Hannah Phillips
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January 1, 2022

Using Food as Medicine to stimulate and support the function of the liver

With each new year comes a media push for detoxification programs designed to make us feel guilty following the festive period generally marked by overconsumption. We shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about the food we eat, and we definitely shouldn’t associate meals shared with friends and families in times of celebration, with guilt. 

With that said, it is important to support the body’s natural detoxification systems through diet and lifestyle to ensure that we do not overburden the body and to optimise our health. 

To get ahead of the detoxification game, try adopting some of these food as medicine approaches to support the elimination capacity of your liver and digestive system.

Gastrointestinal health

Your gut health, intestinal absorption and breakdown of food and microbial population of the gut can directly impact your liver health. If you experience regular reflux, bloating, flatulence, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, constipation or burping you may need professional nutritional support to reduce the burden on your liver and detoxification systems. 


Glutathione forms the protective enzyme glutathione reductase which operates as an antioxidant within the liver and is a substrate used in both phase 1 and phase 2 of the liver detoxification processes (Sharma & Singh, 2010, p. 147). Without adequate levels of glutathione, the liver may be burdened by the phase 1 detoxification production of free radicals that are normally neutralised by glutathione, furthermore, low glutathione levels impact the success of Phase 2 detoxification (Murray & Pizzorno, 2012, p. 117). 

Glutathione can be obtained from the diet through the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables, cooked fish and meats, or can be produced endogenously (by the body) (Murray & Pizzorno, 2012, p. 121). Foods high in vitamin C support the endogenous production of glutathione, as can the intake of N-acetylcysteine, methionine, glycine and whey protein (Murray & Pizzorno, 2012, p. 122). The consumption of cabbage, broccoli and brussels sprouts provides the body with indole-3-carbinol, a compound that stimulates both Phase 1 and 2 of the liver's detoxification process and the production of glutathione (Osiecki, n.d., p. 252).


Adequate dietary fibre (25-30 grams/day for men and women) is required for the liver’s detoxification processes to be effective. Bile produced by the liver requires fibre to transport the combination of fat-soluble toxins and bile with the faeces for elimination (Murray & Pizzorno, 2012, p. 116). 


Dietary protein obtained through animal products, nuts, seeds, legumes and beans is required to support phase 2 amino acid conjugation for effective liver elimination, with demand for the amino acid glycine being higher than the other amino acids (Murray & Pizzorno, 2012, p. 123). 

Prebiotics and Probiotics

Bacteria present within the intestine have an impact on the efficacy of the liver with detoxification, with pathogenic bacteria having the capacity to alter and deconjugate toxins from bile, reversing the detoxification process (Murray & Pizzorno, 2012, p. 116). 

Prebiotic and probiotic foods including leeks, onions, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes and fermented vegetables, kefir and kombucha can support the microbial composition to promote detoxification and elimination.


Phytochemicals are chemicals produced by plants that provide antioxidant support to the body and prevent the body from oxidative stress and cellular DNA damage. 

While a diet high in phytochemicals is recommended, in particular, oranges, tangerines, dill and caraway seeds provide the liver with limonene, a phytochemical associated with the induction of the enzymes associated with both Phase 1 and 2 detoxification (Murray & Pizzorno, 2012, p. 118).

Garlic contains allicin, an antioxidant that can also support the detoxification and elimination processes of the liver.


S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), a nutrient produced by the amino acid methionine and found in protein sources, supports the biochemical process within the body referred to as the methylation process. Methylation involves the addition of a methyl group to a toxin by conjugation (or joining) to support toxin elimination. Conditions of estrogen excess benefit from SAMe as it may support the elimination of estrogen through the methylation pathway. 

Dietary methionine supports the detoxification process of sulfation. Choline (found in meat, fish, dairy, eggs, tofu), vitamin B12 (found in animal products or through supplementation) and folic acid (found in green leafy vegetables) are also required for the methylation process to operate effectively. (Murray & Pizzorno, 2012, p. 123).

Sulfur-rich foods

Sulfur-containing foods such as eggs, whey protein, red peppers, garlic, onions, broccoli and Brussels sprouts can support the optimal function of the sulfation conjugation process (Murray & Pizzorno, 2012, p. 123). 

B vitamins

Acetylation, part of the phase II process of liver detoxification, requires adequate supplies of the B vitamins and vitamin C (Murray & Pizzorno, 2012, p. 124). 

Foods rich in B vitamins include dairy, eggs, animal meats, fish, dark green vegetables, citrus fruits, oysters, mussels, legumes, nutritional yeast, seeds and fortified cereals.


Renal excretion of water-soluble toxins from the liver supports the liver's detoxification process (Murray & Pizzorno, 2012, p. 117). It is therefore essential to ensure that you remain well hydrated. 

Recommendations for hydration aim for around 2-3L of water per day.


To support the health of the hepatocyte (liver cells) mitochondria. Magnesium allows for the production of adequate energy to support liver function (Murray & Pizzorno, 2012, p. 120). 

Excellent food sources of magnesium include whole (unprocessed) grains, dark leafy green vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and dairy.


Curcumin can regulate the liver detoxification process by inhibiting the phase 1 detoxification process and the subsequent production of free radicals while stimulating phase 2 detoxification to support the elimination of free radicals. 

Curcumin is considered beneficial for the prevention of cancer development as it promotes the elimination of toxins without creating an imbalance in metabolites associated with phase 1 detoxification (Murray & Pizzorno, 2012, p. 119). Curcumin is the phytochemical found in turmeric, giving it its trademark bright yellow colour.

Everything in moderation 

A diet high in saturated fats, refined sugars and alcohol puts excessive pressure on the liver and increases the risk of cholestasis - gallbladder dysfunction (Murray & Pizzorno, 2012, p. 127). 

Food can provide us with optimal health, energy, social connection and enjoyment, but when eaten to excess or out of balance, can also lead to imbalances and poor health. So at this time of the year, while we enjoy connecting with friends and family through food, it is important to support our health. 

Reestablishing healthy food habits such as eating to our appetite, portion control, a diet high in fruit and vegetables, moderate amounts of whole grains, nuts, seeds, fish, lean meats and healthy oils with good hydration and the occasional consumption of discretionary foods will set you up for good health. 

As always, if you feel as though you need support reestablishing the balance in your diet, make a booking with us before you embark on radical diets or supplement programs.


Murray, M. T., & Pizzorno, J. (2012). The encyclopedia of natural medicine third edition. Simon and Schuster.

Osiecki, H. (n.d.). The Nutrient Bible. Ninth edition. Bio Concepts Publishing.

Sharma, R., & Singh, R. B. (2010). Bioactive Foods and Nutraceutical Supplementation Criteria in Cardiovascular Protection. The Open Nutraceuticals Journal, 3(3), 141–153. https://doi.org/10.2174/1876396001003030141

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