Liver-Cleansing Foods for Adrenal Fatigue

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH

Nutrition and liver health are important factors for adrenal health, and liver-cleansing foods are part of the solution for bothFor those with Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS), liver function is vital on the road to recovery. Improving your overall health also helps, as all of the body’s organs, systems, pathways, and chemical reactions work together to fight stress in what is known as the NeuroEndoMetabolic(NEM) stress response. The NEM stress response indicates that all of the organs, not only the adrenal glands, play a vital role in handling stress. The body’s inability to cope with stress is the main cause of AFS. So once you have identified ways to reduce the stress your body cannot handle, you can begin the road to recovery by optimizing the health of your organs, such as consuming liver-cleansing foods for your liver.

In terms of liver function, excessive stress can lead to a breakdown of the liver’s ability to filter toxins and process nutrients, leading to subclinical congestion of the liver. This, in turn, hinders the production and secretion of hormones such as Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1), Angiotensinogen, Thrombopoietin, Hepcidin, and Betatrophin. Brain fog, food allergies, a weakened immune system, leaky gut, and fatigue are common symptoms associated with Adrenal Fatigue and liver congestion. Regular laboratory tests are often normal, and clinicians are at a loss as to what to do. In order to restore liver function, you must clear up any congestion. This process is key to restoring your NEM stress response, allowing your body to function normally, detoxifying, metabolizing, and assisting the adrenal glands in fighting stress and building immunity. This whole-body approach will aid in long-term healing and eventual recovery from Adrenal Fatigue.

In addition, you can change your diet to provide a healthy stream of nutrients to your liver that will be easily filtered and processed during your recovery period. Herbal supplements such as fermented milk thistle, which aids in cell repair and growth, can promote healing. Proper dietary changes will trigger a host of repair and recovery processes in many organs and systems, often leading to a full recovery.

To determine which are appropriate liver-cleansing foods, you need to understand why certain foods are beneficial to the liver. Generally, the goal is to reduce the acid and bile production in the liver. If heat and acid are the enemies, then cooling, alkaline foods will calm the liver. The Dosha principle “Pitta” may aid in understanding how to cool the internal heat of your body’s organs and systems. Pitta is a principle of heat and digestion in the body, focused on inflammation, acid, and bile in the liver. Pitta people tend to carry a heat in the body that produces stress. They are often anxious, critical, judgmental, and overachievers. They get irritated when hungry or frustrated and often have perfectionist attitudes. Although this diet-changing approach to liver congestion will not change one’s personality, it will help calm the side effects of the Pitta’s personality, and can be useful to other Doshas in liver cleansing as well.

To calm Pitta, start by avoiding these foods:

  • Olives and olive oil, while considered generally healthy, should be avoided as liver-cleansing foodsOil – Oils are difficult for the liver to process. Use only olive oil and coconut oil, and do so only sparingly. The occasional use of small amounts of pure, fresh butter or ghee is allowed.
  • Salt – The body needs a small amount of salt for normal function. However, overuse can create heat in the digestive system.
  • Hot Spices – Although some spices can stir your metabolism, it is best to avoid chilies, turmeric, and peppers during a period of cleansing and recovery.
  • Tomatoes – The acidity of tomatoes creates heat and they are difficult to filter quickly.
  • Egg yolks – Egg whites are fine, but avoid the cholesterol-containing yolk.
  • Coffee – Acidity and caffeine both raise the heat in your digestive system and liver.
  • Red Meat – Avoid cholesterol-laden red meats of any kind while cleansing the liver.
  • Refined Flour/Sugar – These are stripped of their accompanying nutrients, allowing them to be absorbed too quickly, such that consumption results in an insulin spike (which creates heat).
    Removing the heating foods from your diet will allow the absorption of cooling foods, which you should add to your diet, to cool and calm, aiding in liver decongestion. Add foods that are cool, dry, light, sweet, and bitter to keep Pitta in check. The following cooling foods are liver-cleansing foods and should be considered as a permanent lifestyle change instead of only a quick diet.

Incorporate these liver-cleansing foods, along with your herbal regimen, for several months:

  • Beans/Legumes – Kidney beans, chickpeas, and lentils are all good sources of nutrient rich, cooling food, as are black beans, pinto beans, lima beans, and black-eyed peas.
  • Green Vegetables – Asparagus, leeks, and salads made of chard, spinach, and kale are particularly beneficial, as are avocado, artichoke, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, celery, cucumber, dandelion greens, parsley, sprouts, and zucchini.
  • Low-Acid Fruits – Cherries, in particular, have liver-cleansing properties. Apples, watermelon, apricots, and bananas are especially good for snacking. Also enjoy blueberries, coconut, dates, figs, purple or black grapes, melon, pears, and plums.
  • Whole Grains – replace any refined flours and grains with whole grains; oatmeal and barley are particularly beneficial. You can also eat amaranth, couscous, durham flour, granola, oat bran, quinoa, wild rice, spelt, sprouted wheat, and wheat bran.
  • In the right amounts, dairy products act as liver-cleansing foodsFresh Dairy – In very small amounts, fresh dairy products such as cottage cheese, yogurt, and milk can be nourishing, cooling, and calming. However, the animal fats can be hard on the liver, so do not consume too much at once.

While adjusting your diet, be sure to incorporate fiber from whole grains and probiotics to aid in digestion and a healthy colon. As you consume liver-cleansing foods (such as cherries and asparagus) and supplements (such as milk thistle), the toxins that have been built up will be dumped into the colon. It is therefore vital that you avoid constipation. With all of the liver-cleansing foods suggested, moderation and balance is key to cooling the liver and clearing congestion. To avoid taxing the liver with large amounts of food, eat small meals and consume plenty of water at the same time. So as to promote recovery while you sleep, your last meal of the day should be your lightest one.

As you eat your way to recovery, be sure not to overdo the detoxification, as that could also cause adrenal crashes due to retoxification reactions. Remember to find someone to supervise your recovery who understands nutrition, its connection to Adrenal Fatigue, and your body’s overall stress response. When your liver is healthy, your body will be able to process, detoxify, and metabolize fats, hormones, and drugs/supplements effectively.

© Copyright 2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Nutrition and liver health are important factors for adrenal health, and liver-cleansing foods are part of the solution


  • Lisa says:

    I find that I actually need a little ox bile and bitters for my liver not to be congested. I also take digestive enzymes. Taking these also decreases allergies for me. I alternate between dandelion and silymarin with the ox bile.

  • Craig says:

    What about someone who has pretty severe AFS and is having gallbladder problems with no stones? How do you detox properly?

    • Dr.Lam says:

      That can be very tricky. One needs to be able to balance the system so there is no crashes which is a significant risk in that context.

      Dr Lam

  • Shasha says:

    Gluten (wheat/barley/rye..oats/corn/rice) may hurt the thyroid and adrenals/all glands. I can eat poached cage free/antibiotics free/organic eggs….the yolk has biotin/lecithin. Lecithin helps defat the liver. Biotin helps start the Krebs cycle for the mitochondria to burn oxygen/food and make ATP energy. I can’t have coconut/olive oil…saturated/monounsaturated fat…clogs my blood vessels. Heated oils makes free radicals which hurt me also. My adrenals got burned out by Celiac which causes stress and stress and hospital taking away my thyroid medicine and Alternative protocol (see below) when I had Lyme which also burns out the adrenals.

    This is what helps me:
    No gluten/dairy/soy/sugar/GMO/food with a label etc. and vitamins/good oils/ LDN and detoxing help me. Vit D3 5000IU, zinc 50mg if detoxing, 2000mg fish oil, 2000mg evening primrose oil. 2000 mg lecithin, Phosphatidylserine/DMAE, krill oil, CLA, Coenzyme Q10, Rhodiola, Mg citrate 400mg, Vit C, 5000mcg of biotin, Nature’s Plus- Source of life multiple, HCl and enzymes with meals, dairy free probiotic, Vit B12 methylcobalamin shot/spray/under the tongue kind/intrinsic factor kind, MTHF folate, coenyzme Q10, rhodiola, may help brain/body/thyroid/depression/immune system and more. Gluten is wheat/barley/rye/corn…oats has gluten with avenin…and there is a small amount of gluten in rice. GMO corn/soy/canola oil may hurt. Amour thyroid maybe needed since gluten may made antibodies to the thyroid. Coenzymated B vitamins far from synthetic kind make make me calm.

    Sunlight (helps the immune system and helps to heal the gut lining),exercise, organic food, good water..not tap water, cooking by scratch pure food….. no food in a box/bag/premade/label/restaurant which may help avoid hidden gluten. Certified gluten free food may have 20ppm of gluten…too much. Nuts not sold in the shell/meat basting/some spices may have hidden gluten/food with a label and lotion/make up etc. One restaurant cooks special for me…rice/veg/tea/extra mushrooms (no meat since the woks may have MSG/gluten in them).

    EDTA/DMPS IV chelations from an Alternative doctor, 600mg of cilantro, organic sulfur, Now brand- Detox support, Far Infrared Sauna and more may help detox. Hair tests show good minerals and heavy metals. Heavy metals can block thyroid and other chemical reactions in the body/brain.

    LDN may help block hidden gluten/heal the gut lining and help the immune system, but the Celiac diet is still needed. 100% no hidden or microscopic gluten may help. Cutting back on gluten or cheating by eating gluten hurts the immune system. It may take 1 1/2 months to heal the gut lining after getting hidden gluten. HCl and enzymes with meals and gluten enzymes help me. There are now gluten enzymes also a person may use that may help, but LDN helps block gluten in the air/on the skin and all day long.

    Amour thyroid has some T3 and Calcitonin. Synthroid is only T4..may not convert to T3. Zn/Se/enough iron/strong probiotic may help convert T4 to T3 for thyroid.

    Alternative doctors/chiropractors/acupuncturists and more may help with health/vitamins etc.
    Books: No grain No Pain, Wheat Belly, Grain Brain, Dangerous Grains and The Autoimmune Fix and more explain Celiac.

    • Dr.Lam says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience. Note that most people in AFS , especially in advance stages, will not be able to tolerate and easily get worse as their body tend to be very fragile.

      Dr Lam