Your Liver: Understanding The Keys To Health

You can’t live without it — not even when hooked up to the most amazing machines doctors and scientists have ever created. If your liver fails and you don’t receive a transplant, you die.

Among its most important jobs, the liver works in conjunction with your digestive system to help properly digest all three primary macro-nutrients: fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. It also works diligently to detox your body and keep you in homeostasis by cleansing and detoxifying almost two quarts of blood every minute.

Understanding how your liver works is one of the primary keys to unlocking vibrant health.

Crazy Important Jobs

Your liver is a wildly busy organ and has many functions. Here’s a list of its most important ones:

  • Helps synthesize (create) amino acids — the key building blocks of proteins
  • Regulates blood glucose levels to maintain homeostasis
  • Synthesizes cholesterol and triglycerides (fats) — the key building blocks of cell membranes and absolutely vital to brain & neurological functioning
  • Creates bile — necessary for the proper absorption of fats & essential vitamins
  • Breaks down hormones, toxic substances, & medicines so they can be safely removed from the body
  • Synthesizes the hormone required to regulate blood pressure
  • Stores glucose, Vitamins A, D, & B-12, iron, and copper — all necessary for keeping your body in homeostasis.

When It Goes Awry

If your liver is overly taxed, any or all of these important functions can be thrown out of balance. In other words, an inefficient liver can cause a myriad of problems in just about every major body system.

Symptoms of an inefficient liver include, but are not limited to:

  • indigestion
  • acid reflux
  • hemorrhoids
  • gall stones
  • alcohol intolerance
  • nausea or vomiting attacks
  • bloating
  • constipation
  • depression
  • mood disorders
  • anger
  • irritability
  • poor concentration
  • overheating of the body
  • recurrent headaches (migraines)
  • sugar cravings
  • hypoglycemia
  • onset of type 2 diabetes
  • heart disease
  • clogged arteries
  • high blood cholesterol levels
  • high blood pressure
  • strokes
  • fatty organs, including fatty liver
  • fatty tumors
  • weight gain
  • inability to lose weight
  • slow metabolism
  • pot belly
  • cellulite
  • weakened bones
  • allergies
  • sensitivity to chemicals and food additives

These, mind you, aren’t necessarily the result of total liver failure. It’s just what happens when your liver is overly taxed and unable to keep up with job of detoxing your body and maintaining homeostasis.

A failing or diseased liver presents other symptoms like jaundice, bad breath, rashes, itchy skin, brown spots on the skin, flushed skin, pale stool, and dark urine. If you experience these symptoms, you need to seek out medical treatment immediately.

What Taxes Your Liver

Sadly, our modern lifestyle compromises your liver’s ability to keep you well. The biggest dietary culprits include caffeine, alcohol, sugar, food additives, and excessive intake of Omega 6 essential fatty acids. But, there are environmental culprits too: pesticides, herbicides, synthetic chemical fertilizers, and even doctor-prescribed medicines.

How To Keep Your Liver Healthy

While exposure to certain environmental toxins may be out of your control, you can control what you eat and drink. Here are a few key tips to keeping your liver in good shape:

Avoid Toxic Foods Like Caffeine, Alcohol, Food Additives, & Sugar

These place a huge burden on your liver, particularly in the quantities that most Westerners consume them. By sugar, I’m talking about all refined grains & sweeteners. So, you should avoid all processed white flours, all table sugar, and even so-called “natural” sweeteners like agave nectar. And, if you struggle with weight or insulin resistance, you should even avoid grains and starchy vegetables & fruits like potatoes and bananas. If you have an imbalanced, inefficient liver (of which weight gain and insulin issues are a symptom), even these normally healthful foods put extra strains on the liver’s ability to regulate blood glucose levels.

Avoid Excessive Omega 6 Intake

Yellow cooking oils which remain liquid at room temperatures are usually high in Omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. These seed based oils go by many names, including: corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, vegetable oil, sunflower oil, canola oil, and others. Do not cook with these oils, and don’t eat food prepared in them when you go out to eat. And lastly, don’t eat any processed and pre-packaged foods which contain them in their various forms. Instead, try replacing these oils with more traditional fats like coconut oil, ghee, or real olive oil. For the best online sources of these nourishing fats, click here.

Conventionally raised livestock eat a diet unnaturally high in corn and soy — whether it be cows, chickens, pigs, turkey, or even some farmed fish. Because of this, the foods these animals produce is unnaturally high in Omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids and — in some cases — devoid of any Omega 3 fats with which to balance them out. Avoid any animal products from animals fed these unnatural diets. If you eat fish, meat, eggs, and dairy (which you should!), you’ll want to stick to grass-fed, pastured, or wild animals. You can generally find these from local farmers and ranchers, but even they’re available online.

Eat More Vitamin A & D

The standard Western diet is strangely deficient in naturally occurring Vitamins A & D, for a number of reasons. We’ve removed most of these essential vitamins from our food supply with our conventional animal feeding operations. Chicken eggs are no longer a rich source of Vitamin D, and we generally don’t prize eating the livers of other animals (which are naturally high in Vitamins A & D). We also don’t eat enough lard or animal fats (another great source for these highly-necessary fat-soluble vitamins). And, we don’t get enough exposure to the sun to make up the difference. Traditional peoples have diets ten times higher in Vitamins A & D than ours.

You can attempt to make up for this by eating egg yolks from pastured hens, consuming raw dairy from pastured & grass-fed animals, eating fatty fish, using traditional animal fats from wild/pastured/grass-fed animals (including butter, ghee, tallow, schmaltz, and lard), and getting out into the sun when it’s directly overhead. Again, you can find out which online sources I recommend by visiting my Real Food Resources page.

Whatever you do, do not consume synthetic Vitamins A & D, as many studies have shown these to be toxic to the liver.

When In Doubt, Eat Superfoods

If you’re at all concerned that you’re not eating the right balance of fats from good enough sources to support your liver, supplement your diet with fermented cod liver oil and freeze-dried liver tablets. These superfoods are rich in Vitamins A & D. When taken in combination with high vitamin butter oil, they are even more effective. And, you really can’t get a better deal than a bottle of fermented cod liver oil. One bottle contains 270 single doses! That’s enough to last one person almost 9 months. For the best online sources of fermented cod liver oil, high vitamin butter oil, & freeze-dried liver, click here.

Drink Kombucha

As I reported earlier, kombucha is fabulous at supporting your liver in detoxing your body. You can even brew it at home. If you choose not to grow your own SCOBY (kombucha starter culture), the most affordable & reliable online sources can be found here.

Eat Generous Amounts of Liver-Supporting Vegetables, Herbs & Spices

A number of vegetables, herbs, and spices are known to support liver function. Eat generous amounts of garlic, onions, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale & brussel sprouts. And when you eat them, be sure to slather them in traditional fats to make their nutrients even more accessible. Also, feel free to drink tinctures or teas with milk thistle, or cook with tumeric and cinnamon.

Stick to Organics

In as much as you are able, stick to eating organic foods since pesticides and other synthetic chemicals place a heavy burden on your liver.


  1. Leesie says

    Fantastic post! I had no idea all those symptoms could be a result of a taxed liver. I could certainly equate myself with some of the symptoms or signs you wrote about.
    I already take fermented CLO, make Kombucha using your recipe, and switching over to healthier, organic food choices – albeit slowly. However, I do see there are other things I can do to help support my liver.

    Thanks for the wealth of information.

  2. says

    These are great reminders and good habits to support health in the body. I need to look into some detoxification after my surgery and give my liver a rest. I don’t normally take antibiotics and painkillers. They can be quite taxing.

    Cathy Payne

  3. says

    Leesie — You’re welcome! What’s really amazing is that the list could have been even longer! There are a host of things I didn’t include like dry fingernails, dry skin, chills, etc. Really, your liver is at the root of many of your body’s systems. If it’s not doing its job well, you suffer.

    Cathy — The best way to detox is with probiotics. You can get those in naturally fermented foods like lacto-fermented sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, sour cream, pickles, etc. Or, you could buy a good probiotic supplement. Visit my Real Food Resources page to see what probiotic supplements I recommend.

  4. says

    The liver is related to EVERYthing! Thanks for such an in-depth overview. I have been put on the SCD diet basically to give my liver a break. Living with the president of a winery doesn’t make for the healthiest liver…and I have noticed it more with frequent migraines (save the perimenopause.) Hooray for Kombucha and beets!


  5. Erica says

    Hi Kristen,

    What is a good source of freeze-dried liver? I clicked on the link you gave in the section about superfoods but I didn’t see any information about liver. I’ve seen liver tablets listed at various sources but I can’t figure out which ones are from organic, grassfed liver, which seems pretty important.



  6. says

    Erica — Well, what do you know? I thought one of those companies sold Dr. Ron’s freeze-dried organs & glands. Perhaps they used to, but don’t anymore. Anyhow, if you want quality organs & glands from grass-fed animals, Dr. Ron’s is the way to go.

  7. says

    Amen to your comment about choosing grass-fed meats from local farmers. The meat is higher in omega-3 and you can see how the animals live.


  8. says

    It’s true that we really have to minimize our exposure on the things we can control, like our food source. It can drive you insane trying to control everything around you…but I believe that if we nourish our body, it will do it’s job to protect you from the environmental toxins. Very good information!

  9. says

    Great article, Kristen! The liver is a fascinating organ! I’m always looking for natural ways to support detoxification and kombucha sounds like it has a lot of potential. Thanks for mentioning it.

    Vin – NaturalBias

  10. Dana says

    And whatever you do, don’t mistake beta carotene for vitamin A. They’re finding more and more that we do not convert BC to A very efficiently, and some of us can’t make the conversion at all.

    I don’t know which camp I fall into, personally, but I had been plagued with heavy periods for something like three years and in the last several months of that time, had gotten weird cramping in the region of my left hip (possibly the ovary, dunno) the day before it started. Then I went through a few dietary changes, like starting to cook with lard and taking CLO-based A supplements daily. (I had previously cooked with butter, but that gets expensive and it was industrial butter.)

    Wow. I guess about the time all that A hit my system and was really being put to use, the symptoms disappeared! I could go out of the house again on the first day or two without living in constant fear of an accident. (A few times it had been so bad that I couldn’t *move* without an accident.) No more weird cramp, no nothing. I won’t say everything’s perfect, but wow. Night and day.

    I don’t have health insurance and haven’t had any (or any good–I was on Medicaid for a bit and they ignore anything that’s not immediately going to kill you) for several years now. The thought of going in and finding out something was wrong that would have rendered me uninsurable in the future was just too much to bear, even more so the idea that the news would have been even worse. I also consider myself fortunate in that had I been *able* to go in, the doc likely would have put me on hormonal treatment for my problem–guess what? Women on the Pill and similar treatments need even more vitamin A! Before you know it they would have decided I was incurable and would have suggested or insisted upon a hysterectomy. God…

    Now, when all this was going on, baby carrots dipped in blue cheese dressing was one of my favorite veggie snacks and I got it when I could. I certainly was not lacking in precursors. I even ate eggs. So you see how badly I was burned with all of this.

    Now what about this synthetic D business? I have a D supplement and I understand there’s ergocalciferol and cholecalciferol and you’re supposed to have one and not the other. I *think* I have the right one but am not sure. Guess I better go look.

    I *do* have a mean caffeine habit that I haven’t been able to kick for years. So I guess I better start thinking about that too. If I go without it for long enough I start getting migraines, but of course that experience has occurred when I ate high-carb, so maybe a combo of low-carb and no caffeine might do it. I hope so.

    I know someone who was diagnosed with fat deposits in the liver. I should send him this article. Thank you for writing it.

  11. says

    Thanks for posting about Agave Nectar. It infuriates me that things can be marketed as health food and be so hazardous for your health.


  12. says

    Jay — Great point! That’s the problem with posts like this; I *always* leave something out.

    Catherine — Yes, I need to write a post on Agave Nectar soon. I would have linked to the Mercola article about it, but he’s kind of proprietary when it comes to linking to his site so I just avoid doing it.

  13. says

    Love it!! The liver is so overlooked and under appreciated….yet is SO vital to so many health functions…including having a strong metabolism to burn fat! I would bet most people who have “hypothyroidism” also have a high intake of PUFAs (polyunsaturated fats) and low intake of other healthy fats. High PUFAs will compromise the liver’s ability to convert T4 to T3, and therefore slow down the metabolism. Dump the PUFAs and get back those healthy fats….especially coconut oil.

  14. Icarus says

    I have a few beefs (sorry! bad pun) with some of this article. First of all, not all meat from grain-fed livestock contains large amounts of n-6 fatty acids; beef fat, for example, is only about 3% polyunsaturated. Most of this is n-6, so it has a bad ratio of n-6 to n-3, but coconut is the same – in fact, while coconut oil has very little polyunsaturated fatty acids, like beef fat it also has a “bad” ratio of n-6 to n-3. So, I think it’s a little hypocritical to boost coconut oil as a positive fat but deride grain-fed beef for it’s fat properties, which (in the case of polyunsaturated fats) are similar to those of coconut oil.

    • Stacy says

      While coconut has a lot of fat, it is the kind of fat easily used by the body. So, coconut isn’t all bad. Like avocados: high in the good fats. I eat a lot of nuts. Walnuts are a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids.

  15. says

    Icarus — Grain fed beef has an Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acid ratio of 21:1 when compared to grass fed beef’s ratio of 1:1 (at most 3:1, depending on how green the grass). The liver (and the rest our our bodies) starts having problems if this ratio goes above 4:1.

    Coconut oil, on the other hand, is 45% lauric acid — a medium chain Omega 3 fatty acid that metabolizes almost instantly, increases metabolism, and is very easy on the liver. So, to say it has a fatty acid profile similar to grain fed beef is just plain wrong.

  16. Kevin Drury says

    I noticed two things in the liver article that I have questions on. 1) In the list of healthy fats, nuts were nowhere to be found, only oils. Are almonds bad for my liver. 2) The article suggests making sure you are getting proper vitamins A and D from natural food sources, saying synthetic A & D are toxic to the liver. I supplement with Vitamin D because I am unable to catch sun during the day, and I damaging my liver by supplementing?

    This comment was originally posted on Mark’s Daily Apple

  17. says

    I’m a turkey sausage guy, rather than a pork guy, but I’ll use your seasonings for my next batch (sans sweetener), if you try my coconut waffles! You’ve got great photos on your site, by the way.

    I make a sausage recipe I got from – but I never thought of mixing it in the KitchenAid before. I just mix by hand. I like your idea, though.

    (just kidding – you don’t have to try my waffles if you don’t want to.)

    This comment was originally posted on Mark’s Daily Apple

  18. says

    Kevin — Numerous studies have shown that synthetic Vitamins A & D are toxic to the liver, rather than helpful. So yes, synthetic vitamins are taxing your liver. Whether or not “damage” is being done depends on how much your liver is taxed by other things.

    I also supplement for Vitamin D, but I use fermented cod liver oil (basically the most concentrated food source of these Vitamins known to man) to do it rather than a synthetic vitamin. A one milliliter dose is generally sufficient supplementation, and there are 270 milliliters per bottle!

    As for nuts — these ARE healthy fats if eaten in moderation. Almost all nuts & seeds are high in Omega 6 fatty acids. If you stick to grass-fed meats, wild fatty fish, & decent cooking oils, the small amount of Omega 6 fatty acids found in nuts won’t pose a problem to the overall balance of Omega 6 to Omega 3 in your diet. However, if you aren’t perfectly primal, too many nuts can throw that ratio out of balance. Basically nuts are good seasonal foods, but shouldn’t be a mainstay of the diet.

    Also, another thing to consider when eating nuts is this: Nuts are essentially seeds, so like seeds, they’re full of anti-nutrients meant to protect the seed from being digested. (In this way, birds and animals help spread the plant’s seed around.) If you eat the nuts more than just occasionally, you can reduce their anti-nutrient impact by soaking them overnight, then drying them before eating them. The overnight soak (particularly in something mildly acidic like water mixed with lemon juice or vinegar) will break down the anti-nutrients and make the seed easier to digest.

    This comment was originally posted on Mark’s Daily Apple

  19. Deb says

    Don’t forget dandelion for liver support. You can take the tincture, drink a tea of the root or eat the leaves or root of the plant. And, yes, it’s the same weed that grows in your yard! If you dig some up, make sure it’s from a pesticide/herbicide free yard. The leaves a great in a salad or on pizza. A tip, though. If you’re having the leaves in a salad stay away from sharp, Italian-type dressings. Because the greens are a little bitter (the liver loves bitter, you know) they marry better with a mayo-based or even a slightly sweet dressing. YUM!

  20. says

    Hey Mike,
    Just got a quick question on the fruit elimination period? Is this really necessary? I thought since fruits were higher in fibre and generally have a high water content their fructose concentration was quite low. I thought they were generally a good food choice. Is this not the case?

    This comment was originally posted on Fitness Spotlight

  21. says

    @Graham – I used liquid only (no caps) and either Nordic Naturals or Carlsons (2 big brands). Now with a more balanced 3:6 ratio (less grains in my diet, less inflammation), I just stick to eating more fatty fish like sardines and herring.

    @Rodney – Everything has to be processed by the liver on some level, and overuse of COX-2 inhibitors (NSAIDS) have their own set of issues especially on the protective lining in the gut/stomach. As for headaches, you could try tracking certain foods and eliminating for 2-3 weeks all grains, sugars, dairy….then slowly reintroducing them back in. For me, I get migraines with 1 diet cola….and I never drink soda anyways.

    @ Rick – We all need a little scare now and then to get back to what we know we should be doing….including myself.

    @Tom – People with real liver issues could do well with 100% fruit elimination for a short period (heck I go weeks without wanting to eat fruit anyways sometimes). It’s not so much that small amounts of fructose from fruit on a “healthy liver” are an issue….it’s when the liver is already having issues and on fructose overload, that one should give it some time off to repair and get rid of fatty buildups. Veggies are still ok though, as there is plenty of fiber and water in those as well.

    This comment was originally posted on Fitness Spotlight

  22. says

    Excellent post. I just finished having a discussion with a patient at the specific chiropractic center about fat and metabolism. I am going to direct him to your post thanks.

    This comment was originally posted on Fitness Spotlight

  23. says

    @Susan – thanks for the link, good read. It’s amazing to think there is such a huge difference metabolically at the cellular level with an excess of omega 6s….but there is. Although I found this suggestion at the end to be a bit humorous “Look for potato chips that are fried in canola oil rather than cottonseed, soy, safflower, or sunflower oil.”….where I would of said to dump the chips altogether!

    This comment was originally posted on Fitness Spotlight

  24. says

    My nutritionist recommended I stay away from all fruits as well when I always thought they were key in a healthy diet… apparently not .. his diet pretty much consisted of what is mentioned above .. . Great read!

    This comment was originally posted on Fitness Spotlight

  25. says

    I don’t see the need for a fruit elimination diet unless you have a serious problem. For most of you, eating fruits should be a part of life. Nature is well balanced, don’t worry too much about the fructose in fruits.

    Other than that, good article. A proper liver-detox should also be considered for those with serious problems.

    This comment was originally posted on Fitness Spotlight

  26. says

    Wonderful post!
    From and herbal point of view, we can nourish the new liver cells with burdock, chickweed and dandelion- with every cell in the liver being replaced every six weeks – and the old cells and waste can more optimally removed.
    Be Well!

    This comment was originally posted on Fitness Spotlight

  27. Joel B. says

    Caffeine seems to always bring out the questions and controversy, and since no one else has commented, I’ll have a go! What constitutes “too much caffeine”? I know there is probably some variance from person to person, but is there a general rule of thumb? I guess what I am asking, is I drink either a double americano in the a.m. or about 1/2 pot (20 oz appx) of black coffee. Sometimes there will be a follow up serving after my first meal…sometimes not. Then I like some iced green tea with lunch and dinner. Too much for the liver…or general health? Taking care of toddler and a baby pretty much full time I need the dopamine haha!

    This comment was originally posted on Fitness Spotlight

  28. SBJL says

    What about sugar in infant fomulas? When normal sugar is added, it is 50% glucose + 50% fructose. Mothers milk is lactose and is 50% glucose +50% galactose which all normally metabolizes to glucose. Zero fructose here! A lot of new born babies are now fed fructose -from birth! Two downsides are fatty liver and visceral fats starting to build around the new organs…
    Since fructose metabolizes similar to ethanol, other side effects as uric acid (high blood pressure) and gout could show up early…
    When it comes to liver damage, is adding fructose to infant formula same as adding alcohol? How could we get here?
    See this Israeli study re soft drinks:
    and GOOGLE: video Robert Lustig -for much more about fructose!

    This comment was originally posted on Fitness Spotlight

  29. says

    Hi: this article is all well if YOU HAVE THE MONEY !!! what about people who can not afford to buy grass fed cows and I don’t even know where to buy milk that doesn’t have synthetic A and/or D in it? Can a person with liver disfunction drink raw milk?

    I would like to see more articles that persons who are not wealthy can observe. Of course some things were affordable like veggies, but even those at the “so called FARMER’S MARKETS”. Now thats a joke. I remember the REAL fruit and veggie stands. They were straight from the farmer and were basically very cheap.

    What a stinking world we live in.

  30. says

    Great article! Our liver is very fragile and once a problem sets in, its damaged already and its irreversible. Sad to know most of the toxic foods are what we consume daily. I think minimal consumption of these liver toxic foods is not that harmful, right?

  31. Mary@Mary'sLittleCorner says

    I really enjoyed and learned a lot from this article but you said that …”One bottle contains 270 single doses! ( of FCLO) How is that when there is only 240 ml in a bottle. I wished I could find it that cheap. [o=


  32. Stacy says

    This is a great article. It seems the more ‘healthy’ manufacturers make food, the sicker we become. I try to eat like they did in the old days. Real food. I see nothing wrong with lard. People gasp at the word and think of the fat. They look towards the low fat, ‘light’ versions of oils and fats. Unfortunately, they’re ingesting more chemicals. So much so that I think our livers can’t take it. I switched back real butter. It’s pasteurized cream and salt. Simple. Some of the so called ‘healthy’ butters and butter substitutes have multiple ingredients. Why ingest something that you can’t pronounce. I stay away from processed foods. I make my own soups, I don’t eat hot dogs or meats to that degree of grossness. And those frozen healthy dinners? You can make it better at home. You control the salt and other ingredients. Plus, the serving sizes are bigger.

  33. Sophia Ramos says

    What is the difference between fermented cod liver oil and cod liver oil that is not fermented?

  34. Mary Light via Facebook says

    The worst culprits, particularly since they are so common and widespread – to burden and cause the liver to underfunction are fried foods and trans-fats, and any processed fat- the world of commercial processed food is full of overcooked bad fats. So hydrogenated foods, peanut butter, margarine, french fries, other fried processed foods- are very hard on the liver and over time, tax it out of function. All “fast food” places scream ” I will ruin your liver”!

  35. pete says

    Avoid caffeine?
    Coffee actualy CLEANS the liver

    Take cod liver oil, lecithin and clean out that liver

    Milk thistle also a good liver cleaner

  36. says

    After reading this, I got worried. I am an avid coffee drinker since high school. In fact, I wouldn’t let a day pass without it in my day. During college, I even used to sip about three cups a day. It basically became a way of life for me. I hope I can still change that and somehow avoid any risks in my liver. I was never seriously sick, but then you know, prevention is always better than cure.
    Thank you for sharing this very informative post!

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