Liver cleanses or “liver detoxification” have become popularized by the health and diet industry in recent years—going hand-in-hand with images of lemon juice, grapefruit, green juice, maple syrup, raw vegetables and bone broth dancing in your head.
From 7-day juice cleanses, to detox supplements and upwards of 120-day fasts (seriously), it’s safe to say it’s a little overwhelming.
Why do people go on a liver cleanse in the first place?
Essentially, a liver cleanse or detox is meant to be a short-term support and reset for your liver itself—your body’s most detoxifying organ.
The idea behind the “madness” is that, by giving your digestive system a break from working super hard to break down more complex foods and eliminate as many toxins as possible (i.e. less food and outside unwanted chemicals), you allow your liver, gallbladder and overall digestive tract to take a breather.
However, most people tend to gravitate to cleanses for a different reason—weight loss or a quick body tone-up.
The cleanse and detox industry is a $5-billion-plus industry alone, marketing juicing and fasting as “quick fixes” designed to erase any damage done from a weekend-long calorie feast or get you “unstuck” from inflammation, bloating and unwanted pounds.
Unfortunately, this has made liver cleansing and detoxing a slippery slope—taking it completely out of context from what it was originally intended all along (a digestive system re-set).
For many, this comes with a (quality-of-life) price—breeding many (unspoken) eating disorders and disordered eating as the fasting, juicing and cleansing continues, fostering unhealthy fear as to what food (or certain foods) may do to you, as well as giving some adherents a euphoria or high from the feeling they get when they don’t eat (i.e. cleansed).
So could you really benefit from a liver cleanse?
First things first, it’s important to understand what the liver is and WHY you may want to consider a detox or cleanse in the first place.
Your liver is your primary “detoxifying” organ—the filtration system in your body that decides what foods, toxins, chemicals and substances you ingest, inhale or come into contact with (hygiene products, cleaning products, environments, plastics, etc.) stay inside or go back outside your body.
It’s like the master garbage disposal and recycling machine—all in one.
Unfortunately, the liver goes “awry” (like the rest of your gut health) when it is stressed—leaving it to function less than optimally, unable to detox toxins out of your body appropriately (often times leaving unwanted toxins in your body leading to other body and digestive stress).
Common reasons why your liver gets overworked or stressed include:
- NSAIDs, birth control pills and long-term prescription medication use
- Frequent alcohol consumption
- Processed foods & hydrogenated oils (eating out a lot)
- Sedentary lifestyles or overtraining
- Pesticides in your fruits and veggies
- Conventionally raised meats and dairy
- Processed diet foods with dyes, chemicals and artificial sweeteners
- Heavy metal exposure (farmed fish, dental work, surgical procedures)
- Mold exposure (apartment, home)
- Plastic container and plastic water bottle use
- Electromagnetic radiation
- Contaminated water
- Toxic cleaning supplies, beauty supplies and hygiene products
- Nail polish, hairspray and perfume fumes
- Gasoline inhalation
(Just to name a few).
We are exposed to thousands of environmental toxins every day. In fact, the average woman uses 120 chemicals in her beauty products in the morning alone.
Fun Fact: The skin is the largest organ in your body—what you put onto your skin is absorbed directly into your body. If you would not eat it, don’t use it on your skin.
Signs of liver toxicity or overload may look like:
- Difficulty digesting fat—even healthy fat
- Stubborn belly fat, rolls or “pot belly”
- Dark circles under your eyes
- Elevated LDL cholesterol and reduced HDL cholesterol and elevated triglycerides
- Overheating of the body or excessive perspiration
- Gallbladder removal or attacks
- Pain or discomfort in right upper abdominal area under the rib cage
- Skin breakouts, dry skin or blotchy skin
- Chronic fatigue
- Light or clay colored stools
- Frequent nausea
- Greasy or shiny stools
- Easily intoxicated or sick if you drink wine
- Bitter taste in mouth (especially after meals)
- Motion sickness
- Cravings for sugar
- Foggy brain
- Bad breath
- Easily overheated
- Pain between shoulder blades
- Sensitive to chemicals and smells
- Elevated AST or ALT levels on routine blood work
- Toxic metal overload (assessed typically by a hair test)
- Unexplained weight gain, or inability to lose weight (even with “clean eating”)
- Estrogen dominance (80% of women over the age of 35 have estrogen dominance–and desperately need the periodic liver optimization).
Although we CAN’T live in a bubble, there are measures we can take in our daily lives to support our liver and make sure it is detoxifying appropriately is necessary.
Enter: Liver cleansing and detoxification.
TO CLEANSE OR NOT TO CLEANSE?
If you relate to several of the signs and symptoms above, liver cleansing and detoxification CAN be a body and digestive reset—but ONLY if you and your body are ready for it (mentally and physically).
A roadblock many folks run into aside from the dieting-trap of detoxification is not being (physically) ready to support a cleanse.
IF your digestive system is imbalanced or unhealthy (prior to cleansing), detoxification may not be the first step—since you have more work to be done first.
When we “cleanse” our liver, BUT we still have a fair amount of bacterial overgrowth, leaky gut, fungal overgrowth, or a stressful lifestyle present, then the toxins that we do “detoxify” out of our liver WON’T detox appropriately—and actually will leak into our blood stream instead of eliminating appropriately.
Before You Cleanse
Thus, before you cleanse or even consider a detox, it is crucial your basic gut support, dietary and lifestyle factors are aligned first including:
1. Remove Foods Harmful to Your Liver. Processed foods. Conventional meats and dairy. Poor quality fats (hydrogenated oils). Limited or eliminated alcohol. And any other food intolerances.
2. Eat 1-2 Servings of Dark Leafy Greens Each Day. Along with melons, beets, carrots, apples, berries, grapes, grapefruit, oranges/tangerines, lemons, cruciferous veggies (cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Bok Choy, kale, radishes, and turnips) and other fresh, in season (organic) produce.
3. Choose Wild-Caught Fish and Organic, Grass-fed, & Pastured Meats & Dairy. We eat what our animals eat. For a BONUS, throw in a medicinal serving of organic organ meats (liver, heart, tongue) one to two times per week (mask in meatballs or meatloaf to make it tastier)
4. Support Digestion. Follow a baseline support protocol at the very least for maintaining a healthy gut flora including a probiotic, pre-biotics and potentially HCL (hydrochloric acid) and digestive enzymes.
5. Replace Toxins & Toxic Products with the Real Deal. Gradually begin to replace your makeup, face washes, toothpastes, countertop cleaners, bug spray, sunscreen and beyond with real ingredients, including baking soda, white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, sulfate-free formulas, coconut oil, jojoba oil and beyond. Basically Google search “natural homemade” or “toxin-free” versions of any product you need for insights on how to clean up shop. (In addition, the Think Dirty App and Environmental Working Group both have tons of information and content on replacing toxins).
Phew! Once all of these factors are addressed, and you’re still experiencing symptoms, then a more formal liver detoxification or cleanse may be warranted.
HOW TO LIVER CLEANSE
Natural liver detoxification involves 3 phases:
First, a toxin enters “Phase 1” in the liver where it is first reduced to smaller metabolites, then moves onto “Phase 2,” where the liver turns these drugs, hormones and various toxins into excretable substances. Lastly, “Phase 3” involves excreting the toxins in your bile, urine or stool.
- Phase 1 breaks down
- Phase 2 adds-on
- Phase 3 eliminates
If any one of these phases is inefficient or overloaded, you then run into the symptoms of liver toxicity.
To properly support each phase of detoxification, a liver cleanse takes your healthy lifestyle factors up a notch by specifically supporting both Phase 1-3 detoxification with some essential nutrients you may not always get by “eating clean” alone.
Liver Cleanse 2.0
Balanced Eating: Continue to eat real foods and balanced meals, consisting of protein + vegetables + healthy fats. ( Contrary to popular belief that protein is “bad” for you, amino acids in proteins are actually essential for efficient Phase 2 detoxification in particular. Choose sustainable, organic meats, poultry and fish). Also continue eating your liver-loving foods.
Integrate Liver Supportive Herbs & Supplements. Herbs like Milk Thistle, Globe Artichoke, Tumeric, Caraway, Dill Seeds, and Dandelion are super healing and supportive of the liver, along with the nutrients found in a B-Complex, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin E, Magnesium and the amino acid Taurine.
Avoid: Alcohol, charcoal-broiled meats, cigarette smoke, processed foods (even diet packaged foods), and as many environmental toxins as possible, birth control pills and as many environmental toxins as possible.
Juice Only is Not Necessary: Another myth contrary to popular belief. You don’t have to fast or take wheatgrass shots to love your liver. Continue eating real foods and nourishing your body with foods that make you feel good and energized.
Detox Your Environment
The chemicals in our beauty, cleaning and hygiene supplies wreak havoc on our liver. While focusing on cleaning up your diet and liver support, consider detoxing your environment too. Start by replacing one toxic commercial beauty or household product with a non-toxic real substance.