Do you have fatty liver disease? If you’ve been diagnosed with fatty liver disease, then you may be looking for supplements and strategies to help manage and reverse this increasingly common condition. In this article, we discuss the best supplements for liver health as well as additional tips for following a liver-friendly diet and lifestyle.
Want to learn more? Keep reading to find out more about the best liver supplements, diet, and lifestyle tips for fatty liver disease.
The Lowdown on Fatty Liver Disease
Fatty liver disease, or hepatic steatosis, is a common condition that describes the accumulation of fat particles within liver cells or hepatocytes. The two main types of fatty liver disease are nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and alcoholic fatty liver disease.
A diet high in saturated fat and added sugars is a primary contributor to NAFLD. These foods interrupt normal metabolic function, leading to conditions like type 2 diabetes, high blood sugar, insulin resistance, and fatty liver disease.
On the other hand, chronic and excessive alcohol consumption contributes to the development of alcoholic fatty liver disease. Alcohol consumption in large quantities leads to oxidative stress, which means free radicals accumulate in liver cells. These free radicals interact with healthy liver tissue and inflict damage, which over time results in fatty liver disease.
Why is it so important to treat fatty liver disease? Without intervention, fatty liver disease can progress to more serious forms of liver disease over time. Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), liver fibrosis, and liver cirrhosis are examples of more severe forms of chronic liver disease that cause liver damage and jeopardize liver function. Over time, NASH, fibrosis, and cirrhosis can seriously compromise liver function, leading to end-stage liver disease and liver failure. When the liver has lost nearly its ability to function, a liver transplant is the only effective form of treatment.
Luckily, the liver is a resilient organ that can repair itself. Even liver regeneration is possible; did you know that when a portion of the liver is removed, it can grow back? The liver truly is a remarkable organ.
Best Supplements for Fatty Liver Disease: Essential Amino Acids and N-Acetylcysteine
Science shows that essential amino acids and N-acetylcysteine are dietary supplements that can help provide liver support and manage liver conditions like fatty liver disease.
Essential Amino Acids for Fatty Liver Disease
Essential amino acids show promise as a science-backed supplement for managing fatty liver disease. In a study published in Nutrition, researchers assessed the impact of essential amino acid supplementation on 12 elderly individuals with impaired glucose tolerance. Results revealed that in comparison to the control trial, individuals experienced decreases in liver fat levels, cholesterol levels, and plasma triglycerides. (1)
Moreover, research reveals that essential amino acids like histidine and leucine have protective effects on liver tissue by reducing inflammation and fat accumulation. (2) Beyond fatty liver disease, essential amino acids may even have benefits for conditions such as liver cancer. In fact, research published in Translational Gastroenterology and Hepatology reveals that certain essential amino acids called branched-chain amino acids – leucine, isoleucine, and valine- may inhibit the growth of liver cancer. (3) Branched-chain amino acids also have a therapeutic effect on liver cirrhosis. In addition to chronic viral hepatitis like hepatitis B and hepatitis C, fatty liver disease and liver cirrhosis are risk factors for developing liver cancer. (2, 3)
But wait a minute- what are essential amino acids? Essential amino acids are compounds that chemically interact to form proteins. When we consume protein, the body breaks down whole protein particles into individual amino acids. Animal proteins like fish, chicken, and nonfat Greek yogurt offer optimal ratios of essential amino acids. In order to obtain ideal proportions of essential amino acids from plant proteins, it’s important to combine plant protein sources throughout the day. Whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and soy products are great sources of plant protein.
Though essential amino acids may be found in food, adding a high-quality supplement to your regimen can help ensure that you’re getting the ideal ratios of essential amino acids that your body requires to fight fatty liver disease and carry out all other biological processes.
Essential amino acids also provide other health benefits by serving as the raw materials for muscle tissue, connective tissue, neurotransmitters, and enzymes, while also supporting immune health.
N-Acetylcysteine for Fatty Liver Disease
Research also shows that N-acetylcysteine (NAC) plays an important role in supporting liver health and potentially reversing fatty liver disease. NAC is a derivative of the amino acid cysteine and supports antioxidant activity in the body. The compound is linked to better mitochondrial function and may even support anti-aging. Moreover, research demonstrates that NAC may have beneficial effects for individuals with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. In a study published in Hepatitis Monthly, researchers found that NAC supplementation was connected to lower levels of liver enzymes including alanine aminotransferase. (4) Individuals with fatty liver disease often have elevated liver enzymes, which is a sign of inflammation.
The healing effects of NAC on the liver are also demonstrated by the therapeutic effects of NAC for an acetaminophen overdose. Acetaminophen is a compound found in over-the-counter medications like Tylenol to manage fevers and pain. When used as directed, acetaminophen is an effective medication that can manage symptoms associated with the flu or a cold. However, when consumed in excess, acetaminophen can cause liver injury. An article published in the New England Journal of Medicine describes how N-acetylcysteine increases the amount of the antioxidant glutathione that is present in the liver. Higher levels of glutathione help increase oxygenation in liver tissue, resulting in liver repair. (5)
Choose high-quality supplements that offer NAC to make sure you’re getting the NAC needed to support liver health.
Diet and Lifestyle Tips for Managing Fatty Liver Disease
In addition to taking high-quality supplements, it’s also a good idea to make diet and lifestyle changes that help fight against fatty liver disease. Here are a few tips.
1. Stay Away from Added Sugars
As described above, added sugars are a major culprit in the development of metabolic conditions like type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease. Steer clear of foods that contain added sugar, such as soda, candy, ice cream, pastries, and sugary breakfast cereals. It’s always a good idea to check the nutrition labels of packaged food items, to ensure that they don’t contain hidden amounts of added sugar.
2. Reduce Consumption of Refined Grains
Refined grains and added sugars impact the metabolism in a similar way. Refined grains refer to any grain-based product that has been processed and refined to remove nutrients like protein and fiber. Steer clear of foods like white rice, white bread, white pasta, and products prepared with white flour.
3. Reduce Saturated Fat Intake
Saturated fat impairs normal insulin function while also contributing to high cholesterol levels, high blood triglycerides, and the risk of heart disease. You can reduce your consumption of saturated fat by staying away from foods like meat, dairy, and fried foods. When choosing meat and dairy, reach for low-fat and nonfat options.
4. Reduce Alcohol Consumption
If you have fatty liver disease, reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption is a key move. Cutting back on the alcohol you drink allows the body to work on repairing damaged tissue, reducing oxidative stress, and
If you struggle with alcohol abuse, simply quitting drinking is not so simple. If you are physically dependent on alcohol, it’s important to follow a detox protocol, with the guidance of a health care professional. Mental health care workers and support groups can also provide help and support in maintaining sobriety.
5. Eat More Fruits and Veggies
Fruits and vegetables can be regarded as liver cleansing foods; they are chock-full of micronutrients that work as a detox for the liver. Vitamin C, vitamin E, polyphenols, and carotenoids are examples of micronutrients that work as antioxidants in the body. These micronutrients help neutralize free radicals and prevent the accumulation of harmful waste materials within cells. As a result, cellular mechanisms operate more smoothly, and the liver is able to repair damage.
Examples of fruits and vegetables to incorporate into your diet are kale, broccoli, spinach, artichoke, sweet potatoes, beets, apples, oranges, blueberries, and strawberries.
6. Support Gut Health
Gut health and liver health are linked. By taking care of your gut, you are also taking care of your liver. The gut is populated by bacteria to create a microbiome. Getting plenty of dietary fiber and probiotics supports the proliferation of healthy bacteria that feed on food particles. These bacteria produce anti-inflammatory compounds as byproducts, which travel to the liver and facilitate healing.
What can you eat to support gut health and a balanced microbiome? Foods high in dietary fiber are crucial for gut health. Reach for high-fiber foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Probiotic foods include yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir.
7. Use Lots of Spices When Cooking
Certain spices are filled with antioxidants that may have a therapeutic effect on fatty liver disease. Adding more spices to your cooking may have a positive impact on liver health. Turmeric, garlic, oregano, and basil are examples of spices with anti-inflammatory properties.
8. Get Plenty of Healthy Fats
While saturated fats aren’t so good for metabolic function and liver health, there are healthy fats that are. These healthy fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids, can help reduce inflammation in the liver. You can obtain omega-3 fatty acids from both plant and animal sources like salmon, mackerel, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and pecans.
9. Drink Green Tea and Coffee
Green tea and coffee are packed with liver-friendly compounds that may help manage fatty liver disease and reverse liver damage. Green tea contains a powerful antioxidant called epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG. A randomized controlled trial published in the International Journal of Preventative Medicine found statistically significant decreases in liver enzyme levels in individuals taking green tea extract supplements, in comparison to the group taking a placebo. (6)
Herbal teas and herbal supplements have also been touted as effective for liver cleanses or liver detoxes. A couple of examples are dandelion root and silymarin – the active component in milk thistle – which offer potent antioxidants that may help detoxify the liver.
10. Weight Loss
Maintaining a healthy weight helps reverse fatty liver disease by reducing fat buildup in liver tissue. If you are overweight, strive to lose weight at a healthy rate, which is approximately 1 pound per week. Managing portion sizes, eating a healthy and balanced diet, and exercising regularly can help you achieve a healthy weight.
Things to Keep in Mind
Be wary of supplements marketed as “liver detox pills,” and make sure you know what ingredients are included. It’s always a good idea to check in with your physician before starting new supplements.
It’s also crucial to be completely evaluated by a physician to determine the underlying cause of fatty liver disease. In some cases, fatty liver disease and liver damage can develop from underlying conditions like hemochromatosis, Gaucher’s disease, and autoimmune hepatitis. Treating the underlying cause of fatty liver disease is vital for repair and recovery.
The Best Supplements for Liver Health: Conclusion
Science shows that essential amino acids and NAC supplementation are effective for supporting a healthy liver by reducing inflammation and lowering fat levels. Moreover, essential amino acids and NAC are critical nutrients that the body requires for many biological processes. Following a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, drinking coffee and green tea, and supporting gut health are also helpful strategies for supporting liver health and reversing fatty liver disease.