Herbal Liver Treatments

The liver has many important functions in the body including bile production, blood filtering and nutrient storage. When the liver is damaged, these functions are impaired and symptoms such as fatigue and jaundice can result. Damage to the liver can occur from a variety of causes such as alcoholism, trauma or infections. Fortunately, there are some herbs that can assist in liver protection and repair.

Milk Thistle

Silymarin, a compound in the seed and fruit of milk thistle, is thought to have the ability to change the structure of liver cells. This change can make it more difficult for toxins to enter the liver cells, thereby protecting these cells from damage. Silymarin is also thought to promote both cell growth and repair after damage has already occurred, according to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.


The seeds of the schisandra berry are made of substances called lignans, which may protect the liver. Liver cells produce an enzyme called glutathione, which acts as an antioxidant. Schisandra may help assist in the activation of this enzyme, which can help protect the liver. According to the University of Michigan Health System, two studies on humans have demonstrated that schisandra may be beneficial to those with chronic viral hepatitis.


Phyllanthus is an herb found in India that has been traditionally been used in Ayurvedic medicine. Phyllanthus may be useful in treating hepatitis B because it can block one of the enzymes needed for the hepatitis B virus to replicate. According to the University of Michigan Health System, “In one study, 59 percent of those infected with chronic viral hepatitis B lost one of the major blood markers of HBV infection (e.g., hepatitis B surface antigen) after using 900 mg of phyllanthus per day for 30 days.”

Other Herbs

Other herbs, such as licorice root and bupleurum, have been used traditionally for liver problems, but more research is needed to prove the effectiveness of these herbs in treating cirrhosis, liver damage and hepatitis. For instance, some trials have found licorice effective in reducing complications from hepatitis C, but more research is needed for confirmation of these results. Bupleurum may be useful in treating hepatitis and liver cancer when used in combination with other herbs, but more scientific evidence is needed to prove its effectiveness for this use.


Always consult a doctor before using any herbs, as they can have side effects and interfere with some medications. Milk thistle, for instance, can interfere with medications such as erythromycin. Licorice root can have serious side effects such as high blood pressure, low potassium levels and heart problems as well as more minor side effects such as headaches.

About this Author

Lisa Thompson is a holistic health practitioner and writer in San Diego who has written for the Prevention website. She is a nationally certified massage therapist and NCSF-certified personal trainer. Ms. Thompson also holds certificates in nutrition and herbology from the National Healing Institute, as well as a Master of Education from California State University.