Liver cysts are sacs in the liver that contain fluid. The vast majority of liver cysts are benign (noncancerous). They may be called “simple cysts” and are the most common type of liver cyst.
Simple liver cysts are common and affect 10 to 15% of people. They become more common with increasing age. Simple liver cysts can be very small (pinhead size) or measure up to 10 centimeters (4 inches) in size.
What causes simple liver cysts?
Many cysts are congenital meaning that you are born with them, and they grow larger as you get older. Liver cysts can also be caused by unhealthy bile ducts that contain gallstones or are inflamed by infection and this puts back pressure on the liver tissue. The back pressure compresses liver tissue and a cyst forms.
Liver inflammation from various causes such as excess alcohol, fatty liver,
and toxic chemicals may cause damage to liver cells which then die and are replaced with cysts. Most simple liver cysts contain fluid, but some can contain degenerated liver tissue or fat.
The cysts are replacing liver tissue and are non-functional. It is important to try and stop more simple liver cysts from forming.
The liver is able to repair damaged liver cells and grow new liver cells if you use the strategies of nutritional medicine.
Liver cysts should be monitored by abdominal ultrasound scans done every 6 to 12 months as around 3% of simple liver cysts are precancerous.
This is a low percentage, and people with liver cysts should not feel anxious. Simple liver cysts may gradually shrink and go away if patients improve their diet and use nutritional medicine.
Sometimes liver cysts are not simple cysts and can be more serious and this includes:
- Polycystic liver disease (PLD): This is a genetic (inherited) disease occurring in around 1 in 10,000 people. In PLD groups of cysts that may look like clusters of very large grapes grow inside the liver. There may be no symptoms until adulthood. The liver gradually enlarges with the multiple growing cysts and can become huge over time, and this may cause a swollen abdomen and abdominal pain. In patients with severe symptoms from an enlarged liver, the procedure of liver transplantation is the best cure and is associated with excellent survival rates.
- Cysts caused by parasites such as Hydatid Disease; these are known as echinococcal or hydatid cysts. Hydatid cysts arecaused by parasites (small tape worms) that pass to humans from dogs and sheep. The worms develop into cysts on people’s livers and other areas of their bodies. Hydatid cysts are treated with anti-parasitic drugs such as albendazole and mebendazole which are very effective. Surgery may be required to remove the parasitic cysts.
Can simple liver cysts cause symptoms?
Most people who have benign simple liver cysts never have any symptoms and get a surprise to be told they have them after a routine abdominal ultrasound scan. In some cases, symptoms can occur especially if the cyst grows to a large size or if there are multiple cysts. It is usually easy to tell from an ultrasound or CT scan if a cyst is a simple benign cyst or a suspicious precancerous cyst. If the doctor is uncertain a liver biopsy can be done to check what the cyst is made of.
Rarely a simple liver cyst can burst or get infected and cause an abscess.
To detect and investigate liver cysts the following tests can be done:
- Ultrasound scan of the liver which uses high-frequency soundwaves to produce real-time pictures and videos of your liver, gallbladder and other abdominal organs
- Computed Tomography (CT) scan to produce three-dimensional images of your organs.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging. (MRI) which uses a magnet, radio waves and a computer to produce accurate images of your organs.
- Liver biopsy
Sometimes people with liver cysts have a tendency to form cysts in other organs in their body such as the kidneys and thyroid gland.
Ultrasound scans of these organs can be done to see if there are cysts in these areas. If you are a person who forms a lot of simple benign cysts in your skin, thyroid, liver, kidneys, or ovaries this is a sign that you could be deficient in the trace minerals iodine and selenium.
Symptoms of liver cysts can include:
- Pain or pressure in the right upper abdomen
- Bloating and distension of abdomen
- Poor appetite
- Fever and acute pain if a cyst ruptures or gets infected (this is rare)
- If a cyst blocks a bile duct jaundice may occur
Treatment for liver cysts
Most simple liver cysts do not need medical or surgical treatment and can often be shrunk with nutritional medicine.
If a cyst is very large and causing pain or looks suspicious for cancer, it may need surgical treatment.
Procedures that can be done include:
- Percutaneous aspiration. Under guidance from ultrasound or CT imaging, needles are inserted into the liver cysts and the fluid in the cyst is drained off.
- Cyst fenestration. This is a surgical procedure to remove part or all of the cyst’s wall.
- Liver (Hepatic) resection. This surgically removes the areas of the liver that contain the cysts.
- Transarterial embolization (TACE). During this procedure a substance is injected to block the artery that supplies the cyst with blood and the cyst goes away.
- Surgery. To remove benign or cancerous cysts. Simple liver cysts removed with surgery rarely recur.
- Liver transplantation. This can be done for polycystic liver disease that is severe and untreatable.
Nutritional Medicine for Liver Cysts
Simple liver cysts can often be shrunk or totally disappear if you change your diet to a healthy liver diet and take specific supplements. The diet should contain good quality protein from grass fed meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs.
Plenty of vegetables both cooked and raw should be eaten. The best fruits for liver cysts are pineapples, citrus fruits, and berries.
Intermittent fasting is also beneficial to shrink the cysts.
Avoid sugar, high carbohydrate foods and processed foods. A 15 Day Detox such as the Dr Sandra Cabot Cleanse can hep your liver to eliminate toxins.
Excellent foods to shrink liver cysts include:
- Garlic – raw is best or use a garlic press to extract the juice
- Apple cider vinegar – use in salad dressings or have one tablespoon in the middle of meals
- Lemons and limes and grapefruits
- Onions and radishes
- Saur Kraut
- Cruciferous vegetables
- Broccoli Sprouts
- Raw vegetable juice with beet, carrot, kale, pineapple and ginger
Supplements to shrink liver cysts include:
Selenomune one capsule daily. This supplement helps your immune system. Selenomune contains 3 types of organic selenium, zinc and iodine and other immune nutrients. Selenium and iodine are useful to shrink cysts in the liver, thyroid, and kidneys. Many people are lacking in iodine and selenium, and these are serious deficiencies.
N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) which is a potent liver cleanser and increases the production of glutathione which can repair and detoxify your liver. The dose of NAC is one to two capsules twice daily in between meals with a whole large glass of water. Do not take NAC after dinner at night as it can be too strong for those with a sensitive stomach. NAC is very effective for breaking down mucus, biofilm and other damaged tissues in the body.
Serrapeptase which is an enzyme that breaks down unhealthy damaged tissues in the body. Take one or two capsules twice daily. Serrapeptase is worth taking, however if you are on a budget the most important things to take are Selenomune and NAC and these two things alone will often be effective to shrink the cysts.
Liver cysts that are simple cysts are common and the vast majority of these cysts are benign and will not turn into cancer. It is important to monitor them with an ultrasound scan every 12 months. If you keep forming more cysts this can be a sign that your liver is inflamed, and that healthy liver tissue is turning into non-functional cysts. Thankfully nutritional medicine is effective in such cases and can help your liver cells to stay healthy and functional.
Zimmermann MB. Iodine and iodine deficiency disorders. In: Erdman JWJ, Macdonald IA, Zeisel SH, eds. Present Knowledge in Nutrition. 10th ed: John Wiley & Sons; 2012:554-567.
Iodine. Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease. 11th ed: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2014:217-224.
Larsen PR, The thyroid gland. Textbook of Endocrinology. 9th ed. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company; 1998:389-515.
WHO, UNICEF, ICCIDD. Assessment of iodine deficiency disorders and monitoring of their elimination: a guide for programme managers, 3rd ed. 2007. http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/micronutrients/iodine_deficiency/9789241595827/en/. Accessed 8/28/15.
de Benoist B, McLean E, Andersson M, Rogers L. Iodine deficiency in 2007: global progress since 2003. Food Nutr Bull. 2008;29(3):195-202. (PubMed)
Andersson M, et al,. Global iodine status in 2011 and trends over the past decade. J Nutr. 2012;142(4):744-750. (PubMed)
Published online 2022 Feb 23. doi: 10.3390/nu14050952