Five superstars for liver health

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images / LuckyStep48
Getty Images / LuckyStep48

Related tags Liver NAFLD botanical Choline Glutathione

The liver health category brought in around $31 million to dietary supplements sales across multiple sales channels, according to data from SPINS, a market research firm specializing in the natural products category. Which ingredients are taking the lead in the category, and what does the research supporting them look like?

Milk thistle

According to data from SPINS, milk thistle is the top selling ingredient for products with liver health claims, accounting for 71%, or $22.7 million, of sales in a category valued at $31.8 million across multiple retail channels in the 52 weeks ending December 30, 2018.

Naturally, it appears in the top five product results for a search of ‘Liver Health Supplements’ on Amazon.

It is one of the most studied botanical ingredients in the area of liver health. A meta-analysis​ published in the journal Medicine ​in 2017 by Chinese researchers looked at eight clinical trials and concluded that silymarin, the active component of milk thistle linked to liver health, had positive efficacy in reducing transaminases levels in NAFLD patients.

The ingredient appears in everything from single-herb supplements marketed for supporting liver health to botanical shots marketed as the perfect pair to a night on the town, such as Thrive+​ and Bibi Beverages​.


Another top contender botanical in the liver health space is dandelion. According to SPINS data in the same time period, dandelion products in the liver health category had $708,900 in sales, experiencing a 10% increase year-over-year across multiple retail channels.

Like milk thistle, it appears frequently in botanical blends that make it to Amazon’s top search results for ‘Liver Health Supplements.’

A 2016 review of studies that explored the physiological effects of dandelion among individuals with Type 2 Diabetes​, written by researchers from the Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, argued that dandelion extract “is able to reduce hepatic lipid accumulation by activating the phosphorylation of AMP and AMPK, hence protecting against NAFLD and eventually against hepatic steatosis (fatty liver disease).”


The antioxidant glutathione is another top performer in the liver health category. Its sales numbers, as captured by SPINS, is still small, but it posted a 24.5% increase in sales in the 52 weeks ending December 30, 2018, hitting $91,498.

Science supporting glutathione supplementation’s liver health benefits continues to build. Back in 1982, a paper written by Dr Neil Kaplowitz published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine ​outlined the importance of glutathione in the liver. “Glutathione plays a key role in the liver in detoxification reactions and in regulating the thiol-disulfide status of the cell,”​ wrote Dr. Kaplowitz.

In a more recent, open-label, human clinical trial conducted in Japan, scientists found “potential therapeutic effects of oral administration of glutathione in practical dose for patients with NAFLD.”​ These results were published in 2017​ in the journal BMC Gastroenterology.

Alpha Lipoic Acid

This compound is derived from caprylic acid, which can be found in various mammal milk as well as coconut or palm kernel oil.

Like glutathione, it did not make SPINS’ top 10 ingredients in terms of sales, but it did make it to the top 10 in terms of dollar growth. In 2018, sales of alpha lipoic acid supplements in the liver health category went up by almost 30%, hitting $129,000.

An animal study conducted by Serbian researchers published in 2014​ found that, alpha lipoic acid may improve fat peroxidation and nitrosative stress in mice that have been induced with NAFLD through a methionine- and choline- deprived diet.

Additionally, they linked alpha lipoic acid supplementation to an increase in DHA. “Increase in DHA may be considered a potential mechanism of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of LA in MCD diet-induced NAFLD,”​ they added.

Other studies that provide evidence of alpha lipoic acid’s benefits include a 2012 rat study done in Korea​ and a 2018 study by Iranian researchers​ conducted on obese patients with NAFLD.


Choline is produced naturally by the liver, but not in amounts that meet human needs. In 2016, the European Food Safety Authority published advice on choline supplementation to maintain normal liver function​—so far the only ingredient with an approved liver health claim.

Surprisingly, it did not make any of SPINS’ top 10 lists for liver health supplements in terms of total sales or sales increase in calendar year 2018.

The US Centers for Disease Control’s What We Eat in America found that 90% of Americans aren’t getting the recommended intake of choline. But the landscape might change; awareness around choline is increasing in the US, and in 2018 the National Institutes of Health awarded a $2.6 million grant​ to researchers developing a choline status lab test.

Additionally, though not particularly liver related, the American Medical Association supported a dose of 450 mg/day for prenatal supplements in 2017​.

Join us for our upcoming FREE Liver Health webinar on February 28, 2018​​​

LH19 - Logo-Signature-600x70
  • Thursday, February 28 at 1 PM EST
  • Duration: 60 Minutes
  • LIVE Q&A session
  • Experts from Gaia Herbs, Kaiviti Consulting, and The Think Healthy Group

From botanical blends to microbiome interventions, there is plenty of interest in better understanding how to support liver function. Join NutraIngredients-USA as we explore this topic with leading brands and industry stakeholders. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER​​​

Related news

Show more

Related products

show more

The solutions to botanical supply chain challenges

The solutions to botanical supply chain challenges

Content provided by Ayana Bio | 05-Jun-2024 | Infographic

Many botanicals continue to face supply chain challenges, from the surging demand for stress-relieving adaptogens and immune-support ingredients to the...

Ride the next wave of omega-3 innovation

Ride the next wave of omega-3 innovation

Content provided by dsm-firmenich | 01-Jun-2024 | Insight Guide

Fish oil supplies can’t scale to meet the needs of the planet’s growing population, but life’s®OMEGA can.



Content provided by BIONAP BIOACTIVE NATURAL PRODUCTS | 30-May-2024 | Product Brochure

Nature's power is a gift, one that BIONAP knows how to use responsibly. From the very beginning of our work to the last detail, Biodiversity is what inspires...

Related suppliers

Follow us


View more