processes.

 


FAQ


1. Can herbs help cleanse your liver?

While herbs can’t flush out toxins, they can support liver cell function and enhance the liver’s ability to detoxify drugs, metabolic by-products, hormones, alcohol, and heavy metals.


Certain herbs can lower inflammation and protect the liver from the harmful effects of detoxification processes, which promotes liver health and overall well-being. 


2. What are the best liver-cleansing herbs?

Some of the best liver-cleansing herbs include milk thistle, turmeric, dandelion root, and licorice root.


Although not classified as an herb, spirulina has potent liver-protective properties and may lower the risk of fatty liver disease. 


3. How can I detox my liver naturally?

Taking liver-cleansing herbs such as turmeric, milk thistle, dandelion root, and licorice root can support liver function and stimulate the elimination of toxins from the body. 


In addition, a low-carb ketogenic diet in combination with intermittent fasting is one of the best ways to reduce excessive liver fat, which is a primary cause of poor liver function and liver disease.    


4. How do I cleanse my liver with food?

Restricting carbohydrates and getting most of your calories from healthy fats primes your body to burn fat as a primary energy source. This helps prevent and reduce liver fat and promotes normal liver cell function.  


In addition, choline-rich foods such as eggs, fish, full-fat dairy, and sunflower seeds can enhance the liver's ability to burn fatty acids stored in liver cells, which helps cleanse the liver from excess fat accumulations. 


5. What herbs are bad for liver health?

Certain herbs, including Kava Kava, chaparral, germander, impila, red clover, and St. John’s wort, have been found to contain compounds that can have toxic effects on the liver, especially if taken in large quantities. 


6. Are herbs good for fatty liver disease?

Yes, herbs, including milk thistle, dandelion root, and licorice root, can help manage and reduce the risk of fatty liver disease, especially if combined with a low-carb Healthy Keto® diet and intermittent fasting. 



Sources


  1. https://journals.lww.com/jcge/abstract/2015/09000 

  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9186366/ 

  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5840955/ 

  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4188938/ 

  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6706084/ 

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