Liver detox, flush or cleanse programs often make big claims about removing the toxins from your body, helping you to lose weight and improve your health. But do they really work? And are they even safe?
Why is the liver so important?
The liver is located in the right upper abdomen, and it’s your body’s largest internal organ. Every day, it performs more than 500 vital tasks that are essential for survival.
“Our liver is a vital organ because it essentially works to filter out all the nasty toxins that enter our body through food, drink and medicines we consume,” explains GP Dr Aragona Giuseppe. “Our food and drink are first digested by the stomach and intestines, before being absorbed into the bloodstream and heading to the liver.”
Dr Giuseppe says the liver is a particularly clever organ because it knows when it needs to eliminate toxins from the body through excretion, and when to keep vital nutrients by releasing them back into the blood. “It essentially filters out and removes the ‘bad stuff’ and keeps the ‘good’, it’s very clever.”
Knowing that part of a liver’s job is to detoxify, you may think you can help it along by following a liver detox or cleanse program. Especially after a big weekend or to kickstart a healthy eating plan. However, you’d likely be wasting your money and it could do your body more harm than good.
What is a liver detox?
Like most body ‘cleanses’, a liver detox will have you following certain rules about what you consume for a certain period. Some may advise you to fast or to only drink juices or other liquids for several days. You may be advised to eat a restricted diet or to buy specific supplements or other products to consume.
Is a liver detox safe?
There is no scientific evidence that shows liver detoxes work, but studies have found that liver injuries from herbal and dietary supplements are on the rise.
According to one study, green tea extract and, more rarely, ingestion of large amounts of green tea have been implicated in cases of clinically apparent acute liver injury, including instances of acute liver failure and either need for urgent liver transplantation or death.
Many plans claim that coffee enemas support the liver to detoxify, but they come with more risks than benefits. They can lead to infections and electrolyte problems that might be deadly.
A liver detox can be especially harmful if you have any underlying medical conditions. A cleanse that includes large amounts of juice can make kidney disease worse.
Unpasteurised juices can also make you sick, especially if you’re older or have a weakened immune system.
If you have diabetes, you should check with your doctor before starting any diet or cleanse that is different to how you typically eat.
Why do people often feel better after a liver detox?
Since there’s no proof that cleanses remove toxins from your body, people probably feel better because they are not eating highly processed foods. You often need to cut out a large variety of foods when on a cleanse and these are usually the ones that are the worst for you.
Highly processed foods with solid fats and processed sugar are high in calories but low in nutrition, and these are often the first to go in a detox.
Detox diets can also cut out foods that you might be allergic or sensitive to, such as dairy, gluten, eggs, or peanuts.
How to look after your liver without a detox
Here are some top tips for supporting your liver health and reducing your risk of developing complications later in life.
1. Give it a break from alcohol
Alcohol is without doubt your liver’s worst enemy. To reduce the risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury, healthy men and women should drink no more than 10 standard drinks weekly and no more than four standard drinks on any one day. The less you drink, the lower your risk of harm from alcohol.
Your liver can heal minor damage from alcohol in days or weeks, but more severe damage could take months to heal. And after a long time, it may be permanent. Give your liver a break by avoiding alcohol at least two days in a row each week.
2. Eat a healthy diet full of antioxidants
Many dark berries, such as blueberries, raspberries, and cranberries, contain antioxidants called polyphenols, which may help protect the liver from damage. Other antioxidant-rich foods include ginger, goji berries, turmeric, basil, cumin and coriander. You should also keep an eye on your dietary fat and sugar content, as both can be difficult for the liver to process.
Obesity, particularly, abdominal or central obesity, is a major risk factor for developing fatty liver disease. With the help of regular exercise, you can maintain a healthy weight and support your liver health. You should aim to get at least 30 minutes of regular exercise per day.
4. Protect your liver from viral infections
Ensure you have a hepatitis A and B vaccination before you travel overseas and take extra care around blood products. For example, only visit tattoo and piercing studios that follow strict codes of hygiene and sterilisation.
Ultimately, the touted benefits of liver cleansing products and supplements aren’t based on evidence or fact. They’re really just a marketing myth. Just follow these four simple tips to keep your liver in good shape. Like everything, it’s all about living a healthy lifestyle.
If you’re worried about your liver or your consumption of alcohol, speak to your GP, who can advise you on the best course of action and how to seek support if necessary.
Have you ever been tempted to try a liver detox? What steps do you take to keep your body as healthy as possible? Let us know in the comments section below.
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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.