April 6, 2023
A healthy liver supports overall well-being, as it is responsible for filtering the blood that leaves your stomach and intestines. That's why many people think of the liver as an inspection site—in order for blood to pass by, the liver must first inspect it, break down its nutrients and compounds into smaller parts that other organs can use, and remove any excess waste (e.g., heavy metals, chemicals, and toxins).
That waste becomes bile while nutrients the body needs are allowed to pass through to the bloodstream to be properly transported. Knowing the crucial function the liver has for whole-body health and detoxification, you may want to take certain vitamins for liver health to ensure that your liver is in tiptop shape.
Targeted supplements for liver health are specifically formulated to help the liver do its job efficiently—including aiding in digestion, filtering out toxins, and more.*
"The liver is the body's second largest and main detox organ. As a result, the liver is responsible for keeping so many vital functions in check," functional nutritionist Kylene Bogden, M.S., RDN, CSSD, LDN, CLT, explains. "Our liver is responsible for flushing out toxins, making vitamins, building proteins, regulating blood sugar, and maintaining blood viscosity."
If you're interested in learning more about how to support your own liver health, keep reading for information on how vitamins can play a crucial role.
Vitamins for liver health
Because the liver has myriad physiological functions, a healthy liver supports a healthy body overall. The liver is in charge of processing hemoglobin, storing iron, clearing blood of toxins, and aiding natural detoxification pathways. For these reasons—and many more—the liver needs to be in good shape so that it can function at its best.
Vitamins can help a liver do its many jobs effectively. For example, it's actually the liver itself that metabolizes fat-soluble vitamins. The liver is also responsible for storing vitamins A, D, E, K, and B12, and the minerals iron and copper as well. While vitamins do not necessarily increase liver function, they can support the liver's ability to function successfully, which supports an overall healthy immune and detoxification system.
"These critical nutrients support liver health and proper detoxification," Elliot Dinetz, M.D., a functional medicine specialist and liver health expert, tells mindbodygreen."Proper nutrient intake is crucial, as deficiencies can also alter the detoxification process."
The liver is responsible for storing vitamin B12 and folate (vitamin B9). Vitamin B12 helps promote healthy liver function by helping to increase levels of syntaxin 17 (STX17), an autophagosomal SNARE protein that supports the liver's ability to digest fat and regulate healthy inflammatory pathways.
“The liver has a three-phase approach to its functionality, focusing on detox and organ support," Dinetz explains. "In phase 1, fat-soluble substances and toxins circulate to kick-start metabolization. B vitamins enhance the function of liver enzymes called P450 enzymes, while glutathione and amino acids help upregulate them."*
B vitamins also help out in phase 2, according to Dinetz: "During this phase, the slightly more water-soluble substances from phase 1 are conjugated and broken down through methylation using methylfolate, a form of vitamin B9. Amino acid conjugation involving taurine, glutamine, and NAC, helps bind toxins. Excretory products then become more water-soluble for excretion in urine and feces."*
So, are B vitamins good for the liver? All in all, research shows that B12 can support a healthy liver—it regulates fat-soluble vitamins and helps filter out toxins that don't belong in the body. Folate is also critical for healthy methylation, which subsequently supports healthy liver function and overall detoxification.
Vitamin C can be found in several food sources, including citrus fruits, bell peppers, and the Brazilian acerola cherry fruit. This antioxidant quenches free radicals and promotes the regeneration1 of other important antioxidants like vitamin E and glutathione.*
Dinetz adds that in phase 1 of liver detoxification, "The enzyme breakdown process creates reactive oxygen species (ROS), which can be eliminated with antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E, along with trace minerals selenium and zinc."*
"[Vitamin C] improves liver and gut health, restores antioxidant levels, improves glucose metabolism, decreases hepatic lipid accumulation, and is part of [the liver's] detoxification process,"* functional nutritionist, women's hormone expert, and founder of the hormonal health center FLO Living Alisa Vitti tells mindbodygreen.
All in all, vitamin C supports the total antioxidant capacity needed for healthy liver function by addressing everyday internal stressors and promoting the body's natural detoxification processes.*
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin known for its ability to absorb both calcium and phosphorus, both of which keep your bones strong. Turns out, however, that vitamin D also helps modulate healthy inflammatory pathways in the liver.
Vitamin D bolsters liver function via vitamin D receptors (VDRs). "There are vitamin D receptors on liver cells and having adequate levels is essential for liver function," Vitti explains. Vitamin D binds to those cells, promoting overall liver health.
You can find vitamin D in some food sources (e.g., salmon, swordfish, tuna fish, sardines, beef liver, and egg yolk), but the most effective way to get adequate vitamin D intake is through a quality, high-potency vitamin D supplement (hint: see mindbodygreen's top picks here).
When talking about liver health, this phytonutrient is one to get to know. Glutathione is an antioxidant that can be found in plants (and other sources, too). It's made up of the amino acids glycine, cysteine, and glutamic acid.
Supports daily detoxification*
This master antioxidant is critical to promoting the health of cellular components; it fights off free radicals and ROS, filters out heavy metals, and decreases indications of lipid peroxidation.*
"Glutathione helps detoxify from chemicals, metals, and toxins,"* Vitti says of glutathione's impact on liver health. Produced by the liver, glutathione is essential for a healthy immune system.* It also promotes the production and integrity of body tissue and regulates fat storage.*
In addition to glutathione as its hero ingredient, mindbodygreen's daily detox+ combines antioxidants milk thistle, vitamin C, NAC, and selenium to promote the production of glutathione. Together, these ingredients synergize glutathione's replenishment, which supports the key daily functions of the liver.*
Milk thistle contains phytonutrients that support liver and kidney detoxification—like silymarin, a major active bioactive that allows milk thistle to balance antioxidants and healthy inflammatory response.*
Milk thistle supports a healthy inflammatory response at the cellular level in the liver.* It blocks toxins, too, by inhibiting the binding of toxins to liver cells.* According to Dinetz, "Curcumin and milk thistle may also help by lowering oxidative stress from toxins" in phase 2 of liver detoxification.*
Importantly, it also supports bile flow and viscosity.* As the liver is responsible for filtering toxins out so they can be removed from the body via bile, milk thistle plays an essential role. In fact, milk thistle is one of the top ingredients you'll find in supplements designed for liver support.
Selenium is another important antioxidant mineral that supports the body's natural detoxification by quenching free radicals, regulating the antioxidant-oxidant balance, and supporting antioxidant enzymes that combat ROS.*
It also supports detox enzymes and glutathione production: "The liver uses selenium to make glutathione, which is essential for detoxification,"* Vitti explains. (Which, as you've learned, helps promote total antioxidant capacity even further.)
In addition to combating oxidative stress, selenium can help reduce the toxicity of heavy metal 2ions (e.g., cadmium and mercury) and promote their removal from the body.
NAC (N-acetyl-L-cysteine) is another antioxidant with the power of promoting oxidative balance in the liver.* NAC supports liver detoxification efforts and also aids in glutathione synthesis, therefore promoting healthy immune and detoxification systems.*
"NAC helps restore glutathione levels, helps with liver detoxification, and helps the burden of unwanted compounds and substances that might negatively impact the liver,"* Vitti adds.
Like selenium, one of the more important jobs that NAC has is replenishing glutathione storage—by replenishing the body's levels of glutathione, NAC helps to combat free radicals and improve redox status throughout the body.*
There are more than 300 naturally occurring components in turmeric, including bioactive curcuminoids with hepatoprotective properties3 that are good for the liver. It also plays a crucial role in regulating healthy inflammatory pathways, promoting oxidative balance, and supporting glutathione production.*
According to Vitti, turmeric also aids in bile production, which in turn helps prevent fat buildup. Whereas milk thistle supports bile, research (like this review4 from the World Journal of Gastroenterology) shows that turmeric actually stimulates bile production.
Ingredients to avoid
When looking for vitamins for liver health, be wary of ingredients that may have the opposite effect.
Large amounts of niacin (vitamin B3), for example, can yield unwanted results in individuals with liver health issues. High doses of vitamin A should also be avoided, as this fat-soluble vitamin is stored in liver cells and too much can cause liver health concerns.
When it comes to supporting liver function, herbs such as aloe vera, black cohosh, cascara, chaparral, comfrey, ephedra, and kava should be used with caution. As always, speak to your health care provider before adding any new supplements to your wellness regimen—especially if you have liver health problems.