Liver Detox – myth or truth?
It's spring and all across the health world, you see liver detoxes or spring cleanses being announced. From juice fasting and taking certain herbs or supplements over coffee enemas, to liver flushes... you can find all kinds of protocols, some free, some costing several hundreds of Euros. While it's true that according to Chinese Medicine spring is the season of the liver, what about the need to "cleanse" or "detox" it? Is such a thing even possible? And if yes, is fasting or consuming vegetable juices and/or vegetable broth really the best strategy?
In order to answer such questions, it is crucial to understand the functioning of the liver.
Contrary to popular belief, the liver is NOT a storage organ for toxins. Yes, it does clean the blood from toxins, but it functions more like a (self-cleansing) filter than a sponge. There are different stages to that process. The main goal is to make originally FAT-soluble toxins WATER-soluble, so they can be eventually excreted via sweat, urine or bile (and bowels).
Simplified, during phase 1 FAT-soluble toxins are oxidized. In order for this to happen, an array of nutrients are needed, among which: sufficient protein, B-vitamins, fat-soluble vitamin A and vitamin E, folate, magnesium, vitamin C, selenium, zinc, glutathione... . After phase 1 some of the toxins are less dangerous, while others are MORE active than before, so it is important for phase 2 - the "conjugation" or "neutralisation" phase - to kick in quickly AND effectively, otherwise the MORE toxic substances will be re-absorbed into the fat tissue. Phase 2 heavily depends on certain amino-acids (glycine, glutamine, taurine, cysteine, methionine) and sulfur compounds, which are both mostly found in animal foods.
So a diet NOT containing sufficient protein, fat or animal foods will NOT support ideal liver function, because nutrient stores will easily be depleted. To the contrary, you might even be putting MORE stress on the liver. And if there's something disturbing day-to-day detox, it is stress! Other factors interfering are an excess of alcohol, caffeine and sugar (especially fructose), but also getting stuck in anger or frustration, and a lack of exercise and/or sleep.
Two recommended reads that go into those processes in much more detail:
In order to support the liver in its day-to-day detox, the best you can do is to
- Limit toxin intake as much as possible, by eating organic food, avoiding processed food, filtering your water, avoiding toxic household products and cosmetics, etc.
- Make sure you consume all the nutrients the liver needs for optimal functioning on a daily basis: greens & veggies, healthy fats, fish and brazil nuts, bone broth (!), meat, organ meats, eggs, raw dairy, whole grains & legumes, liver supporting herbs (milk thistle, chlorella, barley grass...)
- Eat in a relaxed way and slow enough to allow for optimal digestion and assimilation
- Reduce stress and manage emotions (especially frustration and anger are liver-damaging)
- Drink sufficient clean water
- Breath for oxygenation
- Exercise for sweating and circulation
- Emotional detox (read more in my article "the psychology of cleansing")
That being said, there might be a benefit to some more intense liver cleansing, but NOT as a substitute for the above mentioned "healthy liver lifestyle", only in addition to it. IF your nutrient reserves are well filled, you might consider incorporating some additional procedures, such as coffee enemas, castor oil paks or even an occasional liver flush. If you want to fast, I would make sure it's not a fast ONLY based on juices or vegetable broth, but that it definitely includes bone broth and some amount of fat. A fast based on soup (made from bone broth, veggies and some coconut milk or cream) would give your digestive system the desired "break", while still supplying much needed nutrients to support detoxifiation.
As part of my Metabolic Typing training, I have extensive and detailed cleansing and detox protocols. If that is something you are interested in, please get in touch with me.
A word about liver flushes
There's lots of controversy about liver flushes out there, with some judging it completely ineffective and even dangerous, and others being convinced of its miraculous benefits, which are mainly attributed to "old" gallbladder stones being flushed out. Personally, I have done 3 liver-gallbladder flushes in my life so far. While it certainly did have AN effect on my liver (the first time my period was delayed for 2 weeks and in general my liver seemed to be somewhat more efficient at metabolizing fat), I cannot tell if it really did improve its long-term function or not.