4 Science-Backed Ways to Keep Your Liver Healthy
Your liver is your body's natural detox organ. Here's how to keep it healthy (no actual detox required).
Your liver is responsible for clearing out all manner of substances, such as alcohol, pesticides and medications. It suffers when you over-imbibe, but it can also face other stressors, namely obesity, type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol. (In fact, as many as 40% of U.S. adults have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, NAFLD, which is when the liver accumulates fat for reasons other than chronic drinking.) This organ does a lot for you. Repay the favor with these fixes.
1. Eat More Vegetables—Especially Cruciferous Ones
Cauliflower and other crucifers—such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage and broccoli—are potent sources of sulforaphanes, antioxidants that help turn on your liver's natural detoxification processes, says Marla Feingold, M.S., C.N.S.
A 2019 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at broccoli consumption and its impact on levels of air pollution chemicals in the bodies of adults in China (a country notorious for its smog). Those who got the equivalent of a cup of this veg for 10 days cleared out 63% more of the pollutant benzene than those who didn't. Sulforaphane appears to boost levels of enzymes required for the liver to eliminate contaminants.
Try some of our best healthy broccoli recipes that make it easy and delicious to get your broccoli fill.
2. Eat More Whole Grains
Regularly swapping whole grains for refined ones is generally good nutrition advice—but it may also improve liver health, according to a 2019 Journal of Nutrition study. The researchers had overweight adults eat five servings a day of whole grains or refined grains for three months and found that the whole-grain group had liver enzyme profiles similar to those of healthy young, lean people. The livers of the refined-grain eaters showed the opposite effect. Whole grains' naturally occurring phytochemicals appear to help the body clear out harmful liver fat. Learn more about why we love whole grains and they're so good for you.
3. Drink Coffee
Too much fat in your liver drives inflammation, which can impact liver function and pave the way for serious diseases. Enter: your a.m. java. "Coffee's polyphenols appear to have both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that help reduce liver fat and inflammation," says Tracey Simon, M.D., M.P.H., an instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a liver specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital. And a review published in Clinical Nutrition found that drinking 3 cups (around 6 oz. each) of coffee a day may reduce NAFLD risk. Too much caffeine for you? Decaf appears to have a similar benefit, says Ryan Heath, M.D., a clinical gastroenterologist. Learn more about the amazing health benefits of coffee.
4. Move Your Body
The liver isn't a muscle, but exercise is still good for it. Physical activity helps reduce inflammation and liver fat. Plus: "Exercise improves the way your body handles insulin and blood sugar," says Simon, important since elevated blood sugar can damage your liver (Try these quick fixes if your blood sugar spikes). In a 26-year study of 117,000 previously healthy adults, Simon and her team found that regular exercisers (any type of activity!) were 60% less likely than couch potatoes to have died from liver disease over the course of the study. Even three hours of a leisurely walking each week may do it.
This article was fact checked and reviewed for accuracy in February 2020.
This story originally appeared in EatingWell Magazine March 2020.