Ask the Diva: Is Liver Good For You?

If the liver is in charge of detox, wouldn't it be full of toxins? So why do we eat it? Nutrition Diva explains.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
2-minute read


Q. "If liver is the detox organ, why is it good to eat animal livers?  Wouldn't the liver be full of whatever toxins it has filtered out of the bloodstream?"

A. It's true that one of the primary functions of the liver is to detoxify compounds that are harmful to us. The liver has a lot to cope with: It is in charge of detoxifying naturally-occuring substances (such as alcohol and natural toxins found in certain fruits and vegetables), synthetic chemicals (such as pesticides), and even normal by-products of metabolism (such as ammonia). Not surprisingly, the liver is often described as the body's "filter." But the toxins that it removes from the bloodstream don't build up in the liver the way gunk might build up in your car's oil filter. 

See also: How to Detoxify Your Body


Most of the toxins that the liver removes from the blood are broken down into harmless compounds by enzymatic or other chemical reactions. These harmless compounds are then either reabsorbed or excreted from the body. So the liver is much more than a filter; it's actually a complete waste processing and disposal plant. When you eat chicken or calves liver, you're not eating all the toxins that these animals were exposed to because most have been broken down and eliminated.

Heavy metals, such as lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium are an exception. These metals, which occur naturally in soil, rocks, and water, are hard for the body to break down or eliminate. As a result, they do tend to accumulate in both human and animals (and not exclusively in the liver).  

You definitely want to avoid unusual exposure to heavy metals (so don't set up housekeeping in an old lead paint factory or fish downstream of an industrial waste facility). But the amount of heavy metals you're likely to come into contact with through normal daily activities (including eating meat or liver) is not hazardous.

Liver image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.