Liver Health (General)
Milk Thistle (silybum marianum)
Silymarin, the primary active component in the herb milk thistle, is proven to prevent
liver toxicity and destruction, enhance liver function and stimulate the replacement of
damaged liver cells with healthy cells. The intake of silymarin leads to a substantial
increase in the levels of glutathione (a major antioxidant and detoxifying compound) in
the liver. Studies show that milk thistle can successfully treat related disorders such as
hepatitis, cirrhosis and gallstones.
Alpha Lipoic Acid
The antioxidant alpha lipoic acid has been found to protect the liver from toxic
damage as well as possessing detoxifying effects in and of itself. Hepatocytes (liver
cells) are vulnerable to damage by toxins and antioxidant compounds such as alpha
lipoic acid are important in protecting liver cells Lipoic acid contains sulphur, an
important nutrient in liver function that has been found to increase levels of
glutathione, the liver’s major detoxifying compound. In addition, heavy metals like
lead, mercury and cadmium can be chelated to lipoic acid for harmless removal from
N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC)
Glutathione is required for the detoxification of numerous substances in the liver and is
a compound of three amino acids, cysteine, glutamic acid and glycine. Of these,
cysteine is most likely to be rate limiting, in other words the availability of cysteine is
the biggest factor in how much glutathione can be synthesised. Additional dietary
cysteine is thought to be the most effective method of increasing glutathione synthesis,
and thus improving glutathione conjugation – the method in which approximately
60% of all toxins are neutralised during phase II of the liver’s detoxification process.
Efficient phase II detoxification ensures that harmful toxic compounds are not able to
build up in the liver. Cysteine also has antioxidant properties, which further enhances
its liver protective abilities.
Dandelion Root (taraxacum officinale)
Dandelion has a long history of use as a tonic to the liver. It has been shown to
enhance bile flow, thus improving conditions such as liver congestion, bile duct
inflammation, hepatitis, gallstones, and jaundice. Dandelion increases bile flow by
affecting the liver directly to cause an increase in bile production and flow to the
gallbladder, and by causing contraction of the gallbladder resulting in the release of
stored bile. In this manner it acts as a lipotropic agent (reduces the accumulation of
cholesterol and fat in the liver). The high choline content of dandelion combined with
various bitter principles are thought to be the primary reasons for this action.
Antioxidants are required to protect liver cells from the damaging effects of toxins as
they are processed and detoxified by the liver. Antioxidant nutrients as well as
antioxidant enzymes (e.g SOD and glutathione peroxidase) help to neutralise free
radical damage to liver cells, so a broad range of antioxidant nutrients and plant
compounds is necessary to maintain optimal liver function.
Liver Health Summary
Nutrient/Herb Typical intake range
Milk Thistle extract (80% silymarin)1 175 – 525mg per day
Alpha lipoic acid2 60 – 120mg per day
NAC3 60 mg per day (away from food)
Dandelion root extract (4:1)4 250 – 500mg per day
Antioxidant formula As per manufacturer’s directions
Saturated and trans fats
Vegetables (especially cruciferous)
Fruit (especially citrus)
Nuts and seeds
Limit exposure to environmental toxins
Take regular exercise
1. Do not use in pregnancy or lactation. May reduce effectiveness of oral contraceptives. Drugs
metabolised by the P450 enzyme system may interact with Milk thistle. Check medication with
GP before concurrent use.
2. Concurrent use with anti-diabetic medication under medical supervision only.
3. Cysteine may produce a false positive in diabetic tests for ketone bodies.
4. Best avoided by children, pregnant women and nursing mothers.