Natural extracts for liver detoxification

Category: Integrative Nutrition

Natural extracts for liver detoxification

The liver is a vital organ in the human body due to the basic role it plays in metabolism. It is involved in many biochemical reactions, including hepatic detoxification, carbohydrate, lipid and protein metabolism and acts as a reservoir of fat-soluble vitamins (K, A, D, E), glycogen and trace elements such as iron and copper. On the other hand, it has immunomodulatory functions and is responsible for the formation and secretion of bile, a substance necessary to digest fats and support digestion. Among all the functions, hepatic detoxification is one of the most important and its purpose is to prevent hepatotoxicity that can be produced by various types of harmful agents. Depending on their origin we can distinguish two types of toxins: exogenous toxins or xenobiotics, which are found in water, food, air, etc., such as dioxins or heavy metals, and endogenous toxins such as uric acid, excess estrogens or by-products derived from inflammation, oxidative stress, etc. 1

The first step in liver detoxification is blood filtration. The liver captures toxins from the blood and retains them for further processing (through enzymatic destruction) and elimination (through biliary excretion). It is estimated that the liver filters about 1.5 litres of blood per minute, making it a very efficient filter.

Toxic substances must be converted into water-soluble products in order to be eliminated from the body. This biotransformation is carried out by certain enzymes which are classified into two main groups, depending on whether they participate in phase I or phase 2 enzymatic reactions.

Phase I consists of the transformation of toxic products into bioactive molecules that will be transformed again in phase II. The set of enzymes involved in phase I is known as Cytochrome P450. During this phase, oxidation, reduction and hydrolysis reactions take place, leading to the formation of free radicals. It is important to note that phase I does not neutralize the toxicant but rather makes it more active and dangerous so it must be rapidly metabolized in phase II where through different reactions (glucuronidation, acetylation, glucosidation, sulfation, methylation, etc.) it is converted into less toxic, more soluble products that are more easily eliminated in urine, faeces or sweat.2

For a correct hepatic detoxification, it is very important to make sure that phase I and phase II reactions work in synchrony and that none of them is blocked. When a person has for example phase I very active and phase II very slow oxidative stress is generated and carcinogenic compounds are produced giving rise to a very problematic situation that needs to be resolved. To help balance the speeds of phases I and II, a certain diet, rich in phase I inhibitors and phase II inducers, can be prescribed. In this article we will show which plant extracts and nutrients are recommended to support the elimination of toxins through enzymatic destruction.

The last phase of liver detoxification is biliary excretion. Once the toxins have been enzymatically processed, they are expelled through the bile, and from there they pass into the intestine or the gall bladder. This process can be optimized with choleretic (activating bile production) and cholagogue (stimulating the emptying of the gallbladder) substances.

Excess alcohol, chronic consumption of medications and obesity are among the most frequent causes of liver problems. A healthy lifestyle, taking care of our diet and promoting physical exercise will help us to reduce the level of toxins in our organism. However, there are many nutrients and plant extracts with hepatoprotective and depurative properties that we can provide through supplementation, being this alternative a complementary and natural way for the prevention of liver diseases.

Picrorhiza Kurroa

This plant of Indian origin helps maintain a healthy liver function, supporting digestion and purification of the body. It also supports the immune system by activating the body’s defences against external pathogens. Its active ingredients, including kutkin (a group of iridoid glycosides), are mainly found in the roots of this plant. It also contains cucurbitacins and apocynin, a potent anti-inflammatory that reduces platelet clumping.3 It is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine as a choleretic and cholagogue and has been noted for its potential efficacy in repairing drug-induced liver damage. In fact, in animal models, it has been shown to have a comparable efficacy to silymarin in reducing liver damage induced by paracetamol, galactosamine, thioacetamide and carbon tetrachloride.4

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion is a depurative plant that helps to improve the functions of the intestinal tract and stabilizes the pH of the stomach. It presents a diuretic and choleretic effect, stimulating the production of bile and urine so it largely prevents the occurrence of kidney stones and gallstones. Several studies show its hepatoprotective, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity.5 The bioactive compounds of this plant include sesquiterpene lactones (glycosides with anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic properties), phenylpropanoids (such as 4-caffeoylquinic acid and related compounds with anti-inflammatory properties), triterpenoid saponins and polysaccharides (such as inulin). In addition, dandelion is rich in vitamins A and C, iron, calcium and potassium.6 Inulin is a prebiotic derived from fructose that provides our microbiota with essential nutrients, especially soluble fibre, to promote good digestive health. In addition, it has excellent antioxidant properties, being able to reduce the oxidative stress that is generated when the bioactivated molecule is synthesized in phase I of enzymatic detoxification.

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum)

Its component, silymarin, has antifibrotic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and has been commonly used as a protective agent in severe liver diseases such as liver cirrhosis, acute viral hepatitis and toxin-induced liver diseases. On the one hand, silymarin acts by inhibiting phase I and activating phase II, specifically in the conjugation with glutathione. On the other hand, its high antioxidant power allows it to combat the action of free radicals and inhibit lipid peroxidation. In addition, it contributes to the protection of the liver and to its detoxifying potential by acting as a blocking agent in the binding of toxins to hepatocyte membrane receptors. At the same time, milk thistle exerts a modulating action on the immune system and could limit inflammatory processes related to viral infections. It also promotes digestion and purification of the body due to its choleretic and cholagogue properties.7

Artichoke (Cynara scolymus)

Artichoke aids detoxification and helps maintain the flow of digestive juices, keeping the liver healthy and contributing to intestinal well-being. Some trials suggest that it stimulates hepatocyte regeneration. Its leaves are rich in phenolic acids, such as cynarin and flavonoids, which have antioxidant and hepatoprotective properties. These active ingredients protect against lipid peroxidation by neutralizing free radicals and increasing the activity of the enzyme glutathione peroxidase.8 In addition, they promote the repair of damaged genetic material in hepatocytes and have a choleretic action, which promotes bile secretion and the elimination of toxins.9

Schisandra chinensis

This plant is known for its depurative action on the liver. Besides being rich in antioxidants (vitamin C and E) and phytosterols, the fruit of Schisandra chinensis contains very interesting secondary metabolites called lignans, the most important of which is schisandrin. Several studies show its potential as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antiapoptotic. Lignans provide hepatoprotection in case of chronic hepatitis, liver cirrhosis and toxicity caused by consumption. excessive alcohol, so it has been commonly used to regenerate damaged tissues and detoxify the body.10


Desmodium adscendens protects liver and kidney function due to its antioxidant, depurative, anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic properties. Its active compounds (alkaloids, flavonoids, saponins and anthocyanins) are mainly found in the leaves and stems of this plant. It is known for its high detoxifying power, supports liver function and protects the liver from injury caused by chronic drug use, repairing liver cells and promoting normal transaminase levels. 11

Cordiceps sinensis

This is a Tibetan mushroom with hepatoprotective properties and its contribution to liver function has been known for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine. Studies with Cordyceps demonstrate its benefits in the treatment of liver fibrosis as well as a preventive agent for hypertension caused in the portal vein communicating with the liver, which is a common complication of cirrhosis.12 It has anti-fibrotic properties and protects cells from liver damage. It has been shown to slow tissue fibrosis, decreasing inflammation and thus delaying the development of possible cirrhosis. In addition, given its properties, it seems that it could be used as a co-adjuvant in the treatment of hepatitis B.


Choline is an essential nutrient of high requirement for enzymes involved in phase I of enzymatic detoxification. It acts as a methyl group donor and protects against protein denaturation in patients with homocystinuria. On the other hand, it seems that choline deficient diets favour the risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This is a common liver disorder, especially in people suffering from obesity.13


Molybdenum also participates as an enzyme cofactor of the cytochrome P450 system. These enzymes catalyse phase I reactions and it appears that molybdenum supplementation accelerates detoxification processes related to the metabolism of alcohol, drugs and some toxins.14


Selenium acts as a precursor of glutathione and plays an important role in the control of oxidative stress due to its high antioxidant power. It activates phase II of enzymatic destruction as it acts as a cofactor in the conjugation reaction with glutathione. Selenium is integrated in proteins normally bound to the amino acid cysteine. There are several selenoproteins (enzymes) that participate in redox reactions (oxidation-reduction) with glutathione peroxidase-4 (GPx-4) being one of the most relevant as it participates in the reduction of oxidized glutathione resulting from the detoxification of hydroperoxides present in membrane phospholipids.15 Recent studies are investigating its therapeutic potential in cases of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. In summary, all the ingredients mentioned above stimulate liver detoxification in one way or another, reduce oxidative stress and liver inflammation, and improve liver metabolism. Consuming them can be a preventive measure that benefits our whole organism.

Bibliographic references:

  • 1. Guan YS, He Q. Plants Consumption and Liver Health. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:824185.
  • 2. Grant DM. Detoxification pathways in the liver. J Inherit Metab Dis. 1991;14(4):421-30.
  • 3. Verma PC, Basu V, Gupta V, Saxena G, Rahman LU. Pharmacology and chemistry of a potent hepatoprotective compound Picroliv isolated from the roots and rhizomes of Picrorhiza kurroa royle ex benth. (kutki). Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2009 Sep;10(6):641-9.
  • 4. Aidya AB, Antarkar DS, Doshi JC, Bhatt AD, Ramesh V, Vora PV, Perissond D, Baxi AJ, Kale PM. Picrorhiza kurroa (Kutaki) Royle ex Benth as a hepatoprotective agent–experimental & clinical studies. J Postgrad Med. 1996 Oct-Dec;42(4):105-8.
  • 5. Devaraj, Ezhilarasan. Hepatoprotective properties of Dandelion: Recent update. Journal of Applied Pharmaceutical Science. 2016. 6. 202-205.
  • 6. Schütz K, Carle R, Schieber A. Taraxacum–a review on its phytochemical and pharmacological profile. J Ethnopharmacol. 2006 Oct 11;107(3):313-23.
  • 7. Abenavoli L, Capasso R, Milic N, Capasso F. Milk thistle in liver diseases: past, present, future. Phytother Res. 2010 Oct;24(10):1423-32.
  • 8. Colak, Emine et al. “The hepatocurative effects of Cynara scolymus L. leaf extract on carbon tetrachloride-induced oxidative stress and hepatic injury in rats.” SpringerPlus vol. 5 216. 29 Feb. 2016.
  • 9. Ben Salem M, Affes H, Ksouda K, Dhouibi R, Sahnoun Z, Hammami S, Zeghal KM. Pharmacological Studies of Artichoke Leaf Extract and Their Health Benefits. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2015 Dec;70(4):441-53.
  • 10. Yuan R, Tao X, Liang S, Pan Y, He L, Sun J, Wenbo J, Li X, Chen J, Wang C. Protective effect of acidic polysaccharide from Schisandra chinensis on acute ethanol-induced liver injury through reducing CYP2E1-dependent oxidative stress. Biomed Pharmacother. 2018 Mar;99:537-542.
  • 11. Safety of Desmodium adscendens extract on hepatocytes and renal cells. Protective effect against oxidative stress. C. François, M. Fares, C. Baiocchi, Jean Michel Maixent. Journal of Complementary Medicine Research. 2015; 4(1): 1-5.
  • 12. Liu YK, Shen W. Inhibitive effect of cordyceps sinensis on experimental hepatic fibrosis and its possible mechanism. World J Gastroenterol. 2003 Mar;9(3):529-33.
  • 14. Arely Pérez-González, Juan Iván Gómez-Peralta, Ariadna Garza-Ortiz, Noráh Barba-Behrens, Importancia del molibdeno en los sistemas biológicos y su papel en enzimas mononucleares como parte del cofactor Moco, Educación Química, Volume 23, Issue 1, 2012, Pages 24-33.
  • 15. Diamond AM. The subcellular location of selenoproteins and the impact on their function. Nutrients. 2015 May 22;7(5):3938-48

Share this post