Three herbs for liver health

Many herbal proponents recommend using herbs to enhance the health of the liver, the organ responsible for removing toxins from the body. In fact, some studies suggest that certain herbs may help fight liver diseases such as cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or infections such as hepatitis B and C (the cause of liver inflammation).

Here are a few herbs that hold promise as natural means of promoting liver health.

milk thistle

According to a report published in 2001, milk thistle may benefit people with cirrhosis.Researchers analyzed five clinical trials (a total of 602 patients with cirrhosis) and determined that treatment with milk thistle significantly reduced liver-related mortality.

A 2005 study reviewed several clinical trials testing milk thistle for the treatment of hepatitis B and C.Although the authors found no evidence that milk thistle can help clear any type of hepatitis virus, some research suggests that milk thistle may help suppress the inflammation associated with hepatitis C and protect liver cells from damage.

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Can Milk Thistle Really Help Detoxify Your Liver?

turmeric

Preliminary research suggests that turmeric may help treat hepatitis B and C. For example, in a 2009 study of liver cells, scientists found that turmeric extract helped stop the hepatitis B virus from replicating.

Meanwhile, a test-tube study published in 2010 suggested that turmeric extract may help inhibit the replication of the hepatitis C virus.

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Burdock

According to an animal study published in 2000, burdock, an herb commonly used as a natural detox remedy, may help protect liver cells from damage caused by acetaminophen.In tests on mice, scientists found that the antioxidants in burdock can mitigate the harmful effects of toxic substances formed by the metabolism of acetaminophen.

Other animal-based studies suggest that burdock may also help protect the liver from damage caused by alcohol consumption.

What is Burdock?

Using Herbs to Treat Liver Disease

Given the lack of clinical trials to support their use, turmeric and burdock cannot currently be recommended for the treatment of any type of liver disease. With limited scientific support for the liver-protective effects of milk thistle, it is too early to recommend this herb as a primary treatment for liver problems.

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To strengthen your liver health every day, the American Liver Foundation encourages following a healthy diet, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol intake, controlling cholesterol, and washing your hands frequently (to prevent infection).​​​

Always remember that animal research results cannot be automatically applied to humans. If you are considering using herbal remedies to promote liver health, be sure to consult your doctor before starting treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the signs of liver damage?

    Symptoms of liver damage may include nausea and vomiting, feeling tired or weak, loss of appetite, weight loss, and mild pain or discomfort in the upper right side of the abdomen.

  • Which herbs can help improve liver health?

    Milk thistle, turmeric, and burdock are three supplements commonly used to improve liver health. Of the three, milk thistle has the most evidence that it can benefit liver health.

  • Which foods are good for liver repair?

    Foods that can help improve liver health include fruits, vegetables, and fiber-rich whole grains. Pursue a healthy, balanced diet that includes lean protein, low-fat dairy, and unsaturated fats.

  • Which foods and drinks can harm the liver?

    Foods to avoid if you have liver damage include those high in fat, sugar, and salt. Alcohol can also cause liver damage. Avoid or limit alcohol to no more than one drink per day if you’re a woman, or two drinks per day for men.