Liver Disease Causes, Symptoms, Types and Treatments - Dr. Axe

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Natural Ways to Help Treat & Prevent Liver Disease


Liver disease - Dr. Axe

If the fat in your liver makes up 5 percent to 10 percent of the organ’s weight, then you are diagnosed with fatty liver disease, which is when the handling of liver cells is disturbed.

Did you know that your liver is actually your largest internal organ (it’s roughly the size of a football!) and responsible for crucial functions like digesting your food, storing energy and removing toxins from your body? Many ancient populations, including the Chinese, considered the liver to be the most important organ — hence the word “live” in its name.

One of the hardest-working organs in the body, the liver works tirelessly to detoxify our blood, produce the bile needed to digest fat, break down hormones, and store essential vitamins and minerals, like iron. If you haven’t been eating a vegetable-based diet, regularly getting exercise, and making sure to limit your alcohol and toxin exposure — like most people — you might be in need of a liver cleanse.

It’s the liver’s responsibility to process nutrients absorbed by the intestines so they’re more efficiently absorbed. The liver also regulates blood composition to balance protein, fat and sugar. Finally, it removes toxins from the blood and breaks down both alcohol and medications.

Today, we’re faced with poor air quality and constant exposure to environmental toxins, which is why it’s essential for our general health and well-being to keep our livers functioning properly. It’s also why you want to do everything you can to prevent liver disease and notice the signs and symptoms of liver issues as early as possible.



The symptoms of liver disease vary, depending on the type of disease and underlying cause. Sometimes, symptoms are so mild or undetectable that it may take months or years before a person notices.

Some of the most common symptoms of improper liver function include:

  • feeling tired
  • fatigue
  • jaundice/yellowish skin
  • weight loss
  • loss of appetite
  • weakness
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • confusion
  • trouble concentrating
  • pain in the center or right upper part of belly
  • enlarged liver or stomach
  • bloating and gas
  • dark urine
  • bruising easily
  • excessive sweat
  • constipation
  • pale or dark tar-colored stool
  • dry and dark patches on neck and under arms
  • swelling in the legs and ankles

In the case of fatty liver disease, it can lead to cirrhosis, which can be dangerous and life-threatening. Over time, healthy liver tissue is replaced with scar tissue, which prevents the liver from functioning properly. The scar tissue blocks the flow of blood through the liver and slows the processing of nutrients, hormones, drugs and naturally produced toxins, as well as the production of proteins and other substances made by the liver.

Symptoms of cirrhosis include:

  • the buildup of fluid in the body
  • muscle weakness
  • internal bleeding
  • yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • liver failure

Risk Factors

There are several potential causes of abnormal liver function, including:

  • Medications
  • Viral hepatitis
  • Autoimmune or inherited liver disease
  • Fast weight loss
  • Malnutrition

There are a number of risk factors that increase your chances of having liver disease, such as:

  • Obesity
  • Gastric bypass surgery
  • High cholesterol
  • High levels of triglycerides in the blood
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Sleep apnea
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
  • Underactive pituitary gland (hypopituitarism)

How to Prevent Liver Disease

Most people associate liver disease with alcoholism, but essentially anything that can’t be broken down and used for energy immediately ends up in the liver for detoxification. This means that your liver needs all the help it can get.

When you overindulge in alcohol, chemicals, drugs, fried foods, processed foods or refined foods (white flour, conventional dairy, white sugar and low-quality animal products, for example), your liver gets heavily taxed.

Here’s a breakdown of what steps you can take to help prevent liver disease:

1. Avoid Alcohol

Drinking high amounts of alcohol is one of the fastest ways to damage or destroy liver cells — and alcohol combined with prescription or over-the-counter medications, cigarettes, or a poor diet is even more harmful.

If you have fatty liver disease and you are a heavy drinker, quitting is the most important thing to do first. A review conducted at the Bronx Veterans Affairs Medical Center in New York found that fatty liver disease is common among alcoholics not only due to malnutrition, but also because of toxicity and inflammation.

Even if you have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), it’s best to eliminate alcohol from your diet.

2. Reduce Consumption of High-Carbohydrate Foods

Foods such as bread, rice, grits and corn should be avoided if you’re at risk for liver disease. All white bread and carbs should be eliminated or reduced from your diet as well, and some whole grain products aren’t great either.

When we consume too many refined carbohydrates, insulin levels spike, and insulin sensitivity is a major factor in the cause of liver disease. Read the label on whole grain packages, and avoid buying anything that is labeled “enriched.”

If you want to have some bread here and there, buy fresh bread that is made in the bakery or a health food store — you can also try breads from gluten-free flours or these sandwich substitutes. If you are going for rice, choose brown rice.


3. Cut Out Sugary Drinks

Sports drinks, soda, energy drinks and juice are full of sugar and artificial sweeteners. This sugar that enters your body impacts the liver big time.

According to a study conducted at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, sugars, particularly fructose, are suspected to contribute to the development of NAFLD and its progression. There have been substantial links between increased fructose consumption and obesity, dyslipidemia and insulin resistance.

4. Skip Processed Foods

Hydrogenated oils, refined sugar, convenience foods and lunch meats are notoriously toxic to your system. Nitrates and nitrites, for example, are commonly found in processed foods and lunch meat, and they have been linked to serious conditions, including cancer.

The high fructose corn syrup found in our processed foods is one of the biggest causes of liver issues. You must stay away from these products in order to combat liver disease.

5. Exercise Daily

Exercising regularly and reducing toxin exposure by limiting the amount of alcohol, medications, pesticides, herbicides and hormone-disruptors you consume also helps the liver work well.

6. Eat Organic Foods

By now you know that your liver pays the price for a diet that’s high in chemicals, pesticides and other toxins. For this reason, choosing to buy as many organic foods as you can is important for preventing liver problems and, potentially, liver disease.

Just by focusing on buying organic varieties of the toxin-heavy “dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables, you can dramatically lower your intake of toxins.

A healthy diet that provides the vitamins and nutrients that your body needs to function is very important. The No. 1 treatment for liver disease is a combination of weight loss and a healthy diet.

It’s essential that you eat a well-balanced diet that is predominately plant-based. Plus, you should exercise regularly — shoot for doing physical activity for at least 30 minutes a day, even if it’s taking a walk.

7. Add in Raw Vegetables

A review published in the European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry states that natural products that are found in vegetables, as well as fruits, plant extracts and herbs, have been traditionally used for treating liver diseases.

An easy way to do this is by juicing vegetables. With impaired liver function, juicing vegetables has the added benefit of making the vegetables easier to digest and more readily available for absorption.

Vegetables ideal for a liver detox include kale, cabbage, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, beets and celery. You can try something like beetroot juice to start.

As often as you can, include these liver-loving veggies in your meals and juices:

  • broccoli
  • cauliflower
  • leafy greens, like kale, spinach, dandelion, watercress
  • Brussels sprouts or cabbage
  • celery
  • asparagus
  • beets
  • carrot
  • cucumber
  • herbs, including parsley, mint, cilantro, basil

8. Try Ginger Root

High-fiber foods help support a healthy digestive tract, hastening the elimination of toxins in the body. For example, ginger root benefits the digestive system.

Make ginger tea by boiling ginger slices in green tea or water. You can also add ginger to a stir-fry, salad or smoothie.

9. Eat Sweet Potatoes

Because of their potassium content, sweet potatoes help cleanse the liver. One sweet potato contains nearly 700 milligrams of potassium! It’s also rich with vitamins B6, C, D, magnesium and iron.

Sweet potatoes are easy to eat because they’re naturally sweet. The sugars are slowly released into the bloodstream through the liver, so it won’t cause a spike in blood sugar. There are a ton of healthy sweet potato recipes you can try at home today.

10. Try Bananas

Containing 470 milligrams of potassium, banana nutrition is also great for cleansing the liver and overcoming low potassium levels. Plus, bananas assist in digestion and help release toxins and heavy metals from the body.

11. Drink Dandelion Root Tea

The vitamins and nutrients present in dandelions help cleanse our livers and keep them working properly. Dandelions also aid the digestive system by maintaining the proper flow of bile.

They’re natural diuretics and allow the liver to eliminate toxins quickly. Dandelion tea and stems are also high in vitamin C, which helps with mineral absorption, reduces inflammation and prevents the development of disease.

12. Get a Milk Thistle Supplement

As a liver support and aid, milk thistle is a powerful detoxifier. It helps rebuild liver cells while removing toxins from the body that are processed through the liver.

A study published in Digestive Diseases and Sciences found that milk thistle has the power to help improve mortality in patients with liver failure. It’s able to naturally reverse the harmful effects of alcohol consumption, pesticides in our food supply, heavy metals in our water supply, pollution in the air that we breathe and even poisons.

A 2010 study suggests that milk thistle benefits help treat alcoholic liver disease, acute and chronic viral hepatitis, and toxin-induced liver diseases.

13. Eat Liver

Liver from young, healthy, grass-fed cattle and chicken liver pate are full of nutrients and vitamins. This organ meat is rich with vitamins A and B, folic acid, choline, iron, copper, zinc, chromium, and CoQ10. In fact, it’s one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat.

If you’d rather not eat animal liver, take liver supplements that guarantee no hormones, pesticides or antibiotics were used in the feeding and care of the cattle.


Liver disease is a serious problem that affects millions of people in the United States each year. The American Liver Foundation reports that more than 100 million Americans have some form of liver disease, and it’s among the leading causes of death in the U.S.

Commonly, improper liver function isn’t noticed until a checkup with your primary doctor. There are medical tests and devices that can be used to detect live function.

A doctor may notice that a patient’s liver is larger than usual or detect an issue with a blood test. A high number of certain enzymes will suggest that you have fatty liver disease, for example.

An ultrasound can be used to get a closer look at your liver, and a biopsy is able to diagnose several types of liver disease. A doctor takes out a tiny piece of liver with a needle and tests it for inflammation, signs of fat or damaged liver cells.

There are more than 100 types of different kinds of liver diseases, including:

Fatty Liver Syndrome

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is considered the most common liver disorder in the Western world. It occurs when fat builds up in the liver.

NAFLD is most likely to happen in people who are overweight and middle-aged, but recently, due to an increase in childhood obesity, there are more and more cases of children with NAFLD as a result of the standard American diet.

People with NAFLD often have high cholesterol and diabetes as well. Typically, this condition is linked to malnutrition, medications, inherited liver disease, fast weight loss and too much bacteria in the small intestine.

There are three types of NAFLD:

  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver. Causes excess liver fat, but may have no complications.
  • Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. When fat causes inflammation in the liver and impairs the liver’s ability to function.
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease-associated cirrhosis. When liver inflammation leads to the scarring of the liver tissue, making the liver heavier than any other solid organ in the body. This scarring can become so severe that the liver no longer functions, leading to liver failure.

Alcoholic liver disease is the result of drinking alcohol excessively. This condition is in direct correlation to the amount of alcohol you drink. Your blood is not able to break down the alcohol properly, and it affects your liver.

This can also be a hereditary condition because genes that are passed down from your parents may increase your chances of becoming an alcoholic.

Acute fatty liver of pregnancy is a serious condition where fat builds in the liver. It can be dangerous to the baby and mother, especially if it leads to liver or kidney failure.

This condition can also be caused by a serious infection or excessive bleeding. When a mother is diagnosed with fatty liver disease during pregnancy, the baby is typically delivered right away, and within a few weeks the mother’s liver will return to normal. (Sometime this requires time in intensive care.)


Jaundice occurs when there’s an accumulation of bilirubin in the skin and mucous membranes, causing the skin and whites of the eyes to become yellow, darker urine color and lighter stool.

The buildup of bilirubin occurs when the liver cannot metabolize the blood cells as they break down or excrete bilirubin from the body. In adults, jaundice usually develops as a symptom of another health conditions, such as hepatitis, liver cancer and autoimmune disease.


Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver that’s caused by a virus. There are several types of hepatitis, including:

  • Hepatitis A. An acute infection that doesn’t cause chronic liver disease, often spread through food or water.
  • Hepatitis B. Also known as HBV, this is spread through bodily fluids and can be life-threatening when it becomes chronic and causes wide spectrum liver disease.
  • Hepatitis C. Spread through infected blood, commonly through drug use, sexual activity and childbirth. Hepatitis C can lead to permanent liver damage, causing cirrhosis, liver failure, liver cancer and even death.
  • Hepatitis D. Occurs in people with hepatitis B. Considered a serious infection when long-term and chronic.
  • Hepatitis E. Caused by contaminated drinking water by a virus that’s shed in stools.

Genetic Disorders

There are some genetic disorders that are inherited that can impact liver function. Some examples include Wilson’s disease, which affects the bile ducts; alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, which occurs when the liver doesn’t make enough of a protein that prevents enzyme breakdowns; and hemochromatosis, when iron levels build up in the body to dangerous levels, damaging the liver and other organs.

Autoimmune Disease

Some autoimmune diseases impact liver cells and can affect liver function, including:

  • Primary Biliary Cirrhosis. A chronic autoimmune condition in which the bile ducts in the liver are destroyed, usually slowly.
  • Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis. When the bile ducts in the liver become inflamed and scarred, causing bile to build up and cause chronic, serious liver damage.
  • Autoimmune Hepatitis. When your body attacks the liver cells as an immune response, causing inflammation and liver damage.

Liver Cancer

There are several types of cancer that can form in the liver, with the most common type being hepatocellular carcinoma.

Other types of liver cancer include intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma and hepatoblastoma, which are far less common.

Liver disease guide - Dr. Axe

Natural Liver Disease Treatment

1. Vitamin E

Research done at the University of Florida suggests that lifestyle changes, along with vitamin E supplements, are helpful for people with liver damage caused by nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Vitamin E benefits include its role as a powerful antioxidant that reduces inflammation. It also increases immunity and helps the body fight serious conditions.

2. Turmeric

By adding turmeric to your diet or taking a supplement every day, you can reduce inflammation in the body and treat digestive conditions.

3. Black Seed Oil

This amazing oil can greatly speed the healing process for people with fatty liver disease. A study published in the European Review for Medical and Pharmaceutical Sciences measured black seed oil’s ability to inhibit liver oxidative stress markers. The results of the study indicated that black seed oil benefits liver disease patients because it’s able to reduce the complications and progression of fatty liver disease.

4. Only Take Medications When Necessary

The liver is responsible for sorting through chemicals in your bloodstream, including those you intentionally ingest from prescription medicines. Many medications are over-prescribed today or taken incorrectly and mixed with the wrong things.

If you do take medications regularly, learn about how they can affect your liver, carefully follow dosing instructions, and talk to your doctor to find out if there are any natural remedies that you could turn to instead.

5. Limit Your Toxin Exposure

We all come into contact daily with various forms of toxins through the air we breath, foods we eat and products we use. Do your best to avoid breathing in or touching toxins, especially by limiting the amount of chemical household, cleaning and beauty products you use.

Chemicals found in aerosol products, insecticides, synthetic beauty products and additives in cigarettes all injure liver cells. Use natural cleaning and household products whenever possible.

6. Liver Cleanse Recipes

Vegetable juices and detox recipes are great ways to cleanse the liver and reduce inflammation. A heavy metal detox is a great way to start.

The 23 environmental metals that are considered “heavy metals” can lead to liver damage, among other dangerous conditions. By ridding the body of these toxic metals, you allow your organs to heal and function properly.

If you’re looking to add turmeric into your diet to reduce swelling and treat the digestive system, try this turmeric tea recipe; it’s creamy, sweet and highly anti-inflammatory.

Try this liver detox juice recipe to give your liver a healthy boost. It will help cleanse the liver of toxins and help with digestion, immunity, metabolism and the storage of nutrients.


  • The liver is one of the largest internal organs in the body, and it’s responsible for crucial functions, like digesting your food, storing energy and removing toxins.
  • The symptoms of liver disease vary depending on the type of disease and underlying cause. Some signs include fatigue, yellowing skin, dark stools, nausea, vomiting, gassiness and bloating.
  • There are more than 100 types of liver diseases, including fatty liver disease, jaundice, hepatitis and liver cancer.
  • When it comes to preventing or treating liver disease naturally, diet, exercise and lifestyle make a major difference. Some of the top supplements to use include vitamin E, turmeric and black seed oil.

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