Spring is a time of cleansing and renewal, of starting anew. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it’s also the season of the liver, the organ of detoxification, explains integrative-medicine practitioner Elson Haas, MD, author of Staying Healthy With the Seasons.
But why provide extra help for the liver in any season? Isn’t it doing its job without assistance? Unless we’ve been diagnosed with a specific liver problem, why make the effort?
Turns out there are plenty of reasons.
The liver is a filter, explains functional-medicine practitioner Jill Carnahan, MD: It sifts out dangerous materials before they enter your bloodstream. But because the volume of hazardous substances in the environment is steadily increasing, the liver can become overwhelmed.
While the liver benefits from support year-round, harnessing that “spring-cleaning” energy can be especially valuable. These antioxidants and herbs are especially supportive of the liver’s detoxing capabilities:
This powerful antioxidant aids cellular detoxification. Concentrated doses have been used to treat acute liver poisoning, and it has shown promise in treating NAFLD.
“Glutathione and glutathione precursors are my top supplements for supporting liver health,” says functional-medicine practitioner Robert Rountree, MD. “They are well tolerated, and pretty much anyone can benefit from them.” He recommends 1,000 to 1,500 mg daily of N-acetyl L-cysteine, which is a direct glutathione precursor.
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA)
This antioxidant may be extra beneficial to the liver, in part because it increases glutathione levels. Studies suggest ALA may also help ease alcohol-induced liver damage, combat heavy-metal poisoning, and reduce oxidative stress.
“Pretty much anyone can benefit from taking ALA, but it is especially helpful for people with fatty liver and insulin resistance,” says Rountree. He recommends 300 to 600 mg daily.
The active compounds in milk thistle are collectively called silymarin. Research shows that silymarin provides powerful antioxidant protection to the liver by inhibiting free–radical production during the metabolism of alcohol and acetaminophen, among other substances.
Rountree recommends supplements with silymarin phytosome because they contain phospholipids that help improve absorption.
The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin suppresses inflammation, scavenges free radicals, and reduces oxidative stress in the liver. “We know curcumin is good for the liver,” says Rountree. “And it is pretty much safe for anyone, unless a person is allergic to turmeric.”
He recommends 500 to 1,000 mg daily of curcumin phytosome, a more bioavailable form with soy or sunflower lecithin.
This article originally appeared in the April 2020 print issue of Experience Life, Life Time’s whole-life health and fitness magazine.