Liver Support Supplements for People Who Drink Alcohol Every Day

Milk thistle flower (Silibum marianum)
Milk thistle flower (Image: Nadalinna/iStock/Getty Images)

The professional advice and suggestion that is commonly repeated from the medical community regarding alcohol use is to "drink in moderation." Heavy alcohol consumption and chronic use ultimately increases your risk of developing a number of serious health complications including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and liver disease. Regarding liver function, there is some evidence that supports the use of supplements to improve liver health in heavy or chronic drinkers. Be aware that these methods should not be used for justification to continue drinking heavily.

Milk Thistle

Milk thistle is an alternative supplement used for centuries by Eastern cultures for gastrointestinal ailments including the gallbladder and the liver. Milk thistle is known to contain a special antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound called silymarin which may be important for its protective effect on the liver. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the scientific evidence for the effectiveness of milk thistle on alcoholic liver disease shows both positive and negative results. However they point out the majority of studies seem to support an improvement in liver function and an increase in survival for patients with advanced liver disease. Again, this information does not conclusively say that this will prevent liver damage or completely restore healthy liver function in a chronic alcohol drinker, and all supplements should be discussed with your primary care provider before taking them.

SAM-e

One of the effects of heavy alcohol consumption is the depletion of an important natural antioxidant in the liver called glutathione. According to a review published in the Nov. 2002 issue of "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition," S-adenosyl-L-methionine, or SAM-e, is a metabolic intermediate in the natural synthesis of glutathione. This review also discussed that preclinical and clinical studies have shown that oral supplements of SAM-e were shown to increase glutathione levels in the liver and may help to replenish the levels that are depleted in alcoholic liver disease. While encouraging, there is still not sufficient evidence to completely support the use of SAM-e to reduce the effects of chronic drinking on the liver.

Zinc

Zinc supplements may also support healthy liver function for chronic alcohol drinkers. In a study published in the Nov. 2009 issue of "Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition," scientists looked at the effects of zinc supplements for patients with chronic hepatitis and liver disease. Zinc supplements significantly reduced the levels of liver enzymes in the blood which is an indirect measurement of liver health and liver damage. They suggest that zinc supplements may actually improve the long-term prognosis for people who have severe liver damage. While promising, it should be noted that zinc supplements are not currently acknowledged by Federal Drug Administration as offering benefit for liver function for chronic alcohol drinkers.

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