The liver is the largest internal organ -- and one of the most complex. It produces bile, which helps the body digest fat, and also manages the release of energy, distributes and stores vitamins and minerals, breaks down medications, assists the body in removing toxins, controls and removes cholesterol and aids in blood clotting -- among other functions. A nutritious and well-rounded diet is the best way to get all of the vitamins needed to maintain a healthy liver. However, certain vitamins have properties that may be of particular value in liver health.
Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant, has been widely studied for its potential role in preventing disease and maintaining liver health, according to a November 2015 article in the "International Journal of Molecular Sciences." And oxidative stress, including stress from alcohol, drugs and other factors, causes nearly all chronic liver conditions, reports a June 2015 article in "Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine." Antioxidants from foods can neutralize the harmful free radicals caused by this oxidative stress. Vitamin E in particular has been widely studied for its therapeutic effects on alcoholic hepatitis and chronic hepatitis C, as outlined in a July 2011 article in "Liver International."
Vitamin E may be the most promising vitamin to aid in liver health, but more research is needed. Vitamin E supplements should only be used if your doctor deems the benefits outweigh any risks, since an analysis of 19 clinical trials published in the January 2005 issue of "Annals of Internal Medicine" linked high doses of vitamin E to increased death rates. Consuming food sources of vitamin E, such as spinach, sunflower seeds, almonds, peanut butter and fortified foods, is encouraged.
Vitamin C, another powerful antioxidant, is important for the health of all cells, including the liver. Like vitamin E, vitamin C helps counter oxidative stress. The evidence directly linking vitamin C to liver health is inconclusive. However, vitamin C plays a role in immune function, wound healing and the maintenance of healthy tissues. Also, the strong antioxidant properties of vitamin C aid in the regeneration of vitamin E. Adding foods such as strawberries, tomatoes, bell peppers and oranges to the diet can increase consumption of vitamin C.
Known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is made when ultraviolet rays from the sun hit the skin. Reactions that occur in the liver and the kidneys turn vitamin D into its active form. Vitamin D has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic disease, help decrease inflammation and support healthy immune function throughout the body. Vitamin D is also linked to liver health. A study of vitamin D levels in 118 people with chronic liver disease, published in the December 2009 issue of "Digestive Diseases and Sciences," found some level of vitamin D deficiency in 92 percent of study subjects. In addition, those with the lowest levels were more likely to have cirrhosis, a more severe form of liver disease.
Some research also indicates vitamin D supplementation can improve liver health. For example, a study published in the December 2011 issue of "World Journal of Gastroenterology" linked vitamin D supplementation with improved response to hepatitis C therapy. More research is needed to understand the benefits of vitamin D supplementation in liver disease. In addition to sunlight and supplements, vitamin D is found in certain foods, such as mushrooms, eggs, fish and fortified foods.
Warnings and Precautions
The liver uses all vitamins to support its many, diverse functions, so a healthy liver is supported by a nutritious and balanced diet that provides a variety of vitamins and other nutrients. If you are concerned about your liver health or if you have been diagnosed with liver disease, talk to your doctor. Your doctor may provide specific nutrition recommendations for your liver health and may refer you to a registered dietitian for evaluation and individualized guidance. If you want to start any vitamin supplements, speak to your doctor first, since high doses of certain vitamins can have adverse effects -- including toxicity.
Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH, RD