|Heidi Moretti, MS, RD|
Functional Medicine Nutritionist
In our last article, we talked about the top detox foods that can help enhance your body’s natural toxin filters organs. But what about detox supplements?
The science which I am about to share, is actually very exciting. There are unique nutrients and herbs shown in many studies to have powerful natural detoxification properties, some, can even help the body to repair damaged tissues.
On that note, detox supplements are extremely popular, but not all of them are effective or even safe. Something to consider before you go to Walmart and have your cart loaded with dozens of cleansing shakes and detox pills.
In this supplements detox review, we will focus on the primary organ of detoxification, the liver. Make sure to subscribe to our newsletter, so you also get the next articles which will cover other key body systems and detox supplements for the kidneys, colon, heavy metals, candida yeast, parasites and others.
My Top Liver Detox Supplements (Evidence-Based)
The liver converts toxic substances into harmless elements or makes sure they are released in the bowels so they can be eliminated throughout bowel movements. Certain detox supplements and herbs are shown to support these liver functions including the regeneration of new liver cells.
Important: before you go into cellular or liver detox, always make sure your gut is working properly, so that the released toxins will be eliminated by your digestive system effectively and will not reabsorbed back into the circulation. This can be achieved by a healthy diet and several supplements or herbs.
To learn more, see: gut cleanse.
Here are the top detox supplements that are supported by science to help cleanse your liver:
Glutathione is one of the most potent antioxidants and cellular detoxifier found in virtually every cell in the body. Specifically to its detox affect, Glutathione has the ability to bind to water-soluble toxins, so they are marked or targeted to be removed by the body.
Due to its key role in detoxification, the science on Glutathione is extremely extensive. According to the research, glutathione can help neutralize toxins known as persistent organic pollutants, or POPs, such as dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), lindane, DDT.
Some evidence even suggests that Glutathione can help reduce liver damage due to alcohol.
N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC)
Another liver detoxification superstar, NAC is an amino acid used by the body to make Glutathione. NAC has long been used as a detoxification therapy for acetaminophen toxicity (Tylenol).
In case you are wondering why you should be taking the precursor to Glutathione, rather than Glutathione itself, here’s why:
According to research, oral supplementation of Glutathione alone does not adequately restore GSH levels. It is rapidly broken down by the liver and intestines. Oral NAC administration however, was shown to increase cysteine levels, ultimately leading to increases in Glutathione.
Even more, due to its acetylated form, NAC can effectively penetrate the blood–brain barrier and raise brain Glutathione, which may provide neuroprotective benefits.
Not surprisingly, you can see many liver detox supplements protocols that combine both NAC and Glutathione.
Use of NAC in Prevention of Hangover Symptoms
With that being said, I would personally be very careful regarding this use, as it may lead to you drinking more alcohol.
These hangover signs occur for a reason. It’s your body’s way of telling you, “hey, I have had enough of this toxic drink.” You feel really bad and hopefully next time, your brain will remind you that. So you drink less.
I rather you taking NAC or other detox supplements to promote your over health, rather than supporting unhealthy lifestyle choices. It’s like smoking and taking antioxidants to correct the damage.
Liver Detox Herbs
Along with glutathione and NAC, there are several herbs well studied for their potent natural liver detoxification effect:
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum)
Milk thistle is a beautiful purple thistle in the Asteraceae family of plants. This plant is well-known in the detox community as being an important herb to include in any liver detox or liver support protocol.
The evidence of the use of milk thistle for liver health takes us back over 2000 years ago across several cultures around the world. The Greco Romans were using milk thistle for both gallbladder and liver problems. Fast forward to the 19th century, early research done by German scientists already demonstrated milk thistle health benefits.
Most of the modern research on milk thistle focus on its active components collectively known as silymarin. Several studies have found that silymarin may act as a toxin blockade agent by inhibiting binding of toxins to the liver cell membrane receptors.
Due to its antioxidant effect, silymarin was also shown to reduce free radical production and lipid peroxidation as well.
Multiple studies found that silymarin reduced liver injury caused by acetaminophen, carbon tetrachloride, radiation, iron overload, alcohol, and other toxins.
The research also show promise in using silymarin as a natural alternative for alcoholic liver disease, acute and chronic viral hepatitis and toxin-induced liver diseases.
As in any medicinal use of a natural ingredient, much more studies are needed until a final approach will be formalized by the medical community. Still, when it comes to natural supplements and liver detox herbs, milk thistle is one of the most studied option, that also show the most promise.
Fun fact: Some research suggests that milk thistle derived extract can be helpful to neutralize poisoning from death cap mushrooms by reducing liver damage.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
A great compliment to milk thistle that may also help reduce toxins in the liver and restore healthy liver tissue, is a temperate climate flowering weed called dandelion.
Traditional use of dandelion for liver health goes back to Arabia in the 10th century, where it was used to treat several liver complaints, and as a diuretic, nausea and vomiting conditions in India and Europe.
Dandelion is also extensively studied. According to research, dandelion may help protect the liver by reducing several inflammatory compounds stimulating glutathione production, and increasing antioxidant enzymes in the liver as well, including superoxide dismutase, and catalase. [10,11,12]
Even more interesting, when dandelion was given to mice exposed to a toxin called carbon tetrachloride, dandelion was shown to have a protective effect and also promoted healing of the liver tissues.
How to Use Dandelion to Detox Your Liver
Depending where you live, you may see fresh dandelion leaves and even dry roots in your local store.
Many people find the flavor of dandelion greens bitter, so adding olive oil and lemon can help improve the taste of the dandelion greens. You can also may a detox tea with the leaves or the roots. Add a bit of honey or stevia to improve taste.
Dandelion is also highly available in liver detox supplements and herbal formulas, usually with milk thistle and other liver cleansing herbs.
A good example can be found here.
Always make sure to use organic dandelion to make sure it isn’t sprayed with chemicals.
Chanca Piedra (Phyllanthus niruri)
With a long traditional use for liver and kidney health that is also backed up by science, this exotic tropical plant is a very popular natural option that may benefit most liver detox programs.
Also here, the science is very promising. According to research, Chanca Piedra can support normal liver function by regulating fibrosis, LDL cholesterol, insulin and arterial plaque.
Similarly to the milk thistle research, no conclusive finding or recommendations were made by the medical community.
Still enough evidence however, to consider Chanca Piedra as a natural safe option for your liver detox supplements stack.
Fun fact: due to its long traditional use to treat and prevent kidney stone, Chanca piedra is well known as “stonebreaker”. Most natural kidney detox supplements have it as one of the main ingredients. Will cover it in more details in our next article on kidney cleanse.
Turmeric rhizome (Curcuma longa rhizome)
While most known for its ability to help with joint pain and inflammation, turmeric has a long traditional use for detoxification purposes, that is also backed up by science.
The science on turmeric and liver health is quite fascinating and has shown to be very promising. According to research, curcumin, the active component in turmeric, can improve liver enzymes and reduce liver injury from various toxins, even with patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver.[19,20,21]
The data suggests it is turmeric’s potent antioxidants effect that can help to suppress oxidative stress in the liver. Many researchers see turmeric and curcumin as potential therapeutic antioxidant agents for the treatment of various liver disease.
Of course, we’ll have to see much more studies before the medical community will have any recommendation regarding the use of turmeric for liver health. In the meanwhile, as a natural alternative, turmeric and curcumin are definitely one of the most powerful natural liver detox supplements and herbs.
Fun fact: Turmeric has been used traditionally to neutralize snake venom, including the deadly King Cobra, potent detoxification, indeed.
How to Use Turmeric to Detox your Liver
Adding turmeric to spice your meals or shakes is a great way to enjoy some of his health benefits, although a common issue with turmeric and curcumin, is they have a poor absorption and bioavailability in the body. A known traditional remedy to address these that is also backed up by science is to consume turmeric with black pepper or fats.
In fact, according to research, piperine, the major active component of black pepper can increase the bioavailability of curcumin by 2000%.
Another popular option shown to enhance the absorption of curcumin, is to combine it together with phospholipids. Both options are commonly seen in many turmeric and curcumin supplements.
As you can see, there are several liver detox supplements and herbs that can help support healthy liver function, reduce liver fats, increase antioxidants, and even heal liver tissue.
While these all shown to be very effective, you will get much more benefits if you follow a healthy diet. A good example is my article on the Best 8 Detox Foods.
As with any natural program, make sure to check with your healthcare provider because you use these supplements and herbs, especially since some of these can interfere with medications.