Chances are if you randomly polled people off the streets what their number one beauty goal is, their answers would all be: 'To glow.' And not just glow because they've slathered shimmering highlighter on their face. Instead, they want a natural glow; skin that's sheer, luminous, and very real. Of course, you're likely aware of the same-old tips to a radiant complexion: exfoliate regularly, apply SPF daily, use hyaluronic acid, slather your face with vitamin C, etc. But what if you've done all the above… And saw minimal results?
Whatever skin issues you're struggling with–be it dryness, pigmentation, or even itchiness, there's one aspect you may have forgotten to pay attention to. Your liver health. Surprised? There's no need to be. Think of your beauty routine like a house. You can shift the furniture and paint the walls however you want (i.e. apply skincare products), but if the foundation isn't stable in the first place (i.e. your skin health), then the house is never going to look good (i.e. your complexion).
But What Does The Liver Even Do?
Your liver is a large, meaty organ that sits on the right side of your belly. It is the largest organ in the human body. Impressively, scientists believe that the liver carries out more than 500 distinct roles (1, 2, 3). That said, the liver's main job is to filter and remove compounds from the blood before passing it to the rest of the body. The liver is also responsible for metabolizing carbohydrates, which are stored in the organ as glycogen–where they are broken down into glucose and siphoned into the bloodstream to maintain normal blood glucose levels.
In addition to blood sugar regulation, your liver also stores vitamins and minerals essential for optimal health. For example, vitamins A, D, E, K, and B12. Just so you know… In some cases, your liver may store several years' worth of vitamins! It sure puts that hard drive you just bought to shame, doesn't it?
Why Is Optimal Liver Health Crucial For Radiant Skin?
Ok, so your liver performs many important metabolic functions. It converts the nutrients in your diet into substances your body can use, stores these, and supplies cells with them when needed. The liver also 'detoxifies' the body of toxic substances. But what do all these have to do with a fresh, dewy, and youthful-looking complexion?
As it turns out… A whole lot. Let's explore.
#1 – Uncleared toxins lead to widespread inflammation
Remember how the liver is responsible for clearing out your body's toxins? When your liver cannot do this optimally, you end up with a lot of these nasty impurities circulating in your body. And when that happens, it triggers a response from your immune system; this is known as inflammation–your body's process of fighting against things that harm it, including injuries, infections, and, of course, toxins, in an attempt to heal itself (4, 5, 6, 7). Inflammation is undoubtedly a natural part of your body's healing process. However, the issue is when you have an unhealthy liver. And, therefore, struggle with constant inflammation (in other words: chronic inflammation).
This is where the connection between liver health and youthful-looking skin becomes apparent. Scarily enough, chronic inflammation damages your skin's fibroblasts (8, 9, 10, 11, 12). These are cells that reside in your skin's connective tissues and are responsible for producing collagen and elastin–structural proteins that work together to give your skin its texture and shape (13, 14, 15, 16). So, what does this all mean? Well… It just means that uncleared toxins circulating in your body can lead to widespread, chronic inflammation, which breaks down collagen and elastin. Thus, causing your skin to lose its firmness and elasticity. Hello, saggy skin (not fun!)
#2 – Unregulated blood glucose levels cause changes to the skin's collagen
As mentioned earlier, your liver is responsible for blood glucose regulation. Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can affect the body in many ways–with one of the major ones being the skin. When your blood glucose levels are elevated, your body has no choice but to expel the excess through the urine. Meaning that you'll see an increase in urination frequency (17). This can result in dehydration and dry, flaky skin. What more, uncontrolled high blood sugar levels can also lead to inflammation, which can cause nerve and blood vessel damage. Poor blood circulation can then cause some serious damage to the skin's structure, especially the collagen (i.e. your skin's structural protein) (18, 19, 20, 21).
And without healthy collagen networks, your skin can lose its elasticity and firmness—and become brittle in some cases. Your skin can even become cracked and itchy.
#3 – Vitamin deficiencies can cause adverse effects on the skin
You know it's essential to get all your nutrients in. But what happens if your liver isn't storing these vitamins? Well, a whole slew of health problems, of course. But there's also the fact that your skin health would suffer. Majorly. Let's take vitamin D, for example. Studies have shown that healthy levels of vitamin D have been demonstrated to prevent skin aging (22, 23, 24). In fact, according to a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, individuals with the highest serum vitamin D levels were essentially 5 years 'younger'–shown by their longer telomere lengths–than those who had lower levels (25).
How To Keep Your Liver Healthy
So, it's clear that keeping your liver healthy is key to having clear, dewy, and radiant skin. This then begs the question… How can you keep this mighty organ healthy? There are a few ways.
#1 – Eat more cruciferous vegetables
Studies show that cruciferous vegetables–such as cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage–are potent sources of sulforaphane, antioxidants that support your liver's natural detoxification processes. For instance, a 2019 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that adults who got the equivalent of a cup of broccoli for 10 days cleared out 63% more of the pollutant, benzene, than those who didn't (28).
#2 – Drink coffee
If you've read thus far, you must be cringing the moment the term, 'inflammation' gets brought up. It's the enemy of youthful skin. Thankfully, there is a substance able to combat the nasty effects of inflammation. And it is none other than coffee. Its polyphenols appear to have both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that help reduce inflammation (29).
Even better: studies have repeatedly shown that drinking it lowers the risk of cirrhosis (permanent liver damage) in individuals with chronic disease (30, 31, 32). It's even associated with a lower mortality rate in individuals with chronic liver disease–with the most significant benefits seen in those who drink at least 3 cups a day. Time to brew yourself a cup, perhaps (33)?
#3 – Stay physically active
Worried about unregulated blood glucose levels wreaking havoc on your skin? You might want to break out a sweat more. Research shows regular exercise to be one of the best ways to increase insulin sensitivity; in other words, physical activity helps to move blood sugar into your muscles for storage. Impressively, this effect can last anywhere between 2 to 48 hours, depending on the exercise (34, 35, 36, 37, 38). For example, a 2008 study published in Clinical Science (London) found that just 60 minutes of cycling on a machine at a moderate pace increased insulin sensitivity for 48 hours among healthy volunteers (39).
#4 – Supplement with milk thistle
Milk thistle is a herbal remedy derived from the actual milk thistle plant (Silybum marianum), a prickly flowering plant with a single purple flower in the middle (40). And the reason why it's so good for your liver is that it contains a high amount of silymarin, a group of plant compounds (i.e. flavonoids) known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (41, 42, 43, 44). Imaginably, this is incredibly beneficial to liver health. And studies have indeed proved this. Research has shown that milk thistle can indeed help cleanse and detoxify the liver–in turn, promoting overall liver health. Evidence also demonstrates marked liver function improvement in individuals with liver diseases who've taken a milk thistle supplement (45). Thereby suggesting that milk thistle could reduce liver damage and inflammation.
Just a note of caution on milk thistle supplements, though: not all products available on the market contain the same amount of active ingredients. That's why you should look for a supplement standardized to contain 70% to 80% silymarin. Also, look for those that have been verified for safety and content by an independent lab. Don't have the time to screen through the thousands of supplements out there on the shelves? Go for Dr. Danielle's Liver Assist. It not only contains milk thistle that's been standardized to have a minimum of 80% silymarin but is also compliant with the Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) practices. Basically–everything you're looking for in a high-quality liver-support supplement. Here's to youthful, glowing skin.