The liver performs many essential functions, including cleaning the blood, synthesizing proteins, producing hormones, and aiding digestion. Some manufactures of liver supplements claim that their products will detoxify and rejuvenate the liver.

Although the liver acts as the body’s primary detoxification and filtration system, supplement manufacturers like to suggest that the liver could use a detox of its own.

In this article, we take a look at the research behind liver supplements to figure out if these products work.

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There are risks associated with taking liver supplements.

Liver supplement advertisements may claim that these products do the following:

  • detoxify the liver and kidneys
  • promote overall liver health
  • optimize liver function
  • protect liver cells from inflammation
  • promote the production of bile
  • increase metabolism and promote weight loss
  • support respiratory and immune system function

Taking herbal and dietary supplements for any reason may do more harm than good. Available data suggest that herbal dietary supplements are responsible for 20% of liver injuries in the United States.

According to a study involving the Drug-Induced Liver Injury Network (DILIN), herbal dietary supplements may cause more severe liver injuries than conventional medications.

Liver injury from these supplements can contribute to:

  • reduced blood clotting
  • abdominal swelling
  • jaundice, or yellowing of skin and eyes
  • encephalopathy or brain damage

People with drug-induced liver injury may require a liver transplant.

The researchers behind the DILIN study found that liver transplant and death occurred more frequently in people who took herbal dietary supplements than those taking pharmaceutical medication.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulate supplements differently to medications and do not require the same rigorous testing for safety that medications have to undergo.

Manufacturers of supplements can also begin selling or marketing supplements without approval from the FDA, unlike medicines.

Many liver supplements contain a combination of herbal ingredients, vitamins, and minerals.

Milk thistle

Milk thistle, also known as silymarin, is the most common herbal supplement for liver problems in the U.S. Milk thistle extract contains approximately 50% silibinin, which is the active ingredient in silymarin.

Silibinin acts as an antioxidant, neutralizing free radicles that contribute to inflammation.

The researchers behind one 2013 study found that 7 grams per day of Epaclin, a food supplement containing silymarin, vitamin E, and amino acids, significantly lowered the levels of enzymes that doctors associate with liver damage.

In a 2015 clinical trial, researchers found that 420 milligrams of silymarin taken daily for 4 weeks reduced the risk of drug-induced liver injury by 28% in people taking antituberculosis medications.

However, the findings of a Cochrane Review and a 2017 systematic review suggest that while silymarin supplementation may lead to minimal reductions in liver enzymes, these benefits are not clinically relevant.

The authors of the Cochrane Review note that the vast majority of the studies under review used weak methodologies.


Zinc is an essential trace element that promotes cell division, DNA synthesis, and immune function. Chronic liver disease can lead to zinc deficiency.

Another older 2012 study suggests that zinc supplementation may help protect the liver from oxidative stress due to hepatitis C viral infections.

More research is needed, however, to support the use of zinc in treating hepatitis C or other liver diseases.

Licorice root

Licorice root contains an active compound called glycyrrhizic acid, which may help reduce inflammation in the liver and regenerate damaged liver cells.

According to one 2016 study on rats, researchers found that raw licorice root extract reversed the effects of alcohol-induced inflammation and fat accumulation in the liver of rats.

In a 2012 phase III clinical trial, 379 people with chronic hepatitis C received glycyrrhizin injections three or five times a week or five placebo injections.

According to the findings, a higher proportion of individuals in the glycyrrhizin groups showed significant reductions in symptoms in comparison to the control group.

However, the current evidence is too limited to support the use of licorice root for treating or preventing liver disease.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digest and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), high doses of licorice root consumed over a long period can lead to heart and muscle complications.

The liver is a complex organ that performs a range of essential functions.

A healthy liver removes waste from the blood, metabolizes fat, and synthesizes hormones. A damaged, diseased, or malfunctioning liver can lead to dangerous, even life threatening consequences.

Hepatitis refers to self-limiting or chronic inflammation of the liver.

Hepatitis most commonly occurs as a result of a viral infection. However, alcohol use, exposure to toxins, certain medications, and fat deposits in the liver can also cause hepatitis.

According to the NIDDK, some people may develop symptoms of hepatitis C in 1–3 months and of hepatitis B in 2–5 months. People who have chronic hepatitis may show no symptoms for several years.

Signs of a malfunctioning liver include:

  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • loss of appetite
  • unintentional weight loss
  • nausea and vomiting
  • dark yellow urine
  • gray stools
  • discomfort in the upper right part of the abdomen

People who have advanced liver damage may experience:

  • bleeding and bruising easily
  • edema, which causes swelling in the lower legs, ankles, and feet
  • fluid retention in the abdomen
  • itchy skin
  • jaundice or yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • confusion or difficulty thinking
  • memory loss
  • personality or mood changes

There is not enough scientific evidence to fully support the use of supplements for treating or preventing liver disease. However, the following lifestyle choices can help keep the liver healthy:

Limit saturated fat intake

High levels of triglycerides and cholesterol in the blood can create fat deposits around the liver, which may lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and long-term liver damage.

Limit alcohol use

The liver produces toxic chemicals, such as acetaldehyde, when it metabolizes alcohol.

Healthcare experts define heavy alcohol use as eight or more drinks a week for females and 15 or more drinks a week for males. Heavy alcohol use can increase a person’s risk for liver disease and other chronic conditions.

Consuming four to five drinks in 2 hours or less can lead to steatosis, which is a condition in which fat droplets accumulate inside liver cells.

A person can reverse the effects of steatosis if they stop consuming alcohol. However, continuous binge drinking can lead to chronic steatosis and chronic liver disease.

The Dietary Guidelines for American 2015–2020 recommend limiting alcohol consumption to no more than one drink per day for females and no more than two drinks per day from males.

Minimize exposure to toxins

The liver breaks down toxic substances in the blood.

Exposure to environmental toxins, such as cleaning products, pesticides, and tobacco smoke, can damage the liver as it filters these substances from the blood.

Avoid chronic drug use

The liver metabolizes medications and drugs in the blood.

Chronic use of illicit drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, can lead to liver inflammation and damage.

Prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications can also contribute to drug induced liver injury.

According to the FDA, medications that can contribute to liver damage include:

  • antibiotics, such as amoxicillin and erythromycin
  • acetaminophen, which is an OTC pain and fever reducer
  • cancer drugs, such as mercaptopurine, lapatinib, and pazopanib
  • antianxiety and antidepressant medications, including duloxetine and nortriptyline
  • immunosuppressants, including cyclosporine and methotrexate

People should see their doctor if they experience symptoms of liver disease or if they believe they may have had exposure to a hepatitis virus.

Most people remain asymptomatic in the early stages of liver disease. Doctors can detect early signs of liver damage during annual checkups and routine screening appointments.

Anyone who has a family history of liver disease or who exhibits one or more risk factors can speak with their doctor about lowering their risk for liver disease.

Current research suggests that milk thistle, zinc, and licorice root extract possess anti-inflammatory properties that may prevent liver damage from infections and exposures to toxins. However, all these substances also carry health risks.

However, doctors and researchers do not recognize liver supplements as effective due to the limited available evidence.