The liver is an important organ. It is the largest organ after the skin and acts as a store for the energy you get from your food. It also produces proteins, hormones, and essential nutrients.
However, the liver has one more important function. It provides the body with the most effective filtration system. It separates toxins and wastes from your bloodstream and removes them from your system. This function makes the liver a vital organ.
If we don’t have a functioning liver, our blood will contain enough toxins to kill us! Since the liver is our body’s primary filtration system, it needs regular detoxification. This is where dietary supplements come in.
Liver supplements help improve the detoxification of the liver, reverse liver cell damage, and improve liver blood flow while protecting the liver and optimizing its function. Liver supplements are great not just for liver health but for your overall health.
The question is, “do these supplements work?” In this article, we will look at how these dietary supplements work and the benefits they offer, but first, let’s understand how the liver works.
How the liver works
The liver weighs around 3 pounds and plays a vital role in the proper functioning of the body.
When your gastrointestinal tract is done digesting your meal, it is moved to the bloodstream. This digested food in the bloodstream will pass through the liver. Your liver is the organ responsible for filtering out harmful substances like drugs and alcohol. A healthy liver will help keep the blood clean and free of impurities.
But the liver doesn’t just filter. It also plays an important role in body metabolism. It is essential for the breakdown of food. It processes everything you eat, from fats to sugar. It catabolizes fat to release energy. To do this, it produces bile which helps your body process fats and aids digestion.
Your liver also stores the sugar as glycogen. When your blood sugar level goes down, the liver releases this glycogen to keep your blood level normal.
Ingredients in liver supplements
The liver supplements you will find on the market typically consist of the ingredients below:
Milk thistle is a plant with reddish-purple flowers and large prickly leaves that are native to the Mediterranean region. Historically, the leaves and roots were eaten as food, but for over 2000 years, it was also used to treat several liver conditions. It is the most used herbal ingredient to support healthy liver function.
The seeds of milk thistle contain the highest concentration of natural plant compounds called silymarin. Milk thistle seed extract acts as an antioxidant, prevents toxins from entering the liver, and helps renew liver cells. Silybin, the main component of silymarin, has most of the antioxidant properties of milk thistle. It neutralizes free radicals, preventing inflammation.
Milk thistle also boosts glutathione production in the body. Its detoxification and antioxidant properties make glutathione an effective defence against chronic liver disease and acute poisoning. This is why milk thistle has retained its status as one of the most popular treatment options for people with liver conditions.
Artichoke leaf is another common herbal supplement. Extracts from this leaf contain antioxidants that help reduce inflammation. It is consumed as food in Europe, North America, and the Mediterranean.
Studies suggest that artichoke extract offers protection and support for the liver. It contains cynarine, which increases bile production, and silymarin which protects the liver.
Artichoke leaf has proven to be an effective treatment for alcohol-induced liver injuries in rats. However, more research must be conducted before we know if artichoke leaves will have the same effect on humans.
The function of artichoke extract as a dietary supplement goes beyond aiding liver health. It also helps keep blood sugar steady and prevents diabetes.
Most people see the dandelion plant and immediately conclude that it is a weed, but they are more than that. The dandelion plant with yellow flowers has been used for food and natural remedies for a long time. All parts of this plant can be eaten, even the root. And it is this root that offers health benefits to the liver.
The dandelion root has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It contains beta-carotene, the same antioxidants we find in carrots. It helps to protect against cell damage and oxidative stress. It also protects the liver and improves liver function.
Apart from liver health, dandelion root extract also has a lot of other benefits. It is a great source of vitamins and helps improve cholesterol levels.
Choline is an essential nutrient for humans. Your liver makes small quantities of it, but most of it must be obtained from your diet. You can obtain choline from foods such as meats, fish, nuts, beans, vegetables, and eggs.
Research on humans and other mammals suggests that choline is necessary to maintain normal liver function. A certain amount of choline is necessary to transport fat from the liver to other parts of the body. Because of this function, choline prevents the build-up of fat in the liver, keeping the liver free from harmful accumulation of toxins.
Choline’s nutritional value was first discovered in the 1930s when researchers found that choline deficiencies caused fatty liver disease in dogs and rats. The disease no longer occurred when choline was reintroduced to the animal’s diet.
Chronic liver diseases
Chronic liver disease is not as rare as we would like it to be. About 22% of Malaysian adults suffer from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). As a percentage of total deaths in Malaysia, the liver disease accounts for about 3%.
Chronic liver disease occurs when scar tissues start replacing liver tissues. This damage builds up slowly. Cirrhosis is the final stage of chronic liver disease. Because scar tissues have replaced the healthy tissues of your liver, the liver slowly starts losing its function.
The terrible thing about this condition is that it goes beyond the liver. Because the proper functioning of the body depends on the optimal performance of the liver, this condition has negative effects on other organs and systems.
There are many kinds of liver diseases.
- Liver diseases caused by viruses, such as viral hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.
- Liver diseases caused by drugs, poisons, toxic chemicals, or too much alcohol (alcoholic hepatitis).
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a range of conditions caused by fat accumulation in the liver. It can affect people who drink little to no alcohol and is usually seen in people who are overweight or resistant to insulin.
How to maintain a healthy liver
Apart from taking liver supplements, there are lifestyle modifications you can make to maintain normal liver function. Here are some of them:
A healthy, plant-based diet
If your diet is lean and healthy, so will your liver. Ensure you include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet. These foods contain antioxidants that help prevent damage to your liver cells. They also have the nutrients the body requires for proper functioning and self-repair.
Your diet should also consist of whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein. These foods contain nutrients that foster liver health.
Limit the fat in your diet
Another way to keep your liver functioning properly is to avoid fatty and processed foods. We have already mentioned the need for a healthy plant-based diet. But the world seems obsessed with processed foods high in sugar, salt, and fat.
The liver needs to work extra hard to break down these foods. Furthermore, if you consume too many calories, you risk obesity and liver damage. Eating fatty food also increases the risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition when your body cannot properly use insulin.
If you must consume fat, choose healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish, fish oils, and walnuts.
Stay away from toxins
Although the liver breaks down toxins, it also suffers damage from these toxins. Avoid environmental toxins. Tobacco smoke, cleaning products, and pesticides are harmful chemicals that can cause liver problems. Staying away from them is a good idea.
Use caution when drinking alcohol
If you want a healthy liver, then you must limit your alcohol consumption. Alcohol increases oxidative stress and causes inflammation, which puts pressure on the liver to work harder and leads to cell death.
Indiscriminate alcohol consumption increases the risk of cirrhosis. While you can reverse these effects if discovered in time, it would be a better idea to prevent them from happening. If you must drink, limit alcohol to two drinks per day.
Avoid chronic use of illicit drugs
The liver is also in charge of breaking down medications. Chronic use and abuse of medications will take a toll on the liver and other organs.
Abuse of drugs like cocaine or heroin can damage the liver and the heart. Inhalant abuse can also lead to serious lung problems. Abuse of over-the-counter and prescription medications can lead to liver injury.
While some of these drugs are necessary for treating disease conditions, abusing them will slowly destroy your liver and could lead to drug-induced liver injury.
In conclusion, liver supplements are an excellent choice for people looking to improve their overall health. However, they’re not enough by themselves; you need to incorporate a healthy lifestyle into your daily routine.