10 Telltale Signs That Your Liver Is Toxic + Top 10 Foods To Detox Your Liver

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10 Warning Signs That Your Liver Is Toxic
10 Warning Signs That Your Liver Is Toxic Graphic © healthpowerboost.com.
Eye Image: Pixabay (PD)

The liver is one of the largest organs in the body (second only to the skin!) and is responsible for numerous life-sustaining processes. Similar to the kidneys, the liver filters out toxic substances from the blood. However, this is not the only job of the liver; it also has a hand in the storage and production of glucose, bile production and secretion, and regulating blood clotting to name a few important functions. [1] But just like any of the body’s organs, the liver is also prone to damage and disease – much of which is influenced by diet and lifestyle choices.

Understanding Liver Disease:

One of the most common types of liver disease is fatty liver disease or FLD. Fatty liver disease can be classified into two sub-types; alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD) and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). [2] FLD occurs when insulin resistance causes fat to build up in the liver instead of being used by the cells as energy; this is usually seen among people who have high blood sugar or are diabetic.

This kind of damage to the liver can cause inflammation in earlier stages, but as the inflammation gets worse, scarring and fibrosis can occur – manifesting as liver cirrhosis, an irreversible kind of liver disease. [3]

Here are 10 common symptoms, together with our supplementary research and scientific references:

10 Signs That Your Liver May Be Toxic:

1. “Bronze Diabetes”

This first sign isn’t actually related to diabetes but is actually a condition known as hemochromatosis. Hemochromatosis occurs when there is a build up of iron in the skin, causing bronze discoloration. [4] While it may seem harmless, this can cause organ damage as excess iron can damage the liver, pancreas, and even the heart. Hemochromatosis can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer. If you are getting blood work done, Dr. Ekberg suggests getting your ferritin levels tested on top of serum iron levels, because serum iron only makes up about 1 percent of total iron in the body.

2. Xanthelasma

Xanthelasma is a skin condition when cholesterol deposits around the eyes or on the eyelids. The deposits typically appear yellow and flat or slightly elevated and can be a sign of either heart or liver disease. [5] In liver disease, xanthelasma can occur if the liver is unable to produce enough bile to break down fat in the body. Instead, fat or cholesterol starts to build up in various places, such as our blood vessels and under the skin, the latter being xanthelasma. In fact, a study published in 2021 specifically linked Xanthelasma palpebarum (xanthelasma on the eyelids) to the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and the more severe dyslipidemia. [6]

3. Jaundice

The third sign is one of the most alarming of all the signs, and is characterized by yellowing of the skin, mucous membranes, and sclera (whites of the eyes) – jaundice. A classic sign of liver problems, jaundice is caused by a build up of bilirubin in the blood and is indicative of liver damage – not just fatty liver, but other conditions such as hepatitis or cirrhosis. [7] This happens when the damaged liver is unable to clear bilirubin from the blood; bilirubin is a pigment created as a by-product from the breakdown of red blood cells and gives our urine and stool their color.

4. Bowel Changes

Changes in your bowel habits could be caused by many things; but diarrhea, steatorrhea, and pale / floating stool can all be linked to liver damage. Steatorrhea is fatty stool and can be caused by insufficient bile production by the liver. Without enough bile and bilirubin, stool may appear pale in color and float (due to the fat content). Azer & Sankararaman discussed links between chronic liver diseases such as cholangitis and steatorrhea, even reporting complications such as cirrhosis, end-stage liver disease, and even cancer from steatorrhea. [8]

5. Itching

Dr. Ekberg mentions that itching or burning sensations in the skin, especially in the hands and feet, can be caused by a build-up of bile and toxins in the body. Uremic pruritus, or itchy skin caused by uremia (waste build-up) due to kidney damage, is a similar condition. [9] A study in 2015 reported that hepatogenic pruritus occurs in about 20 to 25 percent of jaundiced patients. According to Taricki, et. al., cholestatic pruritus is most severe at night, especially in the hands and feet. [10]

6. Poor Vision

One major contributor to vision health is vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin that is processed by the liver. Saeed, et. al. in 2017 mention that the liver has a big role in the metabolism of vitamin A, through absorption, distribution, and storage in the hepatic cells. [11] In cases of liver damage, the body isn’t getting enough vitamin A from the gastrointestinal tract and is unable to store it effectively, causing vision problems – even night blindness, according to Dr. Ekberg.

7. Allergies

Chronic allergies can also be a sign of liver damage; particularly reactions to food and environmental factors like pollen. Several studies have linked hypersensitivity reactions (very similar to allergies) such as rashes, blisters, and peeling skin to liver damage, particularly drug-induced liver injury. [12] A study in 2014 found links between food sensitization and abnormal liver function, and although a direct causal relationship was hard to prove, the results warranted further study on hypersensitivity and liver damage. [13]

8. Ascites

Ascites is another major warning sign and is characterized by the build-up of fluid in the abdomen. It can start out as “just looking bloated”, but coupled with other warning signs on this list could mean severe liver damage – cirrhosis – is occurring. [14] This symptom is caused by hypoalbuminemia or low albumin, which is responsible for maintaining the osmotic pressure in the cells of our blood vessels; low albumin causes fluid to leak out into the abdomen, causing edema. Because the liver is responsible for producing albumin, liver damage can directly cause low albumin levels and ascites. [15]

9. Shoulder Pain

Liver damage can manifest as referred pain, particularly in the right shoulder blade according to Dr. Ekberg. [16] The pain can also present in the right lower chest wall and abdomen, aggravated by movement and breathing.

10. Fatigue

The last warning sign on the list is fatigue and can be linked to the disruption in energy metabolism that is an effect of liver damage. Gerber, et. al. reports that the pathogenesis of fatigue and chronic liver disease starts from problems with glucose absorption from the gut to hepatic storage, affecting energy production. [17]

So what can we do help detoxify our liver? Detoxification involves eating food with sulfur, choline, vitamin E, and vitamin B, all of which support the liver’s processes like metabolism and protein synthesis.

Top 10 Foods To Help Improve Liver Health:

1. Beef, Fish, Poultry, Eggs

At the top of the list are beef, fish, poultry, and eggs, which are rich in all four: sulfur, choline, vitamin E, and vitamin B. Meats are rich in B-vitamins while eggs are an excellent source of choline, which play an important role in phase 1 and 2 liver detoxification, or reduction in oxidative stress. [18]

2. Nuts, Seeds, Peanuts, Legumes

Next on the list are nuts, seeds, peanuts, and legumes, which are good sources of all four detoxification agents as well. Erukainuire in 2021 found that a type of nut called Kola nuts was able to improve liver health through antioxidation. [19]

3. Organ Meats And Roe

Organ meats and roe contain all four detoxification agents but are harder to find compared to the previous food items. Organ meats in particular are rich in sulfur and choline. [20]

4. Alliums (Garlic, Onions, Leeks, Scallions)

The fourth group of foods beneficial for the liver are allium plants – which are quite rich in sulfur. Garlic is also a known anti-oxidant, which makes it a popular herbal remedy for a variety of inflammatory conditions, liver damage included. [21]

5. Cruciferous Vegetables (Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Greens and more)

Cruciferous vegetables are fifth on Dr. Ekberg’s list and are good sources of both sulfur and choline. They aren’t as rich as meats but can be very beneficial since they don’t contain too many carbohydrates. Soundararajan found anti-carcinogenic agents in cruciferous vegetables which can help prevent liver cancer. [22]

6. Coffee, Tea, Beets, Low Carb Plants

The sixth group of food items don’t contain any of the four detoxification agents but can help detoxify the liver. Alicandro reports that coffee drinking is associated with a reduced risk for liver cancer and can improve liver enzymes and cirrhosis. [23] Tea and beets are similarly rich in antioxidants which can help the liver, while low carb plants can contribute to cleansing and improving gut health. [24]

7. N-acetylcysteine

N-acetylcysteine is available in suppplement form and is a glutathione precursor. Glutathione is known as the “master antioxidant” and NAC is a component of numerous detoxification and liver protocols. NAC is even used to manage liver damage due to acetaminophen use [25] and has sometimes been used in cases of mercury poisoning.

8. Choline

Dr. Ekberg also recommends choline in supplement form, which is widely available. Choline supps are pretty inexpensive and function very similarly to vitamin B supplements. A study in 2020 also found that choline supplementation could be beneficial in improving liver health in cases of liver cancer. [26]

9. Wheat Germ Oil

Wheat germ oil makes it on the list as a natural source of vitamin E as well as a strong antioxidant. Liagat reports that wheat germ extracts exhibited significant antilipidemic effects in hepatocytes with steatosis. [27]

10. Nutritional Yeast

The tenth item is nutritional yeast, which is a natural source of B-vitamins. Snacks made with nutritional yeast can be a great option if you need a boost of energy while detoxifying your liver. [28]

Honorable mention: Milk Thistle. Milk thistle is a valuable herb for liver detoxification and very commonly included in liver protocols. Much support from scientific studies. It’s also a tonic herb which means it is generally regarded as acceptable for longer term use.


[1] Johns Hopkins Medicine. Liver: Anatomy and Functions. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/liver-anatomy-and-functions

[2] Kotronen, A., et. al. (2010). Non-alcoholic and alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease – two Diseases of Affluence associated with the Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes: the FIN-D2D Survey. https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-10-237

[3] National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Cirrhosis. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/liver-disease/cirrhosis

[4] National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Hemochromatosis. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/liver-disease/hemochromatosis/definition-facts

[5] American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Xanthelasma. https://www.aocd.org/page/Xanthelasma

[6] Chen, H., et. al. (2021). Risk of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease in Xanthelasma Palpebrarum. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34012287/

[7] Cleveland Clinic. Adult Jaundice. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15367-adult-jaundice

[8] Azer, S. & Sankararaman, S. (2021). Steatorrhea. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK541055/

[9] Westby, E., et. al. (2020). A review of the management of uremic pruritus: current perspectives and future directions. https://journals.lww.com/itch/fulltext/2020/07010/a_review_of_the_management_of_uremic_pruritus_.6.aspx

[10] Taricki, N., et. al. (2015). Pruritus in Systemic Diseases: A Review of Etiological Factors and New Treatment Modalities. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4512616/

[11] Saeed, A., et. al. (2017). Disturbed Vitamin A Metabolism in Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29286303/

[12] Devarbhavi, H. & Raj, S. (2019). Drug-induced liver injury with skin reactions: Drugs and host risk factors, clinical phenotypes and prognosis. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30515930/

[13] Shiue, I. (2014). Is abnormal liver function correlated with food sensitisation in adults? US NHANES, 2005–2006. https://www.elsevier.es/en-revista-allergologia-et-immunopathologia-105-articulo-is-abnormal-liver-function-correlated-S0301054614000998

[14] Johns Hopkins Medicine. Ascites. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/ascites

[15] Gounden, V., et. al. (2021). Hypoalbuminemia. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526080/

[16] Waldman, S. (2014). Atlas of Uncommon Pain Syndromes, Chapter 72: Liver Pain. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9781455709991000721

[17] Gerber, L. et. al. (2019). Importance of fatigue and its measurement in chronic liver disease. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31391765/

[18] Hodges, R., et. al. (2015). Modulation of Metabolic Detoxification Pathways Using Foods and Food-Derived Components: A Scientific Review with Clinical Application. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4488002/

[19] Erukainure, O., et. al. (2021). Cola Nitida (Kola Nuts) Attenuates Hepatic Injury in Type 2 Diabetes by Improving Antioxidant and Cholinergic Dysfunctions and Dysregulated Lipid Metabolism. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32600241/

[20] Kulzynski, B., et. al. (2019). Characteristics of Selected Antioxidative and Bioactive Compounds in Meat and Animal Origin Products. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31443517/

[21] Mousa, A., et. al. (2021). Garlic Extract Alleviates Trastuzumab-Induced Hepatotoxicity in Rats Through Its Antioxidant, Anti-Inflammatory, and Antihyperlipidemic Effects. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8636847/

[22] Soundararajan, P. & Kim, S. (2018). Anti-Carcinogenic Glucosinolates in Cruciferous Vegetables and Their Antagonistic Effects on Prevention of Cancers. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6278308/

[23] Alicandro, G., et. al. (2017). Coffee and cancer risk: a summary overview. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28288025/

[24] Kim, T., et. al. (2020). Tea Consumption and Risk of Cancer: An Umbrella Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32667980/

[25] Siu, J., et. al. (2020). N-acetylcysteine for non-paracetamol (acetaminophen)-related acute liver failure. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33294991/

[26] Brown, A., et. al. (2020). Dietary Choline Supplementation Attenuates High-Fat-Diet-Induced Hepatocellular Carcinoma in Mice. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31851339/

[27] Liagat, H., et. al. (2021). Antioxidant Effect of Wheat Germ Extracts and Their Antilipidemic Effect in Palmitic Acid-Induced Steatosis in HepG2 and 3T3-L1 Cells. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8151358/

[28] Bruno, G. (2009). Nutritional Yeast and Liver. https://huhs.edu/literature/Nutritional%20Yeast%20&%20Liver.pdf

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