Your liver is a powerhouse at protecting your health. It’s one of your body’s staunchest defenders, removing toxins and spent red blood cells from your blood and powering up your immune system when it detects an injury or intruder (like bacteria and viruses). Even better, it has the capacity to regenerate — not just bounce back from injury, but actually restore lost tissue.
That doesn’t mean your liver doesn't need a helping hand. You can eat and live in a way to support your liver health.
But what about a liver “cleanse” or “detox?” Not necessary — the liver does the cleansing. Any sort of 3-day liver detox or 7-day liver cleanse should be looked at with a very critical eye.
But even if there aren’t specific liver detox foods, your liver needs your help to function at its best. Whether you want to protect and enhance a healthy liver, or you want to help heal a liver damaged by injury or illness, the right foods and lifestyle practices can help.
Liver Detox Foods: Fact or Fiction?
There’s no such thing as a food or a regimen that detoxes or cleanses the liver. Why? Because the liver does the cleansing itself.
Liver cleanses and detoxes are based on the idea that the liver builds up so-called toxins (not usually defined in liver cleanse marketing). That’s not the case at all. Instead, toxins in the blood — such as alcohol molecules, poisons, medications and their waste products, and more — move through the liver, which extracts them from the blood and disposes of them in the urine or feces.
Not only does your liver do your body’s detoxing, it has the ability to regenerate. Estimates vary, but evidence suggests the liver can regrow if even as little as 30% of it is left.
Liver cleanses and detoxes are fiction. What’s fact, though, is that there are foods and supplements that can support the function and health of your liver cells.
What Makes a Food Good for Your Liver?
Put another way: What does your liver need from your diet? Here are a couple of criteria we used when we were putting together our list below.
High in fiber: Eating a high-fiber diet is associated with a reduced risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), according to a study in Frontiers in Public Health.
High in vitamins and antioxidants: Vitamin deficiencies are associated with liver disease.
Contains lean protein: Lean meats like chicken and turkey have less saturated fat than red meat. Saturated fat has been shown to increase markers of inflammation in the liver.
Pro Tip: If you’re not taking omega-3 supplements, you probably should consider them. Find out why in our article, Best Omega-3 Supplement 2023: How to Choose and What to Avoid.
The Best Foods for Your Liver
Even though you don’t need a liver cleanse or detox product — and even though your liver has amazing powers to heal itself — that doesn’t mean it can’t use a boost. Here are some of the healthiest foods you can eat to support your liver.
You don’t have to dump that cup of Joe if you want to help your liver. In fact, you might even want to pour yourself a second cup.
A study from the UK examined data from nearly half a million people, and nearly 385,000 of them were coffee drinkers. Researchers found that rates of chronic liver disease, liver cancer, and deaths from chronic liver disease were all lower in people who drank coffee.
Pro Tip: Not a coffee drinker? Not a problem. Get some non-caffeinated ways to put a little pep in your step in our article, 17 Energy Boosters to Level Up Your Day.
2. Green Tea
Not everyone who needs a morning pick-me-up reaches for the java. Green tea, too, can help lower your risk of liver disease — by quite a bit, actually. Research suggests green tea helps the liver process fat, and it has antioxidants to guard against cell damage.
A study in International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine suggests green tea drinkers have a lower risk of:
Cancer of the liver (hepatocellular carcinoma) — by 26%
Fatty liver — by 35%
Hepatitis — by 43%
Cirrhosis — by 46%
Chronic liver disease — by 51%
Evidence is beginning to mount that eating blueberries may help protect your liver, but so far most of these studies have been done on animals. For example, one study on aged rats suggested that blueberry extract may reduce inflammation, damage, and dysfunction of the liver, as well as improve insulin, cholesterol, and triglycerides. It also boosted levels of vitamin D in the rats’ blood.
Cranberries, too, seem to have protective effects on the liver, according to a small study of 100 people. The group that supplemented with cranberries had lower levels of total cholesterol, triglycerides, and insulin. These changes may have contributed to the lower levels of liver fat in the participants versus a control group.
Grapefruit is a tricky one. It’s known to interact negatively with a number of medications. That’s because grapefruit has certain enzymes that interfere with the way your body absorbs these drugs, so they become much more potent and increase the risk of side effects.
But grapefruit and grapefruit juice are also packed with potassium and vitamin C, as are other citrus fruits. Getting enough of both of these nutrients can help stave off non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Additionally, a 2016 study suggests a type of mRNA with a grapefruit-derived delivery system may help prevent tumors from spreading to the liver. So eating citrus fruits like grapefruit, oranges, and limes can help support your liver health.
Like blueberries, grapes may have the potential to help protect your liver, and for the same possible reason: anthocyanins. These substances are found in red, purple, and blue foods, and they have antioxidant properties. Like blueberries, studies on grapes and liver function have mostly been done on animals.
7. Prickly Pear
The prickly pear is not a pear at all, but a cactus — hence its other name, the cactus fruit. It grows primarily in Mexico and the southwestern United States, as well as certain places around the Mediterranean Sea. One landmark study suggests that prickly pear can help your liver absorb LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and take it out of circulation.
8. Beetroot Juice
Beetroot juice has come to prominence recently for its purported ability to help you recover from exercise. Scientists think that’s because beetroot juice is rich in nitrate. Your body breaks nitrate down into nitric oxide, which it uses to keep your heart, stomach, and metabolic system strong. Nitrate, and especially nitrates from vegetables, is associated with a lower risk of NAFLD. Studies, such as one 2019 paper in Current Research in Nutrition and Food Science, suggest that beetroot juice itself may protect the liver.
9. Leafy Greens
Remember nitrates? Leafy greens like spinach, chard, and arugula (and even brussels sprouts) are some of the best sources. A study of nearly 27,000 adults in China found that those who consumed the most leafy greens (more than seven servings per week) were 28% less likely to have NAFLD than those who almost never consumed greens.
Nuts are packed with vitamins, antioxidants, healthy fats, fiber, and protein.
Among the many health benefits of nuts — which include reducing your risk of heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and obesity — they may offer some protection against fatty liver. A study of about 1,000 adults found a reduced risk of NAFLD in the men (but not in women) who consumed the most nuts.
11. Oily Fish
Oily fish is nearly synonymous with omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, most omega-3 supplements are derived from fish and marketed as fish oil. Fatty fish and their omega-3s have been well-studied for their heart health and anti-inflammatory properties. A 2015 scientific review suggests oily fish can also reduce liver fat and liver enzymes (high enzyme levels can mean liver disease).
12. Olive Oil
No liver-healthy Mediterranean-style diet would be complete without a generous drizzle of olive oil (easy lunch suggestion: add it as dressing to your leafy greens, then top with nuts). Olive oil — rich in those all-important omega-3s — can reduce your cholesterol and blood pressure, and your risk of atherosclerosis and breast cancer. Small studies also suggest olive oil can reduce your liver enzymes and triglycerides.
Daily Lifestyle Measures for Protecting Liver Health
A healthy diet is just one component of a liver-healthy lifestyle. Here are a few more simple lifestyle shifts you can make to protect your liver.
These liver health strategies deliver a lot of bang for your buck, too. People with liver disease frequently also have some form of heart disease or diabetes, and these tips can help.
Get Plenty of Exercise
Exercise benefits your liver in all kinds of indirect ways. It helps your heart, makes you stronger, improves your immune system, helps keep your weight down, and much more. It can also directly reduce your risk of liver disease and improve NAFLD if you have it.
Drink Less Alcohol
Alcohol is well-known to be tough on the liver because your liver breaks alcohol down to neutralize its toxic effects. Consuming four to five drinks per day for decades will result in fatal liver damage in more than 90% of people, but even binge drinking — consuming four or five drinks in under two hours, even once — adds fat deposits to your liver.
Smokers have at least a 25% greater risk than nonsmokers of developing NAFLD, according to a study with data from nearly 200,000 people. That’s in addition to smoking’s indisputable damage to your lungs, heart, skin, and just about every other organ system in your body.
Supplements to Help Liver Health
Look for supplements that can lower your homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is an amino acid that’s normally broken down by your body’s B vitamins. High levels of homocysteine have been linked to heart disease, harm to your blood vessels, and NAFLD.
Pro tip: Keep your homocysteine levels low — and improve other biomarkers — with Methylation.
Protect your body from environmental toxins and pollutants. The methylation cycle is key for regulating nervous, cardiovascular, and immune systems, plus detoxing the liver, balancing hormones, and promoting gut health. With a unique blend of high-quality ingredients, this advanced formula maintains healthy methylation status, including regulating levels of homocysteine.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Your liver has a big job to do. A liver cleanse or detox won’t help do anything except lighten your wallet. But by making the right food, lifestyle, and supplement choices, you can give your liver the edge it needs to keep you healthy.
How do you flush out your liver?
You don’t. You let it do its job, and you make sure you get plenty of vegetables, fiber, lean protein, and healthy fats to help it do that. Your liver flushes out toxins on its own — it doesn’t store them.
How can I detox my liver naturally?
Avoid alcohol and eat liver-healthy foods such as coffee, leafy greens, fruits, vegetables, and oily fish.
What drink cleans the liver?
No drink cleans the liver (true liver cleanses and liver detoxes don’t exist, despite some attempts at marketing), but beetroot juice naturally has liver-protective properties.
How can I detox my liver in 3 days?
Anything marketed as a 3-day liver cleanse diet or regimen will be ineffective at best and outright dangerous at worst. Save your money and your health, and pass on the 3-day liver detox diets and drinks.
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This article has been medically reviewed by Alex Antoniou, MD, ABNM Board Certified in Nuclear Medicine.