It’s important to know that alcohol can harm your liver for several reasons. First, when you drink too much, the buildup of acetaldehyde in your body overworks and inflames your liver cells. The acetaldehyde is created when your body breaks down alcohol; this compound damages your liver more than the ethanol found in alcoholic beverages (1). Secondly, heavy drinking can lead to fatty liver disease—the accumulation of excess fat in the liver (2). Liver disease caused by excessive alcohol use isn’t always reversible; unfortunately, treatment for this type of cirrhosis must be done through a liver transplant or at worst, whole organ removal (3).
But despite these dangers associated with drinking heavily, there are still ways you can treat and reverse damage done to your liver from alcohol. If you’ve indulged in alcohol these past few days and are looking for a natural way to heal your liver, here’s what you should do:
Alcohol and the Liver: 3 Ways You Can Help Restore Liver Function
1. The amino acid N-acetylcysteine (NAC) has been shown to help reduce inflammation in the body caused by heavy drinking. When taken orally, it can have a protective effect on the liver against damage caused by acetaldehyde—a chemical compound produced when ethanol is broken down by the body. It also inhibits further oxidation of this toxic substance that may otherwise damage healthy cells in your body. On top of that, NAC actually helps stimulate production of glutathione—a major antioxidant and the body’s natural defense against alcohol (4).
2. Vitamin B1 (thiamine) is essential to liver function; this vitamin helps break down sugars in food we eat. A severe deficiency in this vitamin can lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a brain disorder that develops from a B1 deficiency over time and results in symptoms such as confusion, memory loss, disorientation, and hallucinations. Vitamin B1 has been shown to aid recovery from liver injury caused by acetaminophen overdose when taken alongside supportive care from a doctor. It’s also been known to help with symptoms of fatigue or nausea after heavy drinking, again acting as a protective for your liver (5).
3. Vitamin C is another powerful antioxidant that can help you restore function in your liver following alcohol damage. Along with the vitamin B1, it provides support for healthy metabolic activities in cells throughout your body—including your liver cells (6).
What to Do If You’re Looking to Reverse Liver Damage From Alcohol
With these three natural supplements combined together, you’ll be restoring proper function in your liver more than ever after heavy drinking. But here’s what else you should do:
Stop Drinking Alcohol Completely Alcohol is only going to exacerbate problems in your liver—so even if some time has passed since you damaged your organ, it’s best not to resume drinking at all (7). Further, if you’ve had more than just a few drinks, you’re most likely dehydrated—and without proper hydration, your liver is at even greater risk of failure.
Improve Your Diet Since alcohol damages the liver over time, it’s necessary to make changes in how you eat in order to reduce/prevent further damage. Substitute unhealthy alcoholic beverages with water and teas. Replace calorie-rich choices (e.g., pasta) with clean options that are rich in vitamins A and C (e.g., broccoli). Eat foods high in potassium to replenish what has been lost when drinking too much alcohol (potassium helps counterbalance the negative effects of consuming too much sodium—which can lead to fluid retention when taken excessively in amounts not found in food) (8).
What to Avoid If You Want to Reverse Liver Damage From Alcohol
When you drink excessively, you’re not only harming your liver in particular but also other organs in the body. Here are a few common pitfalls that can prevent your body from recovering from alcohol-related liver damage:
Alcohol Detox Allowing your body to detox naturally is always best for avoiding potential complications sometimes seen when following a medical/professional assisted detox program. While it may be tempting to undergo a rapid medical-assisted detox from alcohol—especially if you’ve been drinking heavily over an extended period of time—it’s important to discuss all detox options with a doctor who specializes in these programs before making any decisions (9).
Stressful situations has been known to have a negative impact on the body—and binge drinking is no exception. If you’re under pressure, feeling overwhelmed or stressed about something, these emotions can lead to more serious consequences for your liver if you drink excessively (10).
Training Your Liver Even if you give your liver time to heal, it’s possible that some damage may be irreversible. That’s why following up with supportive care after heavy drinking is necessary. Consider training your liver with natural herbs and supplements such as milk thistle and dandelion root extract before and after drinking frequently—they work by providing antioxidants that promote cellular health in your liver (11).
1. Gentry Jr., W. Larry; Humphries, Robert L.; Trevino, Roberto; “Alcoholic Liver Disease,” The American Association for Clinical Chemistry, http://www.labtestsonline.org/understanding/analytes/liver-function/#tab3
2. “Liver Function Tests,” LabTestsOnline, http://labtestsonline.org/understanding/analytes/liver-function/#tab3
5. Skovgaard, Annemarie; “Pantothenic Acid: An Overlooked Vitamin in a Commonly Overlooked Orphan Drug,” Danish Medical Journal, https://danmedj.dk/dmj/2006/126_eng_review_skovgaard1.pdf
6. Ogborn MR1, Ingham T, Marsh AP, Turton JA, Smith A, Weiss LM, et al., “Thiamine deficiency is common in patients admitted to hospital with serious neurological illness,” Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry. 2008 May;79(5):565-9. doi: 10.1136/jnnp.2007.093118
7. “Alcohol Exposed,” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
8. “Sodium (Salt) in Foods,” University of Florida IFAS Extension, http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy731
9. “Treatment Options for Alcohol Withdrawal,” National Library of Medicine – PubMed Health, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072723/
10. “Stress and Your Liver,” American Liver Foundation, http://liverfoundation.org/abouttheliver/info/whatiskidneydisease
11. “Liver Support Supplements (Herbs),” WebMD, http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~mb57000i002a1f002s000k2c001p/page4e9846-b632-9743-5d49-90d5afdde8ac.pdf
12. “Positive Effects of Alcohol Detoxification,” Neuroscience Education Institute, http://www.neigtraining.com/effects-of-alcohol-detoxification/
13. “The Dangers of Drinking Too Much Alcohol for Under 20s,” The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/feb/15/the-dangers-of-drinking-too-much-alcohol?CMP=fb_gu
14. Sherwood, Jennifer; Pollard, James B.; Poole, Nigel C.; Nelson, Charles S., “Dietary intake and nutritional status of men and women consuming beer, wine, or distilled spirits as the primary beverage,” Advances in Nutrition, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3141049/
15. “Alcohol Health Advisors – Alcohol Exposed,” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/WebBook20EndChapter6-8626FINAL080109666211710_pagepdf
16. “Health Benefits of Different Types of Wine,” Medical News Today, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/305763.php