Do You Need A Liver Cleanse? Six Ways to Keep You Healthy.
The liver is a workhorse. It’s your body’s primary filtration system—it converts toxins into waste products, cleanses your blood, metabolizes nutrients and medications, and produces proteins. And while a healthy liver naturally cleanses itself, it may not necessarily be functioning optimally if it’s constantly faced with dietary and environmental toxins.
More than ever before, our bodies are bombarded with stressors, from pollution to chemicals in skin care products to preservatives in foods we eat. These can deplete nutrient stores, cause a buildup of dangerous substances in the body, like heavy metals, and lead to chronic inflammation—all of which can make us tired and sick and give our livers a whole lot more work to do.
In a healthy body, the process of detoxification runs smoothly. 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, bloat, and puffiness.
So, helping out this vital organ only seems fair—whether you call that a liver “cleanse” or “detox” or whatever, it doesn’t really matter. Even though we can’t necessarily control our exposure to all pollutants and chemicals, we can make strategic dietary and lifestyle shifts that counter their effects by reducing inflammation, aiding the liver’s detoxification pathways, and lightening our overall toxic load. The truth is, it’s a multifaceted approach, but you certainly don’t have to buy into expensive cleanses or extreme detox diets.
Here are some signs you may need a liver cleanse or detox.
Think back to the time in your life when you felt the healthiest. How does your current state compare? If you feel significantly less vital, it could be a sign that your liver needs some support or that your diet and lifestyle need a general overhaul. Here are some signs your liver needs a little support:
“If you are overweight, you are toxic by definition, because most environmental chemicals like pesticides and plastics are stored in your fat tissue. Plus, extra fat can build up in your liver and cause non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which impedes liver functioning.
Too much refined sugar can also cause NAFLD. Some research shows that sugar can be as damaging to your liver as alcohol, even if you’re not considered overweight.
Too much alcohol
About 10 to 15 percent of heavy drinkers will develop liver scarring. Women should aim for no more than one drink per day, and men no more than two.
Tylenol (or acetaminophen) is in loads of medications, and too much can harm your liver. Never take more than the recommended dose or combine with alcohol.
Exposure to chemicals
These might include pesticides, fungicides, or paint, or even chronic exposure to pollution. Avoid these whenever possible, and if you can’t, then cover up.
Poor gut health
Leaky gut, caused by unmanaged food sensitivities, antibiotics, poor overall diet, and other factors, leads to the release of pro-inflammatory toxins into the bloodstream that tax the liver.
You crave sugar often
You’re always tired or “foggy”
You’re frequently constipated
You have seasonal allergies
You eat healthy but don’t feel healthy
Your skin isn’t clear
Your skin is itchy
You have joint pain
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
Here are 6 ways to cleanse your liver naturally.
If you’ve been wondering how to detox or cleanse your liver without compromising your health, read on. Just keep in mind, these strategies aren’t about detoxing or cleansing the liver itself—because that’s not really a thing. They’re more about supporting what your liver does naturally and protecting it from external stressors.
1. Adopt a liver- and gut-friendly diet.
You don’t need a fancy cleanse. What you need is a balanced, healthy diet that promotes weight loss (or weight maintenance, if you’re already at a healthy weight) and contains nutrients that promote liver and gut health. In fact, losing just 3 to 6 percent of your body weight could reduce liver fat levels by 35 to 40 percent, according to one recent study, which takes a huge burden off your body’s main detoxifying organ.
Ditch the processed foods. Pass on most processed foods, caffeine, and alcohol, and focus on whole, preferably organic foods including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, sustainably raised meats, fish, eggs, and minimally processed oils such as olive or coconut oil. This means you’ll be taking a break from most of the foods, additives, and pesticide residues that could tax your system, while adding in nutrient-dense foods that will nourish the body.
2. Drink more water.
Eight to 10 glasses of filtered water daily. Try having a few glasses day warm (with or without lemon) as it helps promote good digestion and optimal functioning of the lymphatic system, both of which indirectly support liver health.
3. Add in specific liver-friendly foods:
Once you’ve got the basics down, you can start adding in foods that promote healthy liver functioning, i.e., reduce inflammation, boost glutathione production, bind heavy metals and toxins, and stimulate bile flow. Here are 13 of our favorite liver-friendly foods:
Foods rich in Vitamin E: Almonds and sunflower seeds, peanuts, wheat germ, salmon, and avocado counter the oxidative stress associated with fatty liver disease.
Artichokes: Bile helps to transport toxins so they can be removed from the body, and an impairment of bile flow can result in the buildup of toxins and liver injury. Artichoke contains phenolic derivatives that have been used for centuries to stimulate bile flow and to protect the liver.
Berries: Deep-hued berries such as blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries aren’t only loaded with fiber, but they contain phytochemicals called anthocyanins, which are potent antioxidants that have been shown to scavenge free radicals and reduce overall inflammation.
Beets: These ruby-hued roots contain pigments called betalains, which may help reduce chronic inflammation and repair cells in the liver thanks to their potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They also contain betaine, which helps liver cells eliminate toxins, and pectin, a type of fiber that may help bind and clear toxins. Consider trying one of these 10 delicious beet recipes for a healthier liver.
Broccoli sprouts: Cruciferous veggies such as broccoli sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and watercress contain sulfur-containing phytochemicals called glucosinolates, which are protective against cancer, anti-inflammatory, and may help the body remove toxins. One study found that a drink made with broccoli sprouts activated enzymes that picked up pollutants from the bloodstream and flushed them out via urine, and another found that broccoli consumption slowed the progression of fatty liver disease in mice.
Citrus fruits: Lemons, tangerines, and oranges contain a compound called D-limonene, which has been shown to help reverse oxidative damage caused to the liver as a result of a high-fat diet. Sipping on lemon water throughout the day is also a great way to stay hydrated, which helps promote the movement of toxins out of the body.
Dandelion root and greens: Dandelion is known for its cleansing properties, and one study found that both the root and leaf helped rid the body of reactive oxygen species that cause oxidative stress. Reap the benefits by sipping on dandelion root tea, which makes a great caffeine-free alternative to coffee. Dandelion greens (along with other bitter greens such as mustard greens and arugula) are great, too, as they can help stimulate bile production and promote healthy digestion.
Fermented foods: Sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, lacto-fermented pickles, kefir, yogurt, and other fermented foods are loaded with beneficial probiotic bacteria that promote healthy digestion and integrity of the gut lining, thereby helping keep toxins out of the bloodstream. According to functional medicine expert Frank Lipman, M.D., they may also help clear heavy metals out of the body.
Glutathione-boosting foods: Glutathione is an antioxidant concentrated in the liver that helps bind toxins and escort them out of the body via urine or bile. Glutathione can be obtained directly from a few foods, including raw spinach, avocado, and asparagus, and it can also be produced by your body from the amino acids glutamine, glycine, and cysteine. Foods containing the building blocks of glutathione include bone broth, whey protein, and sulfur-containing foods such as broccoli and garlic.
Green tea: In addition to reducing inflammation, phytochemicals in green tea may help trigger both phase-one and phase-two liver detoxification. In phase one, toxins are made water-soluble by enzymes, and in phase two, toxins are bound to protective chemicals that neutralize them and allow them to be eliminated via bile or urine.
Leafy greens: Dark leafy greens such as dandelion greens, arugula, spinach, and kale contain plant chlorophylls, which help remove chemicals, pesticides, and heavy metals from the bloodstream. Specifically, early research shows that chlorophyll may reduce the risk of liver damage caused by aflatoxins (dangerous compounds produced by fungi that may be present on a variety of foods, including peanuts) by activating certain enzymes.
Lentils and Garbanzo beans: Get enough fiber-rich foods to bind up toxins in the gut and help promote regularity. If you’re constipated, toxins from the bowel can be reabsorbed into your system. Try legumes (especially lentils), raspberries, root vegetables, apples, pears, avocados, and almonds.
3. Try a form of intermittent fasting.
A nutrient-rich diet is key. But once you’ve mastered that, you may want to consider intermittent fasting for additional liver detox support. Research suggests that during periods of fasting, cells in the liver produce more of a protein associated with improved sugar metabolism and reduced levels of liver fat.
Periods without food give our body [and liver] a chance to repair and clean itself out since it doesn’t have to focus on or funnel energy to our digestive system. Think of this as your body’s chance to leave work and catch up on some house cleaning. One of the cool self-cleaning tools utilized during fasting is something called autophagy, which literally translates to ‘self-eating.’ When this process is allowed to do its thing, our body’s healthy cells gobble up any unhealthy cells, leading to a true cellular detox.
A good introduction to intermittent fasting is the 16-hour fast, in which you confine all of your daily eating to an eight-hour window and fast for the remainder of the day. Try this for a week or two and see if you notice any changes in energy and mood. For more specific guidance, check out our comprehensive guide to intermittent fasting.
4. Use liver-supporting supplements strategically.
Specific products that tout themselves as liver detoxes, liver cleanses, and liver flushes haven’t been evaluated for safety or effectiveness. That said, there are some individual nutrients that hold promise for supporting liver health by reducing inflammation, protecting against injury from chemicals or toxins, stimulating bile production, and more.
Milk thistle: By far the most promising herbal supplement for liver health is milk thistle, also called silymarin, which is an extract of the seeds of the flowering milk thistle plant. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and research shows that it helps stimulate the regeneration of liver cells and protect them from injury induced by substances like alcohol and acetaminophen. It’s also been shown to boost glutathione levels.
Turmeric: Turmeric extract and curcumin have been shown to protect against liver injury in animal studies by reducing oxidative stress and increasing glutathione production. Other research suggests it stimulated the production of bile, the fluid produced by our livers that aids in the digestion of fats within the small intestine.
Chlorella: Algae, specifically chlorella, is a powerful chelator, which means it can bind to and remove heavy metals and other toxins that might otherwise tax your liver. Lab studies show that it can absorb 40 percent of the heavy metals in a test solution within seven days; while animal studies show that it helps remove toxins like mercury from the body. Chlorella also contains several nutrients with antioxidant properties, including vitamin C, chlorophyll, beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene.
Activated Charcoal: Like chlorella, activated charcoal can help bind to and remove toxins that are circulating in your system. However, it can also bind minerals and vitamins, so you should take it between meals and away from other supplements. If you take other supplements in the morning, consider taking one activated charcoal tablet between lunch and dinner.
5. Schedule a daily sweat session.
Sweating helps take some of the detoxification burden off of your liver. Ridding the body of the toxins is done through two major pathways. The first is by improving liver function, and the second is through sweating. The skin is our major detoxification organ, and sweating is the best way to get the toxins out of our body. If you don’t exercise already, start with something like walking and build up to 30 minutes of aerobic activity per day. Strength training can also be helpful. In addition to exercise, sweating can be done with far infrared saunas, steam, or Epsom salt baths.
6. Practice self-care on the regular.
Too much stress in your life may negatively affect your liver, with one research review finding that stress seems to exacerbate liver disease. Unchecked stress is also detrimental to your health in a number of other ways, contributing to digestive issues and autoimmune diseases. So it’s in your best interest to adopt healthy habits that promote calm in your life.
Something as simple as an aromatherapy bath once or twice a week can do the trick. Try this detox bath recipe featuring ginger Epsom salts, baking soda, and a few drops of your favorite essential oil—it will soothe your senses, relieve achy joints, and help you sweat out some toxins. No time for a soak session? Dry brushing or hot towel scrubbing are two more soothing and detoxifying bathroom rituals that promote calm as well as lymphatic circulation, which helps flush toxins from the body.
Quite simply, anything that brings you joy is a form of self-care. Whether that’s yoga, deep breathing, walking your dog, watching a show on Netflix, or even getting rid of a bunch of old junk in your closet (think: Marie Kondo’s KonMari method), it’s crucial that you make the time.