Liver cleansing diets and supplements are a booming part of the billion dollar diet industry. As a population, we love the idea of clean slates, eliminating toxins, and starting fresh. But, do we actually need a liver cleanse? Do liver detoxes work?
In this article, we review the dangers of liver cleanses, discuss their efficacy, and whether or not a liver detox is right for you.
Liver Cleansing Diets on the Market
Liver cleansing diets advertise they fix everything from fatigue and weight loss, to even cancer. For reference, “liver detox” and “liver cleanse” typically mean the same thing. The general concept of a liver flush or detox is to eliminate unnamed toxins and chemicals from the body. Liver cleanses are particularly popular after the holidays, when many people desire to “start fresh” in the new year, and free themselves from holiday indulgences. Specific liver detox diets on the market vary, but typically include some form of juicing (with fruits and/or vegetables), enemas or laxatives, or supplements with varying vitamins, minerals, and herbs.
The most popular liver cleanse to date instructs people to drink homemade lemon juice with cayenne pepper for 10 days (no other foods). It also encourages laxative teas during that time.
Other products may offer pill forms of a liver detox. One popular liver cleanse supplement contains 22 supplemental herbs such as milk thistle, dandelion root, turmeric, and more.
Problems with Common Liver Cleanses
Although many people may complete a liver detox with no problem, there are a few dangers to these popular diets.
Detox Supplements are not Regulated
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate nutritional supplements. This includes common detox pills and vitamins. Here’s the problem: without regulation, we have NO idea what is actually in the said liver detox product! We hope it contains the ingredients on the ingredient list (in the correct amounts), but this isn’t a given. One study looking at herbal supplements found that 33% of the products contained NONE of the herbal ingredients listed (1). Additionally, almost 60% of the products contained random herbs that weren’t on the label!
This lack of regulation can be dangerous, especially when it comes to fat-soluble vitamins (like A, D, E and K) that are toxic at higher levels.
Liver Detoxes May Cause Dehydration
We hate to say it, but a lot of liver cleanse products on the market are simply glorified laxatives. Excessive laxative use may cause diarrhea and dehydration from fluid loss (2). Although mild dehydration isn’t extremely dangerous, extended periods of dehydration may lead to electrolyte imbalances, low blood pressure, headache, dizziness, coma and even death if severe enough (3). Whether it is detox liver teas, colon cleanses, or pill form laxatives – probably better to just say no, girlfriend!
Many do not Consider the Whole Picture
There are two main phases of liver detoxification. Each phase has a particular set of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and/or proteins (amino acids) that are required in order to effectively eliminate toxins from your body. A lot of the detox liver products on the market place a high focus on phase 1 of the detox process, but not phase 2. This is a problem, because if we amp up phase 1 without considering phase 2, we end up with a lot of free radicals (read: angry toxins) in the body with nowhere to go (4). Additionally, we can take all the pills, liver cleanse teas, and powders in the world, but if we don’t address our diet and lifestyle, we won’t make much progress. This is the main, underlying problem of these “quick fix” detox programs.
Will a Liver Cleanse Work
Some people may initially feel better on a liver cleansing diet due to the elimination of processed foods, sugar, and alcohol. However, despite the popularity of liver cleanses, there’s little evidence they actually eliminate toxins, improve health, or result in lasting weight loss (5).
Think about it this way. If you only drank cayenne-flavored lemonade with laxative teas for 10 days, would you lose weight? Of course! But, it is largely due to a loss of water weight, and consuming very minimal calories. As soon as you start eating food again (because, you know, survival 😉) the weight returns. In fact, many people gain even MORE weight after a detox or restricted diet due to a wrecked metabolism and subsequent overeating.
Are all detoxification programs complete bogus? Nope! There may not be scientific evidence championing one particular liver cleansing diet or program, but, there IS evidence that certain foods, herbs, and lifestyle changes support liver detox pathways naturally.
We still need to support our liver in order to make sure it does what it’s supposed to do.
How to Support Liver Detox Naturally
There are many things you can do to support your liver naturally to effectively eliminate toxins, excess hormones, and more. Let’s review them!
- Eat more cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, arugula, and cabbage. This family of veggies amps up both phase 1 and 2 liver detox pathways and are particularly helpful in eliminating the “bad” estrogens (6).
- Drink lots of water. Our liver isn’t the only organ responsible for detoxification. Our kidneys also help by eliminating the water-soluble toxins from the liver through our urine. But, in order to pee, we have to drink water! Read our blog here on tips to drink more water throughout the day.
- Amp up the antioxidant-rich foods: berries, turmeric, dark chocolate, leafy greens, walnuts, cinnamon, oregano, and more! Antioxidants bind to free radicals (from phase 1 liver detox) and neutralize them so they are no longer dangerous.
- Exercise – and sweat! Just as we excrete toxins through our urine, we also eliminate them through our sweat. One large review study found significant levels of heavy metals, like arsenic, lead, and mercury in sweat after exercising (7).
- Reduce toxin exposure. If we support our liver detox naturally through food and exercise, we also need to reduce toxin exposure as much as possible. Aim to select organic foods whenever possible, choose glass over plastic storage containers, and use eco-friendly cleaning products. The Environmental Working Group website is a great resource to learn more information about reducing environmental toxins in your life.
Liver Cleanse – Yay or Nay?
Liver detoxification is a complicated process, and most liver cleansing diets and supplements are a waste of your money. But, there are steps you can take to support your liver naturally through lots of cruciferous vegetables, hydration, avoiding alcohol, reducing toxin exposure, and exercising regularly. This is particularly important if you’re following a fat-burning diet, like the ketogenic diet or intermittent fasting. Toxins are stored in our fat cells, so when we burn fat, we release these into our body (8).
Fortunately, the 131 Method takes all of this into consideration! Our science-backed method of dietary phasing incorporates liver supportive interventions, including a specific phase completely focused on nourishing your body with essential micronutrients and liver supporting compounds! Learn more here.