You can find out more about some common supplements in the drop-down boxes below.
During spring and summer, most people will get all the vitamin D they need from sunlight. But in winter we have to get it from our food. It can be hard to get enough vitamin D this way. Taking a vitamin D supplement will make sure that you are getting enough in the darker months.
The NHS recommends taking 10 micrograms of vitamin D. On some packs this will be written as 400IU. IU stands for international units. It is usually fine to take a bit more than this. But taking very high doses of vitamin D can be dangerous. Unlike some other vitamins, your body cannot easily get rid of vitamin D. So it can build up. This can cause symptoms including feeling or being sick and feeling very weak. In severe cases it can cause damage to your kidneys.
If you are not able to go outside very often you might need to take extra vitamin D in the summer as well. For example if you are in hospital for a long time.
The NHS recommends that you should take extra folic acid if you are trying to become pregnant. Or if you are in the first 12 weeks (first trimester) of pregnancy. You should take 400 micrograms, once every day. In some cases your doctor or midwife will tell you to take a little bit more than that.
Folic acid supplements are safe for most people. But they can cause problems for people with some medical conditions. They can also change the way some other medicines work. So always talk to your doctor before taking extra folic acid if you have a health condition.
You might need to take a calcium supplement if you take some types of medicine. Most commonly strong steroid medicines. This is because the medicine can make your bones weaker than normal. Vitamin D helps your body to take in calcium. So it is a good idea to take vitamin D as well.
Some liver conditions make it hard for you to digest fat in your food. This can make it hard for your body to take in vitamins A, D, E and K. These are called “fat soluble vitamins”. They are usually taken in by your body along with fat in your food.
If this problem goes on for a long time you might need supplements. But it is important to talk to your medical team about this. Taking too much of these vitamins can be dangerous. Too much vitamin A can damage your liver.
If you cannot digest fat then vitamin pills you can buy in shops and pharmacies might not work. They often rely on fat helping you to take in the vitamins. And they might not have the right amount of the vitamin for you. Talk to your medical team about which supplements might help, how much you need, and how to take them.
Some types of liver disease can make it hard for you to eat enough. This could be because you are not able to absorb the fat in your diet. Or it could be that your symptoms make it hard to eat. You can find out more about this on our coping with eating difficulties page here.
If you have a liver condition. Always check with your doctor or registered dietitian before taking any kind of supplement. If your condition makes it hard for you to digest fat then you might be given a food supplement to make sure you are getting enough energy and protein. Always take the supplement you have been given as advised.
If you want to try a protein supplement, choose a whey protein isolate from a well-known reputable brand. This is especially important if you have a liver condition.
Supplements prescribed by your medical team or dietitian are carefully checked for quality and safety. Not all over the counter protein and sports supplements are checked in this way. This means that what the label says may not be exactly what is in the product. They can contain large amounts of substances that are dangerous for people with a liver condition.
Currently there is no good evidence that creatine supplements will help people with a liver condition. There is a risk that side effects from taking creatine could make a liver condition worse.
If your liver is healthy then it should be safe to take creatine supplements. There is evidence that they can help with strength and exercise. But they can have side effects. The main side effect is water retention. So it is particularly risky for people with decompensated cirrhosis who may already have problems with water retention.
Do not use anabolic substances such as steroids for sports or to change how you look. These have been linked to a rare type of liver cancer in men. You can find out more about this here.
If you have a liver condition it is important to always talk to your doctor before taking any kind of herbal supplement or medicine. Your liver processes supplements and medicines, so they can add extra stress to your liver.
Some supplements can cause damage to your liver. You are more at risk if you already have a liver condition. You can find out more about drug induced liver injury here .
Weight loss supplements can contain herbs that can damage your liver.
Green tea extract tablets and capsules can cause problems for some people. But drinking normal amounts of green tea is safe.
There is a huge amount of information online about diet, vitamins, and supplements. Unfortunately, not all of it is accurate.
It is particularly important to get good information if you have a liver condition. Things that sound very safe or natural can become a problem if your liver is not working normally.
Your medical team
If you have a liver condition Always get specialist advice if you are thinking about trying a new supplement. This should take into account your personal medical history. And any other medicines you are taking. The advice will be different for different people. Talk to your specialist doctor, specialist liver nurse, GP, or a registered dietitian.
If your liver is working normally, you can talk to a pharmacist. They will be able to give you information about the safe amount of a supplement. If you are taking any other medicines a pharmacist will be able to tell you if it is safe to take the supplement as well.
Dietitians and nutritionists
These are not the same. Dietitians are the only nutrition professionals who are regulated by law. This means that they have done years of training and work using up to date scientific evidence. They must register with the health and care professions council.
Many dietitians work in the NHS. Some of them specialise in helping people with liver conditions. Your doctor might refer you to a dietitian for your liver condition if you are at risk of becoming malnourished. Other types of nutritional therapist are not regulated in the same way. Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist.
Registered nutritionists, for example, those working in sports and public health can give advice about nutrition. But they are unlikely to be qualified to give personal advice to someone with a serious liver condition. For this you would need to speak to registered dietitian who specialises in liver disease.
If you are looking for a dietician or nutritionist privately, it is important to check their qualifications and credibility. You can use the links below to search for a registered professional. Outside the NHS these services are likely to be expensive.
These can be a great place to connect with other people going through the same thing. But do not take advice on diet, supplements, or medicines from strangers online. The information someone posts might be working well for them, but we are all different. It might not be right or even safe for you.
More information from our website
Complementary and alternative medicinesFind out more
Eating, drinking and keeping activefind out more
Support for youFind out more
We would like to thank our clinical reviewer Balkrishan Parekh, Dietician, University Hospitals Birmingham.
Published: January 2024
Review Due: January 2027