The Liver is one of the most important organs in the human body critical to all facets of health and wellbeing. Remarkably, the tireless work and non-stop efforts of the liver works to filter 1.3-1.5 litres of blood every single minute.
Just let that sink in.
This mighty organ has an enormous role to play to make sure the body can function at its best at all times.
On top of all of this, the liver is a key detoxification organ, one that can easily be over-burdened if it’s not being supported through proper diet and lifestyle.
Detoxing the liver consistently everyday is very important for maintaining excellent liver health.
The liver plays a star role in detoxification–in the transformation and degeneration of toxins, both endogenously (made from our cellular processes) and exogenously, being absorbed from the environment and through our lifestyle habits.
Endogenous toxins include homocysteine, uric acid, iron, oxalates, reactive oxygen and nitrogen species, excess oestrogen's and cortisol, etc. (1)
Exogenous toxins include pesticides, herbicides, petrol fumes and air pollution, heavy metals, phthalates and xenoestrogen’s from our products, xenobiotics, plastics, etc.
It also makes sense how we can see a plethora of symptoms pop up when the liver is over-burdened and not adequately supported through nutrition, herbal interventions, lifestyle and stress balance.
Some key states that can be alleviated by supporting liver health include sex hormonal imbalances, constipation and IBS and digestive issues, dry skin and skin conditions, chronic fatigue, headaches and fatigue, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, T2D and pre-diabetes, imbalanced blood glucose, malabsorption issues, PMS and so much more.
Poor liver health is always playing a factor in any kind of disease state. This article discusses how we can support it is by consuming natural herbs for liver.
What are the best herbs for liver repair? After reading this blog, you will know.
There are two key phases of liver detoxification; phase 1 and phase 2.
As if the liver wasn’t already amazing enough balancing all these roles, it’s the only organ in the body that is able to regenerate itself, that’s how indispensable the liver is.
Before we get into the best herbs for liver function and detoxification, a quick recap on some of the terms and concepts you’ll read below.
The first is liver enzymes.
If you’ve ever had a blood test and checked for healthy liver function, the results show the levels of AST (Aspartate amino transferase) and ALT (alanine amino transferase), alkaline phosphatase (ALP), lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), total bilirubin (TB) and total plasma total protein (TP).
These are liver enzymes and when their levels are high, it’s an indication that the liver is struggling. It’s churning out more and more trying to get all of its jobs done at half power.
The second concept is oxidative stress.
This refers to the accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS’) that drive cellular and DNA damage. ROS’ prematurely age the cells and thus, their function, leading to degeneration, inflammation and chronic disease states.
The third is master antioxidants–Glutathione (GSH) and superoxide dismutase (SOD).
These master antioxidants are manufactured naturally in the body help fight off oxidative stress and reactive oxygen. When we eat antioxidant rich foods, it increases the body’s production of these two master antioxidants that are involved in the key balance of anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory, with us requiring a degree of pro-inflammatory compounds to elicit an effective immune response.
By utilising the best herbs for liver health and aiding detoxification of liver we help support the gigantic role it plays in the body.
Liver health related issues are not linked to certain symptoms or disease states.
However, an overburdened or taxed liver can present symptoms such as high cholesterol and blood pressure, sex hormone imbalances, IBS and digestive imbalances, dry hair and brittle nails, disrupted sleep, fatigue, anxiety.
More specific conditions may manifest such as gallstones, NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease) and elevated liver enzymes, cirrhosis, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
I like to use the analogy of the liver as a bucket with tiny holes at the bottom which represent its detoxification output.
Oxidative stress is a key cause of liver damage and an overburdened liver.
If you imagine the liver as a bucket, each toxin we’re exposed too (from the time we’re inside our mother’s uterus) is a rock in this bucket. And as we go through life, we throw more rocks into this bucket – alcohol, drugs, pharmaceuticals, xenoestrogens, pesticides, caffeine, air pollution etc.
Slowly but surely, our bucket starts to fill up and physical symptoms of a full bucket will begin manifest if we don't work on detoxing liver.
The key to restoring and repairing healthy liver function is to consume herbs for liver health such as the twelve we’ll explore below.
These herbs for liver related issues help grind down those burdensome rocks and when their dust disappears, oxidative stress reduces, and liver function begins to perform better and better at its optimal functioning level.
These are the best herbs for liver repair.
Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) is crowned the “Supreme Protector” and is the king of anti-stress and calming an overactive stress response. Reishi is an ancient powerhouse that's been traditionally used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years to support healthy liver function and overall wellbeing. (2)
One of the key concepts to detoxify liver is that the body needs to be in the Parasympathetic Nervous System state, the rest and digest, the opposite of being in a stressed state. The body can’t detoxify properly if we’re stressed out. Simple as that.
Reishi Mushroom not only supports the adrenals, HPA axis and buffers emotional, physical and environmental stress responses, but also works to decrease our allostatic load, protecting us from external pollutants and toxins that add burden to the liver, therefore improving liver function and detoxification abilities.
Reishi additionally increases glutathione production. Again, glutathione is our bodies own master antioxidant, being the free radical scavenger tat mops up reactive oxidative species that are produced as a by-product of normal cell functioning. Think of Glutathione as the rubbish man, coming along and cleaning up all the rubbish, keeping the street and household clean and functional.
A mixture of Reishi Mushroom, Astragalus and Black Soybean showed to lower lipid peroxidation and increase glutathione peroxidase and glutathione S-transferase – two enzymes that recycle glutathione so it can continue to scavenge free radicals, and the study showed a decrease in hepatocyte damage. (3)
An additional 2013 study demonstrated the preventative effect of Reishi Mushroom on Paracetamol-includes acute hepatotoxicity in mouse studies, conveying its ability to protect the liver from exogenous and pharmaceutical damage, as the liver metabolises all pharmaceutical drugs. (4)
Naturally, human studies are difficult to come by. But to tie it altogether, liver damage which is where most of the research lies see’s an increase in liver enzymes, specifically, aspartate amino transferase (AST) and alanine amino transferase (ALT).
Elevated liver enzymes mean our liver is struggling, its pumping out more and more, and so we can translate the research on rats and liver damage to help support liver detoxification and support the function of these liver enzymes, lowering our exposure to toxins and enabling normal liver enzyme levels.
It’s all about consistently supporting the liver’s dynamic and crucial role, in which Reishi mushroom is superior in protecting against additional toxic exposure and supporting hepatocyte (liver cell) function.
Try this Reishi mushroom liver detox product.
Like Reishi mushroom, Astragalus root (Astragalus membranaceus) another highly revered Chinese tonic herb that has been used for millennia to support and stimulate healthy liver and immune function.
Being a supreme adaptogen, Astragalus roots builds resilience to toxin exposure decreasing the inflammatory effects and cascade of a mounted response. Astragalus root boosts antioxidants and protects against oxidative stress. It’s been shown to protect against liver injury and oxidative-stress-related conditions. (5-6)
Astragalus root is also hepatoprotective, a class of herbs that protect hepatocytes (liver cells) from free radical damage. It is protective against the exposure of environmental toxins, particularly carcinogenic agents such as carbon tetrachloride. (7)
A 2016 study showed that a mixture of Myristica fragrans, Astragalus membranaceus and Poria cocos was effective in reducing alcohol-induced acute liver toxicity. The study showed a decrease in liver enzymes and an increase in SOD which demonstrates the effectiveness of Astragalus root in supporting liver detoxification and decreasing damage. (8)
A 2009 study showed the synergistic hepatoprotective effects of Schisandra berry and Astragalus root on chronic liver injury in rats. Again, this combination of herbs for liver health decreased elevated liver enzymes and increased glutathione and SOD. This shows the potential short-term and long-term benefits of Astragalus root in supporting liver detoxification. (9)
Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinalis) is a foundational herb in Western herbalism for healthy liver function and detoxification. It's one of the best herbs for liver repair.
Dandelion root is a bitter herb and cholagogue, hepatoprotective tonic and gentle phase 1 liver detoxifier. It also stimulates bile release and gall bladder contraction as well as a gentle diuretic.
Cholagogues like dandelion root stimulates the release of bile from the gall bladder which we’ll discuss the role of the gall bladder and bile more in-depth under 11. Globe Artichoke, but in a nutshell, bile also mops up toxins and excretes them through the large intestine. The liver synthesises bile and the gall bladder stores it.
Hepatics are a classification of herbs that tonify and support the function of liver health. (Hechtman)
Phase 1 detoxification is all about transforming fat soluble compounds to water-soluble, specifically caffeine, OTC drugs, ibuprofen, histamines, hormones, tobacco and insecticides – all of which Dandelion supports liver detoxification.
Dandelion Root also functions as a gentle diuretic – with oedema and fluid retention being a key symptom of a sluggish liver, kidney and lymphatic system. Dandelion root helps to gently cleanse and gets things moving, prevents congestion and waste build up, which further, burdens liver health.
Traditionally used as a morning beverage as a caffeine replacement, Dandelion Root has that bitter component that can be used like a coffee alternative (which also requires metabolism from the liver) for those with a sluggish liver.
Similar to Dandelion root, Cordyceps mushroom (Cordyceps sinensis) is an effective liver-loving alternative to coffee that binds to the same receptors but without the adrenal and nervous-system stimulating effect that caffeine elicits.
Cordyceps in this sense, can be utilised to decrease additional burdens to the liver’s detoxification pathway, whilst supporting its function.
Cordyceps mushroom has been shown in numerous studies to increase glutathione peroxidase and superoxide dismutase while decreasing lipid peroxidation and pro-inflammatory compounds that drive cellular ageing.
Cordyceps has also been shown to decrease elevated liver enzymes and functions as an antioxidant scavenging free radicals. Like Reishi and Astragalus, Cordyceps is as an adaptogen that modulates the stress response and lowers oxidative stress. (10-12)
Cordyceps has also shown to be protective against hepatotoxicity via activating NrF2 pathways – a key anti-inflammatory pathway – thanks to its unique polysaccharide compounds. (13)
Cordyceps also balances sex hormone levels adding a preventative dimension to liver detoxification. It’s been shown to decrease and balance estrogens within the body. (Powell, Martin. Medicinal Mushrooms - A Clinical Guide . Mycology Press. Kindle Edition.)
Additionally, with its adaptogenic properties comes the anti-viral and immunomodulating component as viruses and bacteria release endotoxins which contribute to the burdening of the liver and oxidative stress within the body.
Overall, Cordyceps mushroom works to decrease overall exposure to toxins as well as supporting endogenous antioxidant synthesis and decreases pro-inflammatory markers.
Try Cordyceps mushroom for liver health.
Turmeric root (Curcuma longa) has been used in India for centuries as one of the most potent Ayurvedic herbs. Turmeric is known as a powerful anti-inflammatory and is revered for its ability to treat and prevent numerous inflammation-based diseases.
In regards to liver detoxification, Turmeric is another herb that supports phase 1 and phase 2 detoxification pathways.
Additionally, Turmeric is hepatoprotective and helps protect and detoxify liver cells (hepatocytes) from damage when exposed to these reactive species as they transform from lipid soluble to water soluble.
This plays into the potent antioxidant effects of Turmeric root by donating itself to cancel out the free radical species that drive cellular damage and accelerate disease and ageing of the liver.
A study on mice demonstrated the effectiveness of Turmeric root in protecting and improving liver detoxification by lowering inflammatory markers and mediators, reducing oxidative stress and increasing endogenous glutathione peroxidase and superoxide dismutase (SOD) in the blood. (14)
Being a phase 1 and phase 2 inducer, Turmeric helps balance the see-saw effect that is phase 1 and phase 2 liver detoxification.
As mentioned in the beginning of the article, phase 1 is all about the biotransformation of lipid soluble (fat loving) molecules into water loving molecules, able to then be transformed in phase 2 to be excreted. When phase 1 detoxification is too fast and phase 2 can’t keep up, there is an increase and accumulation of toxic intermediates that damage liver cells and cause inflammation. Turmeric being both a phase 1 and phase 2 liver health herb balances the detoxification processes and further protects the liver cells.
Turmeric is well known for shielding the liver from oxidative stress, suppresses proinflammatory cytokines, increases and induces the Nrf2 pathway, increases SOD and GSH and GPx (glutathione peroxidase, the enzyme that recycles glutathione so we can keep using it). (15)
Schisandra berry (Schisandra chinensis) is another highly revered tonic herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that has a unique ability to support the regeneration of healthy liver cells – categorised as a hepatic trophorestorative. This unique trait makes Schisandra berry a profound and superior adaptogen and liver supportive herb.
Lignans are the key bioactive compounds in Schisandra berry that protect liver cells from dying and increase membrane stability. In specific rat studies, Schisandra was shown to induce the regeneration of liver tissue after part of the liver was surgically removed, indicating how powerful this herb is in literally regrowing and supporting the regeneration of liver health. (16,17)
Schisandra induces phase 1 detoxification, meaning when consumed regularly, it literally “activates” liver detoxification pathways and helps to decrease lipid peroxidation – a key free radical pathway that see’s the destabilisation and disrupted function of our cells membranes (as our cell membranes are made up of lipids).
Being an adaptogen, Schisandra increases our resilience to a vast array of physical, chemical and emotional stressors. In Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, Schisandra contains all five flavours, enters all 12 meridians and nourishes the detoxification organs; kidneys lung and spleen.
Human studies have demonstrated Schisandra may help treat patients with hepatitis and chronic liver disease but it’s also exciting for the potential of Schisandra to be used as a preventative medicine to support healthy liver function. (18, 19)
Try Schizandra for liver support.
When I consider Ginger and its role in liver detoxification, I think about its ability to enhance digestion, boost immunity, increase circulation, supporting our emunctories, help eliminate toxins and prevent viral toxic by-products from contaminating our systems.
But Ginger is so much more than that when it relates to detoxing the liver.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is also a Nrf2 activator, a liver pathway that enables the expression of key detoxifying and antioxidant compounds to decrease oxidative stress, protecting the liver, and giving Ginger it’s hepatoprotective qualities.
Specifically, Ginger has been shown to protect the liver and support it in eliminating xenobiotic agents like alcohol, heavy metals, parabens and other endocrine disrupting compounds we tend to be exposed to through personal products–skin care, soaps, detergents, deodorants etc.
Linking back to its function as an immune and circulatory herb, Ginger helps prevents additional toxic exposure and build up from viral and bacterial assaults decreasing the burden on the liver. In respect to circulation, the more we move the body, the more we stimulate the lymph which is a key system that intertwines with the immune system and delivers nutrients to our cells and removes waste to be excreted.
Ginger is classified as warming which helps improve the delivery of nutrients to liver cells and enhances their ability to perform their many functions optimally. Ginger supports a healthy lymph system, improves immune function and the removal of toxins such as when we sweat (hence why sauna’s and exercise are so invaluable when it comes to supporting detoxification).
Additionally, Ginger is a potent antioxidant and free radical scavenger, enhancing SOD and GPx, and supports both phases of liver detoxification.
In mice studies, Ginger was shown to induce GST and Nrf2 transcription factors and neutralises lipid peroxidation in hepatocytes. (20-22)
Moving away from the herbs and into nutrients for a moment, Selenium is a key trace mineral required for detoxing the liver. A healthy liver makes glutathione and we need selenium to make GPx – glutathione peroxidase, the enzyme that recycles and renews glutathione.
A deficiency in selenium inhibits phase 2 detoxification (Lechtman).
Selenium is also a potent antioxidant mineral. Selenium protects the liver and prevents oxidative liver damage. It’s been shown to be specifically protective against Aflatoxin B1, a carcinogenic and hazardous mycotoxin often present in peanuts, corn, cotton and other grains predominantly in foods imported from countries with not as strict testing and regulating bodies as Australia, the US and Europe.
This also speaks to why buying local and organic and biodynamic foods wherever possible. This is favourable to your health and won’t add extra burden to the liver). (23, 24)
Daily Selenium intake can be attained by eating 2-3 brazil nuts each day.
Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) is one of the most well-known herbs for detoxification of liver.
Milk Thistle works on phase 1 and phase 2 detoxification pathways (Hechtman). Milk Thistle is hepatoprotective, a cholagogue, hepatic, anti-inflammatory and superb cholesterol lowering herb.
Milk Thistle enhances liver function and inhibits free radical damage by acting as an antioxidant. Milk Thistle prevents depletion of glutathione in the liver from alcohol and other toxic metabolites and has been shown to increase basal glutathione levels in the liver by 35%! This demonstrates its potent ability to upregulate the defence mechanisms of the liver (Murray & Pizzorno).
Further, Milk thistle stimulates protein synthesis within the liver and increases the production of new liver cells by replacing old ones (Murray & Pizzorno). Milk Thistle works beautifully alongside Schisandra berry to really support healthy liver regeneration.
Milk Thistle prevents toxins binding to cell membrane receptors and damaging cell function and organelles, thereby, decreasing unnecessary cell death which is a really unique ability of this healthy liver herb. (25)
Milk Thistle also inhibits leukotriene enzymes and prostaglandin. It reduces inflammation, and enhances phase 2 liver enzymes, specifically Glutathionation pathways, which are responsible for detoxifying pesticides, paracetamol, toxic heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium and lead, penicillin, alcohol, petroleum distillates and tetracycline. (26, 27)
Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) is a well-known spice used throughout Asia and India that acts as a potent antioxidant with a high ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) value.
Cardamom reduces liver damage from oxidative stress, decreases the creation of cytokines, TNFa and IL6 – 3x potent pro-inflammatory cytokines that signal degradation within the body.
Cardamom also increases glutathione levels and is a COX2 inhibitor. The COX2 pathway is a pro-inflammatory pathway which as we know, inflammation is at the root of all chronic symptoms and disease states. (28)
Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus, variety scolymus), also known as globe artichoke, improves bile concentration and works harmoniously on both the liver and gallbladder by supporting the entire hepatobiliary system.
A healthy liver makes bile and stores it in the gall bladder.
Bile enables the emulsification and absorption of dietary lipids and fat-soluble vitamins; Vitamin A, D, E and K. When we support the liver’s detoxification, we cannot ignore that of the gallbladder. The gallbladder plays a key role in waste removal and when not functioning optimally, there is a decrease in the ability to excrete toxins that the liver has transformed and metabolised.
This can be referred to as “Phase 3” detoxification, in which the toxins and metabolites are actually excreted from the body usually via the intestinal tract (hence why you don’t want to be holding onto your poop. The reflex to go is one we need to listen to so we’re not reabsorbing or allow toxins to sit in our bowels).
Bile is the major elimination vehicle for cholesterol and other lipid soluble compounds, including hormones and pheromones. (29)
Research has shown that the same transporters that carry bile acids in and out of the intestines, also carry heavy metals, mycotoxins and bacterial toxins.
This indicates that the presence and movement of bile assists the elimination of such toxins. Bile is also made up of cholesterol, which when in excess, is known to add burden to the liver and drive an array of metabolic diseases. (30)
Another ancient detoxing liver herb that has been used as far back as the Ancient Egyptians and Roman’s to help cleanse the blood and purify the liver is Chicory root (Cichorium intybus).
Chicory root, like Dandelion and Artichoke is another bitter herb that helps increase the production and flow of bile.
Chicory contains inulin – a prebiotic fibre that nourishes and feeds intestinal bacteria. We know the large intestines are a key piece of the detoxification puzzle. Many toxins are excreted through the microbiome, with one key example being the “estrobolome” – a group of bacteria responsible for metabolising and supporting the excretion of excess estrogens.
A healthy microbiome also enables a healthy excretion of all the toxins the liver works so tirelessly to excrete, as well as enabling the absorption of the nutrients we receive from our food to fuel the hepatocytes in their dynamic functions.
Chicory root also works on phase 1 CYP enzymes, specifically CYP1A2 and CYP2. Traditionally and contemporarily, Chicory root is used alongside Dandelion root as a caffeine replacement beverage to decrease stress on liver health since caffeine can overburden the liver as it’s metabolised through it. (31)
Chicory is also rich in polyphenols which provides that antioxidant effect for supporting the liver and reducing oxidative stress. (32)
The best herbs for liver health to naturally detoxify liver and support its role in whole body detoxification are Reishi mushroom, Astragalus root, Dandelion, Cordyceps mushroom, Turmeric root, Schizandra berry, Ginger, Selenium, Milk Thistle, Cardamom, Globe Artichoke and Chicory root.
Taking a holistic approach to heal the liver naturally is important for the removal of toxins the body takes in from the environment and from our lifestyle. Holistic steps you can take to heal the liver naturally are;
The best herbs for liver health is a combination of Reishi mushroom, Schizandra berry, Turmeric root and milk thistle.
Vitamins are essential co-factors and are required in both phases of detoxing the liver. The best vitamins for liver repair are;
The liver is one of the hardest working organs that doesn’t ever stop. The liver is responsible for filtering the blood, looking for pathogens, utilising nutrients, eliminating toxins. A healthy liver requires a vast array of nutrients and herbs to support the endless functions it must perform.
We first want to prevent and take rocks out of our bucket where we can. I encourage you to look at your life and see where you can make swaps or completely remove any toxins and stressors that are adding burden to your already, very hard-working liver.
Choose to adopt a preventative approach to consistently support liver health. Add in the key herbs for liver explored in this article to really support detoxing liver and all the toxins we’re exposed to over the course of a lifetime.
It’s important to also remember that all these herbs for liver health may interfere with medications, as they too, are metabolised by the liver. When choosing which herbs are best suited to you, as always, consult your health practitioner before adding any new healthy liver function herb or supplement to your diet.
Eliza is a health, mindset and abundance enthusiast obsessed with helping millennial's experience living at a higher level.
Her relaxed new age approach and understanding of nutrition and wellness sees her empowering and coaching individuals to understand that their health is the ultimate asset. Upon experiencing first hand the power and place of tonic herbalism and medicinal mushrooms in everyday life, Eliza’s become an adaptogen fangirl and feels their utilisation in today’s world is essential for abundance and wellbeing.