Thrive with the Dry July Challenge – Join Now! 🎉🙌
Click Here
Alcohol and Health

The Best Foods To Cleanse Your Liver: The Science of Healing With Nutrition

June 29, 2023
19 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
June 29, 2023
19 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
June 29, 2023
19 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
June 29, 2023
19 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Reframe Content Team
June 29, 2023
19 min read

Let's be honest, we've all had those wild nights where our liver took one for the team. Or maybe we’re just looking to re-evaluate our relationship with alcohol and give our liver a much-needed break.

Whether we’re cutting back on alcohol or just trying to treat our body better, our diet can play a key role in detoxing our liver. So, let's dive into how we can show it some love with food. And spoiler alert — it's not all about kale! Who knows? You might find that liver cleanse is just as satisfying as a glass of merlot!

Love Your Liver

First, let's start with a quick tribute to the liver. This little powerhouse is busy 24/7, filtering our blood, breaking down harmful substances, and keeping our bodies in balance.

The liver is the largest internal organ (with the skin being the largest overall). Roughly the size of a football, it weighs around three pounds. Unlike other organs, the liver receives blood from two sources: the oxygen-rich arterial system and the nutrient-rich venous system.

The liver is a true multi-tasking champion, performing over 500 different functions! Here are the main ones:

  • Detoxification. As one of the primary filters of the body, the liver processes and eliminates various toxins, including alcohol, medications, and metabolic waste products.
  • Metabolism. The liver is involved in metabolizing carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, ensuring the body receives the energy it requires.
  • Production of essential proteins. The liver synthesizes many vital proteins, including those necessary for blood clotting.
  • Storage. It stores essential vitamins and minerals like vitamin A, D, K, and B12, and releases them when the body needs them.
  • Bile production. Bile, produced by the liver, is essential for digesting and absorbing fats in the small intestine.
  • Immunity boost. The liver plays a role in the body's immune system by producing immune factors and removing harmful bacteria from the bloodstream.

Liver Superpowers

Historical records from ancient civilizations — for example, ancient Egyptian societies — show that our earliest ancestors understood the liver's detoxifying properties. They believed that the liver had a connection to the soul and was the seat of emotions. (Side note: it took a bit longer to realize that the brain was more than cushion stuffing for the head — it was routinely thrown out when bodies of pharaohs were preserved for mummification).

The liver also has a remarkable ability to regenerate. As little as a quarter of the liver can grow back to its full size! This makes “live donor liver transplants” feasible: if a portion of the liver is donated, both donor and recipient's livers can be fully functional soon after.

Alcohol and the Liver

When we drink, alcohol enters our bloodstream and makes its way to the liver. Enzymes in the liver break down the alcohol so it can be eliminated from the body.

However, the liver can only process a certain amount of alcohol at a time — typically one standard drink per hour. In the meantime, any excess alcohol remains in the bloodstream until the liver can get to it.

Alcohol, especially in excessive amounts, can have severe consequences, and understanding its effects on the liver is crucial for anyone trying to stay healthy. Here’s what can happen:

  • Fatty liver disease (alcoholic steatosis). This is an early response to excessive alcohol intake. Fat builds up in the liver cells, making it harder for the liver to function. While it can be reversed with reduced alcohol intake, continued drinking can make it more severe with time.
  • Alcoholic hepatitis. This condition is the result of inflammation and damage to the liver caused by excessive drinking over time. Symptoms can include fever, jaundice, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Severe alcoholic hepatitis is no joke and can be life-threatening.
  • Cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is the scarring of the liver tissue from long-term damage and may result from many years of heavy drinking. The liver tissue is replaced with scar tissue, preventing the liver from functioning correctly. Cirrhosis is serious, irreversible, and can lead to liver failure.
  • Risk of liver cancer. Chronic alcohol abuse significantly raises the risk of developing liver cancer, especially in those with another liver disease.

Binge drinking (consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short period) and long-term heavy drinking both pose significant risks. Likewise, consuming alcohol with certain medications can intensify the adverse effects on the liver, as do health conditions such as hepatitis B or C.

That said, some people are more susceptible to the harmful effects of alcohol than others, due to genetics, diet, and other factors. Moreover, the liver's remarkable ability to regenerate means that if an individual with early-stage alcohol-related liver disease stops drinking, the liver can often heal itself over time! However, the key is early detection, followed by prompt action.

A Foodie's Guide to a Happy Liver

Now, let’s talk about what foods can help to detoxify the liver. Yes, we'll be talking about the leafy greens, but there's more to the liver-friendly menu than you might think!

1: Green Tea and Coffee

You've probably heard this one before. Green tea is a great source of catechins, a type of antioxidant that studies have suggested can improve liver health.

As for coffee, it turns out that your morning cup of joe is liver-friendly, as well! Studies have shown that coffee can slow down scar tissue growth in the liver.

2: Leafy Green Vegetables

Before you run away, hear us out. We're not saying you need to replace every meal with a salad. But spinach, kale, and other leafy green veggies are loaded with compounds that your liver loves.

These vegetables are rich in chlorophyll, which aids in neutralizing heavy metals, chemicals, and pesticides from our foods while acting as a purifying agent for our blood. By doing so, they reduce the load on the liver and facilitate its detoxifying process.

Additionally, certain leafy greens such as spinach are known to contain glutathione — a potent antioxidant that the liver uses to filter harmful substances. This natural detoxifier helps the liver flush out carcinogens and toxins, improving its overall functionality.

3: Citrus Fruits

Pucker up! Lemons, oranges, and grapefruits aren't just a delicious burst of sunshine on a dreary day. They're also full of antioxidants that can help protect your liver. Plus, they're an excellent source of vitamin C, which helps your body to produce glutathione, a compound that aids in liver detoxification. Even better, they have been shown to prevent fatty liver disease!

4: Turmeric

Spice up your life — and detox your liver — with this golden wonder. Turmeric has a compound called curcumin which is known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This means it can help your liver cells resist damage and has been shown to reduce elevated liver enzymes. Turmeric is a great way to add a splash of color and a burst of flavor to your meals. Go on, get creative!

5: Berries

Bursting with flavor and full of antioxidants, berries are a liver's best friend. Blueberries and cranberries in particular have been shown to keep the liver healthy and protect it from damage.

6: Nuts

Another powerhouse for liver health, nuts are packed with healthy fats and antioxidants that protect the liver. Think of them as a shield, defending your liver against any harmful invaders. Plus, they make a great snack or salad topping.

7: Fatty Fish

Even though the term "fatty fish" might not sound liver-friendly, it's a bit of a misnomer! The real magic of fatty fish lies in their rich content of omega-3 fatty acids, specifically EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These long-chain fatty acids are integral to various bodily functions, from brain health to inflammation control.

For the liver, omega-3s offer a protective shield. Chronic inflammation is often a precursor to liver damage, and these fatty acids play a pivotal role in reducing it. Moreover, omega-3-rich fish can also prevent the build-up of excess fats in the liver, a condition known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) while staving off potential complications, such as liver cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Some champions of the sea deserve special mention:

  • Salmon. Often considered the poster child for omega-3s, salmon, whether wild-caught or farmed, is a delicious and versatile option.
  • Mackerel. A smaller fish that packs a punch when it comes to flavor and omega-3 content.
  • Sardines. In addition to being rich in omega-3s, these tiny fish are also a great source of vitamin D.
  • Herring. Often enjoyed smoked or pickled, herring offers a unique taste profile accompanied by a hearty dose of omega-3s.
  • Anchovies. While they might be known as pizza toppers, anchovies in their fresh form or as oil provide significant omega-3 benefits.

8: Olive Oil

It's smooth, it's versatile, and it's a fantastic ally for your liver. Olive oil provides a healthier form of fat that can help to reduce liver enzyme levels and control weight.

9: Milk Thistle

Why is this plant on our radar? Its active ingredient, silymarin, is where the magic lies. It's a group of compounds known to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-viral properties. Research has shown that silymarin may help to repair liver cells damaged by alcohol or other toxic substances by promoting cell regeneration.

10: Beets

We’ve saved one of the best liver-friendly veggies for last — yes, this is the one that gives you those red-stained hands and makes your salad look like a piece of art. Beets are chock-full of nutrients, including betaine, fiber, iron, betalains, and a range of beneficial plant compounds. Betaine, in particular, is the star player here. It helps protect the liver from toxins and reduces inflammation, making it a powerful ally for liver health. Moreover, the high fiber content in beets helps to increase the production of detoxifying enzymes in the liver.

Tweaking Your Diet

Quitting or cutting back on alcohol doesn't mean you're sentenced to a life of bland food and boring drinks. Quite the opposite! Tweaking your diet for the sake of your liver doesn't mean you have to bid farewell to your favorite foods (well, maybe some of them!). Start slowly, add a few liver-friendly items to your grocery list each week, and before you know it, you'll be a pro at nourishing your body and your liver.

Here are some ideas of how to incorporate liver-friendly foods into your diet:

  • Swap your coffee for green tea at least once a day.
  • Incorporate berries into your breakfast or snacks. Blueberries on your oatmeal or a handful of cranberries in your salad can do the trick.
  • Include leafy green vegetables in at least one meal each day.
  • Incorporate citrus fruits into your diet. Enjoy them as snacks or squeeze them into your water.
  • Experiment with turmeric in your cooking. It can be added to soups, stews, or sprinkled over roasted veggies.
  • Add a handful of nuts to your daily diet. They're perfect as a snack or as a crunchy salad topping.
  • Aim to include fatty fish in your meals a couple of times a week. Remember, grilling or baking is healthier than frying.
  • Swap out other cooking oils for olive oil when you can.

As you embark on your liver detox journey, remember that variety is the spice of life. Different foods offer different benefits, and the key is to include a mix of liver-friendly foods in your diet.

With the right foods, you can support your liver and start to feel better overall. Plus, you'll discover new flavors and maybe even ignite a passion for healthy cooking. So, go ahead and show your liver some love. It's worked hard for you, now it's time to return the favor.

Make It Fun!

As you venture into the realm of liver repair, it's essential to shift the perspective from seeing it as a daunting medical endeavor to thinking of it as an enlightening voyage of self-discovery. It's not just about making dietary adjustments or saying no to certain indulgences — it's an opportunity to embrace new experiences, cuisines, and social activities that both enrich the palate and boost overall wellness. Every meal becomes an adventure!

By embracing a liver-friendly diet as an opportunity rather than a challenge, we're not just healing an organ — we're rejuvenating our soul, enriching our lives, and paving the way for a future full of health, joy, and endless discovery.

Summary FAQs

1. What is the primary role of the liver in our body?

The liver plays a critical role in detoxifying our blood, metabolizing nutrients, producing essential proteins, storing vitamins and minerals, producing bile, and supporting the immune system.

2. How does the liver process and react to alcohol consumption?

The liver breaks down alcohol using enzymes, eliminating it from the body. However, excessive alcohol can lead to liver conditions like fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and an increased risk of liver cancer.

3. Which foods are beneficial for liver detoxification and health?

Foods such as green tea, coffee, leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, turmeric, berries, nuts, fatty fish, olive oil, milk thistle, and beets have properties that support and promote liver health.

4. Why are green tea and coffee considered liver-friendly?

Green tea is rich in catechins, which can improve liver health, while coffee can slow down scar tissue growth in the liver.

5. How does turmeric benefit the liver?

Turmeric contains curcumin, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It helps liver cells resist damage and reduces elevated liver enzymes.

6. What is the significance of milk thistle for the liver?

Milk thistle contains silymarin, an active ingredient known for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-viral properties. It may help repair liver cells damaged by toxins by promoting cell regeneration.

7. How can one incorporate liver-friendly foods into their daily diet?

Suggestions include swapping coffee for green tea, adding berries to breakfasts, including leafy greens in meals, consuming citrus fruits regularly, experimenting with turmeric in dishes, and opting for olive oil in cooking.

Make Your Liver Happy With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol.

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app today!

Call to action to download reframe app for ios usersCall to action to download reframe app for android users
Reframe has helped over 2 millions people to build healthier drinking habits globally
Take The Quiz
Our Editorial Standards
At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
Learn more
Updated Regularly
Our articles undergo frequent updates to present the newest scientific research and changes in expert consensus in an easily understandable and implementable manner.
Table of Contents
Call to action for signing up reframe app
Relevant Articles
No items found.
Ready to meet the BEST version of yourself?
Start Your Custom Plan
Call to action to download reframe app for ios usersCall to action to download reframe app for android users
5 Star Reviews
Downloads (as of 2023)
a bottle and a glass
Drinks Eliminated

Scan the QR code to get started!

Reframe supports you in reducing alcohol consumption and enhancing your well-being.

Ready To Meet the Best Version of Yourself?
3,250,000+ Downloads (as of 2023)
31,364 Reviews
500,000,000+ Drinks eliminated
Try Reframe for 7 Days Free! Scan to download the App