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Common toxins to avoid

As well as our 12 top liver-loving foods we’ve sourced the worst common toxins that can damage your liver. Some you should avoid completely. Others just need to be taken in moderation and with caution. One of the most common causes of liver damage is alcohol, so much so that we’ve given it a page all of its own. Read more about the effects of alcohol on your liver.

#1 Large doses of Iron

Taking more iron supplements than recommended can cause serious liver damage. This is because the body has no way of eliminating excess iron, so it accumulates in the organs and tissues, including the liver. Too much iron can cause liver scarring which in some cases can lead to cirrhosis, a condition where the liver slowly deteriorates and malfunctions. Excess iron can also increase a person’s risk of developing liver cancer.

The National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia recommend no more than 45mg of Iron per day for men and women aged fourteen years and above. Lower amounts of iron are recommended for children under the age of fourteen. Only take iron supplements if discussed and recommended by your doctor.  

Please click here for more information on Australian vitamin and mineral recommendations.

A side note about haemochromatosis:
Haemochromatosis is a disease where there is too much iron is in the body.  It is the most common form of iron overload disease. There are two types of haemochromatosis:

  • Primary haemochromatosis is a genetic disorder inherited from family members.  People with this condition absorb too much iron and it ends up accumulating in the body, especially in the liver.  
  • Secondary haemochromatosis is caused by other blood-related disorders such as anaemia, or may be due to many blood transfusions, long term alcoholism and/or other health conditions.    

If left untreated, iron overload can lead to liver damage. That’s why it’s important to receive treatment as soon as possible after diagnosis to prevent further complications, including liver disease, liver cirrhosis, liver failure, liver cancer, heart disease, arthritis or diabetes. Some organ damage can be reversed if detected early enough and treated appropriately.

For more information about haemochromatosis click here

#2 A word on Supplements

A varied diet generally provides enough of the vitamins and minerals needed every day. However, some people may need supplements to correct deficiencies of particular vitamins or minerals. High-dose supplements should not be taken unless recommended by a medical practitioner.  Check out Australian Guide to Healthy Eating for further information about nutrition.

If you are taking supplements, keep in mind that many could have side-effects and potentially interact with each other and with medications. This could cause damage to your liver.  A good idea is to write a list of all the supplements you take including: vitamins, herbal teas, herbal remedies, nutritional supplements, over-the-counter products and medications and seek advice from your doctor.

#3 Cigarettes

If you smoke cigarettes there’s a chance that you are causing damage to your liver – increasing your risk of developing liver cancer and decreasing your liver’s ability to rid your body of dangerous toxins. In turn, this could leave you more susceptible to the damaging effects of some medications on the liver too. Talk to your doctor or ring Quitline to get help.

#4 Cannabis

Frequent use of cannabis has been shown to contribute to liver damage. As well as this, research has shown that the use of cannabis may suppress immune function and enhance the development of disease.  With this in mind, avoiding frequent use of cannabis is advised.  

People who have hepatitis C and use cannabis everyday are more likely to have severe fibrosis which can then lead to cirrhosis of the liver. If you have been diagnosed with hepatitis C, you may have heard that occasional or light use of cannabis has been shown to help some people deal with treatments and side-effects. However, if you are considering using cannabis during treatment you should also be aware that it may do more harm than good and discuss it with your specialist.

 If you wish to reduce your cannabis use, services are available to help you manage cannabis use; contact the alcohol and other drug service in your state or territory, chat to your GP or go to the Australian Drug and Information Network website for more information.

#5 Illicit drugs

All drugs have the potential to put stress on your liver. While heroin and morphine are not toxic to the liver, the substances that they are mixed with can be. What’s more, intravenous drug use is particularly renowned for transmitting infection and diseases such as hepatitis B and C. There is also evidence to suggest that hallucinogenic mushrooms contain many chemicals that the liver cannot tolerate, while amphetamines (speed) can damage your liver and cocaine and ecstasy can cause liver toxicity and even liver failure.

#6 Some herbal remedies

Many herbs and herbal remedies are known to be toxic to your liver. Here’s a list of the most common herbal toxins: Barberry, black cohosh, chaparral, Chinese ginseng, comfrey, creosote bush, germander, gordoloba yerba tea, greasewood, greater celandine, false pennyroyal, Jamaican bush tea, Jin Bu Huan, Kombucha tea, misteltoe, Sho-saiko-to, pennyroyal oil (squawmint oil), sassafras, senna, skullcap and valerian combined and white chameleon.

#7 Large doses of vitamin A

Did you know, a massive 50% to 80% of your body’s total vitamin A source is stored in the liver? That’s why excessive consumption can cause damage to your liver. The highest recommended daily intake of Vitamin A depends on your age and sex. If you have a high alcohol intake, pre-existing liver disease, high cholesterol or severe protein malnutrition the safe level of vitamin A intake may be lower for you. For adults, the safe daily intake of vitamin A is around 3,000 micrograms – this is much lower for children and adolescents. Consult your doctor for more detailed information.

#8 Some prescription medicines

The liver plays a huge role in processing medications, and there are some prescribed medications that contain higher levels of toxins than others such as; codeine, corticosteroids -steroid medication taken to reduce inflammation, tetracycline - a group of antibiotics, Benzodiazepines – depressant drugs commonly prescribed to relieve stress and anxiety can also harm the liver. Some of these drugs include Valium (diazepam) and Restoril (temazapam) which should be taken with caution.  Take your medications as directed by your doctor.  Keep in mind that many of these medicines are safe to take in prescribed doses provided you don’t have advanced liver disease.

#9 About Paracetamol

When used as directed, paracetamol is generally safe, even for those with liver disease. However unless recommended by a doctor taking too much paracetamol at once, or taking normal or high doses over a prolonged period of time, can cause liver damage. In Australia, the recommended paracetamol dose for adults and children without liver disease 12 years and over is 500 mg to 1000 mg every four to six hours as necessary, with a maximum of 4000 mg in any 24-hour period.

People with liver disease should not exceed 2000 mg of paracetamol per day. People taking paracetamol who also drink alcohol regularly are at higher risk of developing severe liver damage. Alcohol changes the way the paracetamol is broken down and leads to an accumulation in the liver of a toxic by-product that can kill the liver cells. People who drink alcohol regularly should take paracetamol rarely, if at all. You should seek information from your doctor if you have concerns.

#10 Some over-the-counter medications

Even over-the-counter medications should be taken with caution – always follow the directions on the packaging. Paracetamol for example, when taken in excessive amounts can be very toxic to the liver, especially when taken together with alcohol.  If you already have liver disease, aspirin should be taken with care.  Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil (ibuprofen) and diclofenac can also be dangerous for people with liver disease.

#11 Salt

You probably know that high salt intake can increase your blood pressure, but did you know that high blood pressure can contribute to fatty liver disease? Try to limit salt/sodium in your diet to a maximum total of one teaspoon (2,300 milligrams) a day. Read the nutrition label and reduce your intake of high-salt processed foods such as meat, bacon and sausages. Talk to your doctor about medications that can help keep your blood pressure under control.

Weight gain, obesity, fatty foods and saturated fats are also common causes of liver damage and liver disease. Read What can damage your liver and learn how easy it is to love your liver by taking a look at our recipes and diet and exercise tips.