Can Eating Too Much Protein Be Bad for Your Liver?

The importance of protein in our everyday health cannot be understated. An entire series of articles could be dedicated solely to protein, the different types, combinations, and their roles in the body.

But for the sake of simplicity, what you need to know is that proteins are complex molecules that play crucial roles in almost every area of the body. They do the heavy lifting in cells and are required for the structure, function, and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs, including the liver.

High Protein Diets

With so many different regiments purporting the health benefits of high protein intake, we want to know if overdoing it in the protein department can harm your liver.

A high protein diet is just that, high in protein, and low in carbohydrates such as:

  • cereals
  • grains
  • and fruits.

In examining what these types of diets are doing to our body, we’ll learn what types of proteins are the best and which are potentially harmful.

Despite the research in this area being limited, high protein diets continue to gain in popularity.

Thus, now is an apt time to examine what we know about high protein diets in relation to our liver and health in general.

How Much Is Too Much?

It’s commonly believed that a high protein diet is relatively safe in many instances. The Mayo Clinic tells us “for most healthy people, a high-protein diet generally isn’t harmful, particularly when followed for a short time.” However, this seems to suggest that there may be something wrong with observing a high protein diet long-term.

Additionally, if you don’t have a clean bill of health or already suffer from liver disease, too much of the wrong types of protein will do serious damage.

The common advice among doctors and nutritionists is not eating a high protein diet if you’re already diagnosed with:

A high protein diet on top of any of the aforementioned conditions puts a large amount of strain on an already scarred or inflamed liver.

Too Much of a Bad Thing

Whether you choose to get your protein from vegetables, plants, or animals, your body needs protein in order to accomplish a multitude of bodily functions including:

  • regulating hormones
  • building muscle tissue
  • and maintaining cell structure in things like hair, nails, bones, cartilage, and skin

Protein is everywhere, and it’s literally holding us together.

If you are diagnosed with a liver disease, the potential damage of a high protein diet may depend on what types of proteins you’re consuming.

Results from The Rotterdam Study, presented at The International Liver Congress in 2017, suggested that diets high in animal proteins are associated with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in overweight people. The study looked at 3,400 individuals living in the Netherlands, 70% of whom had a high body mass index.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease can have multiple health implications and is a precursor to liver cancer and cirrhosis if changes to behavior and diet aren’t implemented. The study goes on to explain that a “high protein/high meat diet could cause disorders of liver function and precipitated progression of coronary artery disease.”

The Hepatitis B Foundation also chimes in on red meat adding that “eating red meat requires our digestive system, as well as our liver to do a lot of work processing the heavy bulk of protein. Experts suggest limiting the amount of red meat we eat to at most one serving a day.”

But don’t be sad if you thought meat was the best form of protein.

Protein from plants and vegetables such as:

  • legumes
  • nuts
  • grains
  • cheese
  • vegetarian sources like soy

can have additional phytochemicals, antioxidants and nutrients beyond what meat can provide.

After all, most of the animals we eat receive most of their protein from plant and veggie based feeds, so stands to reason that we can, too.

The beneficial additives of plants and vegetables, antioxidants especially, help reduce oxidative stress to the body and thus aid our liver in its myriad of bodily functions.

Recommended Daily Allowance

The safest amount of protein to consume on a daily basis is somewhat contested, but the recommended daily allowance set by The Food and Nutrition Board is 0.66 grams per pound of your body weight per day with athletes needing slightly more. A high protein diet suggests anywhere from .8 – 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.

If you don’t have any pre-existing liver conditions, you’re probably fine increasing your protein intake for a short period of time.

Keep in mind that generally accepted nutritional advice almost always suggests a well-balanced diet and, by definition, a high protein diet is not that.

Before choosing to implement a high protein diet or protein shake routine you should always consult your physician or nutritionist.



  1., The Mayo Clinic, “Are high-protein diets safe for weight loss?” by  Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D., Retrieved on Dec 19, 2018
  2., International Liver Congress, “Diet high in animal protein is associated with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in overweight people,” Published on April 21, 2017, Retrieved on Dec 19, 2018
  3., Hepatitis B Foundation, “Protein Myths and Your Liver,” Published on September 25, 2013, Retrieved Dec 19, 2018
  4., Food and Nutrition Board, “Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Estimated Average Requirements.” 2011, Retrieved Dec 19, 2018