Natural Liver Protection

October 20, 2009 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

The word “detoxification” is frequently mentioned in holistic circles. Perhaps the most important organ involved in this process is the liver. Without it, the body could not handle exposure to alcohol, environmental contaminants, junk food and even medications. The liver is responsible for promoting healthy blood (via the production of albumin and clotting factors) and combats fatigue by storing fat as an source of energy. Furthermore, it also aids in the absorption of life promoting nutrients such as CoQ10, Vitamins A, D, E and K. Simply put, without a properly functioning liver, one cannot live a vigorous life.

An herb known as milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is probably the best known natural remedy that supports healthy liver function. It has garnered this reputation with good reason. But there are some other lesser known ways to protect the liver as well. (1,2,3)

Liver Protector #1 – Coffee

A new study appearing in the journal Hepatology examined a proposed link between coffee consumption and hepatitis C outcomes. 766 Hep C patients were medically evaluated every 3 months for almost 4 years. During that time, they reported their average coffee and tea intake. Researchers found a dose dependent protective effect afforded by regular coffee use. The relative risk of disease progression was 30% lower in those drinking 1-3 cups of coffee per day and 53% lower in participants drinking 3 or more cups daily. An interesting side note is that black and green tea did not appear to confer the same benefit. Prior population studies appear to support the superiority of coffee vs. tea in this particular circumstance. The exact mechanism by which coffee imparts this protective effect isn’t clear at this time. However, some scientists suspect that certain phytochemicals in coffee (cafestol, diterpenes and kahweol) may block the damaging effects of toxins on this vital organ. (4,5,6)

Liver Protector #2 – Coenzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10 is a vitamin-like substance produced by the body that plays an integral role in maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system and supporting cellular energy. The liver is one of the richest sources of CoQ10. Perhaps this is why a recent study presented in the journal Biochemical Pharmacology points to its application in protecting against liver damage caused by a poor diet.

  • A group of mice was fed a junk food diet or a “balanced diet” for 8 weeks.
  • The unhealthy diet was higher in fat and included 21% added fructose in the water supply.
  • Some of the mice receiving the unhealthy drink and food were also supplemented with CoQ10.

The researchers reported that the junk food mice ate more, gained weight and demonstrated elevated blood sugar and “impaired glucose tolerance”. There was also a significant increase in inflammation and oxidative stress – particularly with regard to liver metabolism. On the other hand, CoQ10 supplementation countered some of these ill effects by decreasing liver inflammation and stress markers via altered gene expression in the liver. This is not the first mention of a hepatoprotective effect of CoQ10 in the medical literature. Other trials have concluded that this coenzyme may combat symptoms of cirrhosis and even mitigate the harmful effects of certain medications on the liver. (7,8,9)

Liver Protector #3 – Krill Oil

Krill oil is a valuable source of omega-3 fatty acids, phospholipids and a potent antioxidant known as astaxanthin, a carotenoid that gives wild salmon its distinctive pink color. The October 2009 edition of the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry points to a relatively new method for shielding the heart and liver against dietary insults. Much like the previous study using CoQ10, the mice in this experiment were fed two different types of diet: 1) a “standard feed” that was used for comparison purposes; and 2) a heavily processed feed that was intended to tax the cardiovascular system and liver. The researchers then added krill oil to the chow of some of the lab animals that were fed the unhealthy diet.

  • The mice who received krill oil while eating the unhealthy diet showed a reduction in liver fat content and liver weight.
  • Lower levels of blood sugar, cholesterol and triglycerides were also detected in the krill supplemented group.

It’s also interesting to note that krill oil provoked an increase in adiponectin levels. This is a substance released by fat cells that helps to regulate lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides) and promotes insulin sensitivity. Higher levels of this hormone are connected to improved cardiovascular health and a reduced risk of diabetes. In general, marine-based omega-3 fats have been shown to support hepatic health. But krill oil appears to be more effective than fish oil in this regard. However, this conclusion needs to be interpreted with caution because it’s based on a very limited number of studies. (10,11,12)

Source: Can Fam Physician 2007;53:857-863 (link)

The single best way to support the liver is to avoid harming it in the first place. We all understand that abusing alcohol and drugs can ruin virtually any organ or system in the body. But not everyone is aware of the damage caused by consuming excessive carbohydrates on a regular basis. Even moderate amounts of carbs in the form of added sweeteners can lead to harmful shifts in lipid profiles and liver health markers. This is according to a new study conducted at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle, Washington. The worst sweeteners appear to be the fructose based variety – agave nectar, crystalline fructose and high fructose corn syrup. A recent review in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry again points to fructose as a primary culprit in the development of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. On the flip side of the coin, the October 2009 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition explains that higher protein intake may actually lower fatty deposits in the liver – via increased bile acid production. (13,14,15)

There may never be a drug, food or supplement that allows us to eat and live recklessly without suffering the consequences. However, I am a realist and do understand that most people don’t always eat and exercise as they should. Coffee, CoQ10 and krill oil may help overcome genetic weaknesses or the occasional dietary indulgence. But ultimately it’s important to remember that “supplements are meant to supplement an otherwise healthy lifestyle”. When used in that fashion, they can often be the body’s best friend.

Be well!


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Posted in Detoxification, Food and Drink, Nutritional Supplements

8 Comments to “Natural Liver Protection”

  1. Nina K. Says:

    Thanks JP,

    good to know that my morning coffee is good for my liver :-) . The krill oil issue is interessting, looking for krill oil know….

    thanks and greetings,
    Nina K.

  2. liverock Says:

    Milk thisle is also very good protection against heavy metals passing through the liver because it boosts the liver’s glutathione levels.

  3. JP Says:


    I’m always happy to find good news about a favorite drink or food. Coffee is also my morning beverage of choice. :)

    re: krill oil

    It’s not inexpensive but the recommended dosage is quite low (usually 1,000 mg daily is adequate). Please let me know if you have any questions while looking into krill oil.

    Be well!


  4. JP Says:


    Indeed. I really need to write a full column about milk thistle. It’s an incredible herb. As you probably know, it’s not just for the liver either. Lately, there’s been a lot of interest in it’s cancer fighting potential. Pretty amazing.

    Be well!


  5. Angie Says:

    Wow… and I always thought daily coffee was bad for my liver.

  6. JP Says:


    I think many people (and even physicians) think that. In general, coffee is still regarded as an unhealthy brew that should be enjoyed by few and only on occasion. I agree that it’s not appropriate for everyone. But modern science is making a pretty strong case showing that benefits of coffee typically far outweigh the downside of it. Good to know, right? :)

    Be well!


  7. JP Says:

    A reason to consider Chlorella:

    Health Promot Perspect. 2014 Jul 12;4(1):107-15. doi: 10.5681/hpp.2014.014. eCollection 2014.

    The Effect of Chlorella vulgaris Supplementation on Liver En-zymes, Serum Glucose and Lipid Profile in Patients with Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease.

    Ebrahimi-Mameghani M1, Aliashrafi S2, Javadzadeh Y3, AsghariJafarabadi M4.


    Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is becoming a public health problem worldwide and using microalgae is a new approach on its treatment. The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of Chlorella vulgaris supplementation on liver enzymes, serum glucose and lipid profile in patients with NAFLD.


    This double-blind randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial was conducted on 60 NAFLD patients from specialized clinics of Tabriz University of Medical Sciences from December 2011 to July 2012. The subjects were randomly allocated into 2 groups: 1) “intervention” (n=30) received 400 mg/day vitamin E plus four 300 mg tablets of Chlorella vulgaris and, 2) “placebo” (n=30) received 400 mg/day vitamin E and four placebo tablets per day for 8 weeks. Weight, liver enzymes and metabolic factors were assessed in fasting serum and dietary data was collected at baseline and end of the study.


    Weight, liver enzymes, fasting blood sugar (FBS) and lipid profile decreased significantly in both groups (P<0.05). The differences in weight, ALP and FBS between the two groups were statistically significant (P=0.01, P=0.04 and P=0.02, respectively).


    C. vulgaris seems to improve FBS and lipid profile and therefore could be considered as an effective complementary treatment in NAFLD.

    Be well!


  8. JP Says:

    Update: More support for the role that coffee in fatty liver protection …

    Eur J Clin Nutr. 2015 Mar 25.

    Coffee but not green tea consumption is associated with prevalence and severity of hepatic steatosis: the impact on leptin level.

    BACKGROUND/OBJECTIVES: Most of the studies that have investigated the association between coffee consumption and hepatic steatosis have been experimental and small-scale clinical studies. As a result, epidemiological studies are scarce. To clear the association, we conducted a cross-sectional study and investigated the effects of coffee consumption with those of green tea consumption.

    SUBJECTS/METHODS: We analyzed 1024 Japanese male workers. The diagnosis of hepatic steatosis was based on ultrasonography. We divided coffee and green tea consumption into the following three categories: non-drinker; 1-2 cups/day and ⩾3 cups/day. To investigate the association between hepatic steatosis and coffee or green tea consumption, we calculated the odds ratio (OR) and adjusted the means of leptin levels on each severity of hepatic steatosis.

    RESULTS: A total of 265 of our subjects (25.9%) were diagnosed with hepatic steatosis. The ORs of the group of subjects who drank >3 cups of coffee/day was significantly lower compared with that of the noncoffee drinker group (OR 0.59, 95% confidence intervals 0.38-0.90, P=0.03). Although there was a significant difference between coffee consumption and leptin level only in the asymptomatic group, we found a decreasing trend in the asymptomatic and moderate-severe hepatic steatosis group. We did not find the same relationships in green tea consumption.

    CONCLUSIONS: Although we did not find an association between hepatic steatosis and green tea consumption, coffee may have beneficial effects on hepatic steatosis. In addition, we produced one possible hypothesis that coffee consumption negatively associates with leptin levels in hepatic steatosis.

    Be well!


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