Let’s all just take a minute to give the liver some glory. This football-size organ at just over three pounds is a powerhouse. It performs almost 500 tasks to save your life every day. It doesn’t get enough attention, and too often it’s abused ruthlessly.
When was the last time to actually consider the health of your liver? While it’s working to keep you alive, it’s time we give it the attention it deserves.
What does the liver do exactly?
The liver is the MVP of your digestive system. Let’s say you had a burger and fries for lunch. The liver takes the carbs from that hamburger bun and converts them into glucose to fuel all other cells in your body. Next, your liver breaks down the meat and veggies in your burger to find the vitamins and minerals that the body can use and sends the rest to waste. The fat that’s in the meat and the oil that the fries are drenched in also goes to the liver, where bile breaks it down to it can be absorbed into the bloodstream.
If you ate too much at lunch, the liver is going to store that extra food just in case you need it later (like when you’re stuck in rush hour and skip dinner).
Meanwhile, the liver is acting as a filtration system for your blood. It makes sure that the blood moving throughout your body is as clean as possible. At any given time, 13% of your body’s blood is currently undergoing a filtration system inside the liver. After lunch, you go back to work and feel a headache coming on. You grab a diet coke and some Tylenol, and again the liver is hard at work. First, the liver has to break down the sugars (not to mention chemicals) in the diet coke to protect your body. Then it breaks down the Tylenol, finds the active ingredients and sends it into the body where it can be used to cure your headache.
After work, you decide to hit the bar – this is where the liver can go into overdrive. It tries to clear out the harmful effects of alcohol and clear it out of your system, but this is a hard job. While your liver is critical, strong and versatile, it’s not invulnerable. It gets overworked, stressed out, and fatty if it’s not properly cared for.
Does the liver really need to be detoxed?
The liver is naturally a detox center. Every day it converts toxins into waste products, cleanses your blood, metabolizes nutrients and medications, and produces proteins naturally. While a healthy liver can clean itself, most of us feed our liver full of junk food, alcohol, pollution, chemicals, and environmental toxins and then expect it to work perfectly.
“When you become toxic, the mechanism for detoxification in the liver gets sluggish, and certain toxins can remain active longer than we want or than our systems can handle. This makes us sick and impedes normal metabolism. It also causes fluid retention, bloating, and puffiness,” said Mark Hyman, M.D., functional medicine doctor and New York Times best-selling author.
Given all that our liver does for us, it only seems fair to help this vital organ stay in tip-top shape. Whether you call is a “cleanse” or a “detox” the point is just to help out the liver and lighten its workload.
Signs that your liver needs to be cleansed:
Think of how you feel on a regular, daily basis. Consider what things you may be complaining about to friends or family. Perhaps some of these may sound familiar?
- You crave sugar often
- You’re always tired or “foggy”
- You’re frequently constipated
- You have seasonal allergies
- You eat healthily but don’t feel healthy
- Your skin isn’t clear
- Your skin is itchy
- You have joint pain
- You’re overweight
- You’re sensitive to chemicals, smells, or medications
- You have bad body odor
- You’re stressed or anxious
- You’re resistant to weight loss
- You have frequent mood swings
- You have bad breath
- You experience frequent gas and bloating
These are all signs that your liver could be calling out for help. Because your liver is responsible for so many internal functions, it’s often easy to see when it’s not at its best. It can affect nearly every part of your life.
What is a liver detox?
The uncleaned liver is very fragile yet still a fighter. It regenerates rapidly but is grateful for you doing your part. The liver can function with only 10 percent of healthy tissue, but giving it a break can allow it to function more efficiently.
- Lifestyle vs. Annual Purge
There are two ways to detox your liver. The first way is to change your lifestyle in a healthy way that will help your liver over time, the other is an all-at-once liver detox or purge.
- Lifestyle Detox: This is the same story we’ve heard time and time again and it starts with fruits and vegetables. A lifestyle detox is a commitment to a balanced and healthy diet that promotes overall gut health. This could be finally getting serious about losing weight. It includes ditching processed foods, drinking more water, and choosing organic foods.
- Annual Purge: This is a 7-day cleanse of the liver that allows the liver to improve its excretory function, eliminate old bile trapped inside and achieve complete and regular evacuation of the gallbladder. It is a delicate process involving several days of preparing the body through a strict diet and then using medicinal plants, supplements, mineral salts, and oils to properly detoxify the liver. This is a risky process and should be done under the care of a physician.
FAQ on how to do a liver detox:
- How long does it take?
If you choose to do a purge-type cleanse, it usually is a 7-day process. The lifestyle detox can take much longer but produces results that will likely last longer than a purge cleanse.
- What are the side effects?
This depends on the type of liver detox that you do. If you choose a purge-like cleanse, you may be on the toilet for several hours, and you may feel weak for a couple of days. Some have even reported emotional symptoms after completing a liver detox. If you choose a slower lifestyle cleanse, you should experience slow but positive side effects that will last longer.
- What does the detox do?
The purpose of the liver detox is to cleanse the liver of a buildup and counteract the effects of pollutants and chemicals in our world. It’s about helping the liver to clear its pathways so it can do its job(s) more effectively.
- Is it safe?
There are lots of products on the market that tout themselves as liver detoxes, cleanses, and flushes. Most of these have not been evaluated for safety or effectiveness. The best method for safety is to understand and use nutrients that support liver health. Supplements are generally safe, but if you’re concerned or have questions about your health you should consult your doctor.
- How often should you detox?
If you detox too often, you can actually lose valuable nutrients in your body and leave your body depleted of essential ingredients. For this reason, I wouldn’t recommend doing a full-on cleanse more than twice a year.
Best ways to detox the liver naturally
Foods to detox the liver: Changing your diet to incorporate gut-healthy foods can make you feel better day after day. While it takes some time to detox the liver, it can create real and lasting change. Vegetable juices can also be a great way to use food in a faster way to give the liver a boost. Some of the best foods for the liver include:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Cruciferous vegetables
Supplements or Teas: There are some supplements that you can use to help the liver. Keep in mind, these are not a substitute for a poor diet – but they can give your liver a little extra help in cleansing itself. Most of these can be found in capsules or tea form. More information on detox teas can be found here.
- Milk Thistle: Helps to eliminate the buildup of heavy metals, medications, environmental pollutants, and alcohol.
- Turmeric: Helps to restore a healthy blood sugar balance; and supports healthy liver tissue and liver metabolism.
- Dandelion Root: This has a natural diuretic effect to encourage your liver to more quickly eliminate toxins.
- Burdock Root: This is in the same plant family as dandelions and can help detox your system by cleansing the blood.
Juice: Because it is nearly impossible to eat all of the raw vegetables you need to effectively cleanse your liver. Juicing allows you to get more fresh, organic vegetables. Juicing vegetables also makes it easier to digest and more readily available for absorption. Experiment with favorite flavor combinations by adding fresh herbs to make the juices more enjoyable. Here is my current favorite juicer on Amazon.
Essential Oils: Because you don’t want to be eating vegetables and supplements constantly, essential oils are another way to introduce the benefits to your body. You can use a diffuser, or topically but they are not designed to be ingested, diluted, or added to food in any way.
There are many different blends you can make. Check those out here. But for now, here are two of my current blends:
Liver Detox Blend #1
Liver Detox Blend #2
Lifestyle Choices: There are some things you can do to help out your liver that have nothing to do with eating or drinking or adding ingredients into your body. Here are a few ideas that you can add to your cleanse.
- Intermittent Fasting: During periods of fasting, it gives the body more time to detox itself since it doesn’t have to focus on or funnel energy to our digestive system. If you want to give this a try – confine your eating to only 8 hours and fast the other 16 hours of the day. Try it for a week or two and see if you notice a difference.
- Increase Your Self-care: Your liver can feel the effects of stress in your life. Sometimes if you are experiencing a lot of stress or anxiety, it can negatively affect the efficiency of your liver. Increase your self-care to make peace with yourself and reap the benefits from the inside-out.
- Schedule a Daily Sweat Session: Sweating is one of the most natural detox methods that take the burden off your liver. You can use a sauna, steam, or a really great workout. As the biggest organ, the skin can actually help the liver to detox through sweat.
- Coffee Enemas: An enema targets the lower portion of your large intestine and can be done at home. Organic coffee has an additional stimulating effect that increases bile flow. This gives a jump-start both your gallbladder and your liver to release the buildup of toxins in your system. You can purchase coffee enemas or make your own at home with straight organic ground coffee and an at-home enema kit.
How to do a 2-day liver cleanse:
The two-day liver detox is actually a 7-10 days process, but only the last two days are “cleansing” days. The other days are preparatory. It is a delicate process that completely drains the toxins, cholesterol, and other fractions of fat from the liver and improves proper bile flow of the gallbladder. If that sounds serious, it is. This is not a process to take lightly. It requires a little prep beforehand, and a full understanding of how it works.
Step 1: Soften the tissue and fat in the liver for 5 days.
It takes five days to prepare the liver for an effective cleanse. During this time, you must drink at least two liters of liquid a day and avoid all animal proteins, dairy, fried foods, sauces or mayonnaise, coffee, alcohol, tobacco, processed foods, and cold or frozen food and drinks.
Step 2: During days 1-5, you’ll need to introduce natural food supplements that aid in the cleanse. This includes the following:
- One liter of natural apple juice without sugar or preservatives or 1 capsule of malic acid per day with breakfast.
- Celery and lemon juice (300ml). Dice 3 large celery stalks (preferably organic). Liquidize with the squeezed juice of one lemon, and add 200ml of mineral water or capsules celery root extract a day, with breakfast.
- Epsom salts. Dilute 1 heaped tablespoonful in a glass of water (200ml). Drink in one go, after dinner.
- Powdered psyllium seed husks. One heaped tablespoonful diluted in 250ml of water (or apple juice). Drink immediately after the Epsom salts or a bit later at night, before going to bed.
Step 3: On Day 6, you’ll want to clear your schedule and prepare for the full cleanse. It goes like this:
- First thing in the morning: On an empty stomach, take a heaped tablespoonful of Epsom salts diluted in a glass of water (200 ml) at room temperature.
- Thirty minutes later: Still on an empty stomach, mix 150ml of good-quality cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil with the squeezed juice of two lemons (or the juice of one grapefruit). Drink it straight away.
- Go back to bed immediately, lying on the right side and placing a warm blanket or pillow in the area of the liver. Sleep or at least rest with your eyes closed, for 1−2 hours.
- Two hours later: Still without eating, take the last tablespoonful of Epsom salts diluted in a glass of warm water (200ml).
- One hour later: You can now have breakfast (if you want). Continue with the vegetarian liver detox diet described above.
- Dinner time: After dinner in the evening, take a tablespoon of the same fiber that you have been taking the previous nights: powdered psyllium seed husks (Plantago ovate) diluted in 250mg of water or apple juice.
Step 4: From day 7 on, you can resume a healthy and varied diet. Continue taking this fiber supplement every night for a week after the liver detox. Probiotics for the next month or so are also recommended.
- What to expect:
This process is not easy or pretty, particularly in day 6. This daylong purge is mostly spent in the bathroom. What exits your body is not your typical bowel movement. The jets of greenish liquid, dense bile, and greasy excrements can be irritating and difficult to pass. You may also notice small stone-like particles are excreted and sometimes even worms, froth, and sand-like substance.
- How long do symptoms last?
The actual cleanse process should last one full day, it’s recommended to plan to spend this day at home without any other appointments. Day 7 you can begin to eat regularly and can resume normal activities. However, you may feel weak until Day 8 or 9.
- What do the results feel like?
Many individuals who have completed the liver detox also refer to it as an emotional cleanse. According to some theories, you can actually move, purge, and discharge real emotion during this process. It can be difficult at the moment, but results can leave you feeling lighter, happier, and a greater sense of vitality.
- How often should I do this?
It is not recommended to do a liver detox more than two times per year. If you attempt to do it more often, you could be doing more harm than good by excreting vital nutrients and upsetting your other organ functions unnecessarily.
There’s no magic bullet when it comes to a liver cleanse or detox—and you should only take the steps that you’re comfortable with. However, it’s important to reduce your liver’s workload by taking care of what you’re sending down the pipe. Incorporate some of the suggestions above and include the guidance of a health care provider. Over time, your body and liver will thank you.