Your overall health depends on a variety of factors: diet, sleep, genetics, environment, interpersonal relationships, activity level, and how well your body rids itself of toxins are the most prominent and obvious among them. Some of these factors are influenced by choice, others are beyond our control. Understanding as much as we can about the contributors to good health empowers us to make changes (where we can) in order to improve and maintain our well-being.
One of the factors we rarely (if ever) consider is our bodies’ ability to get rid of toxins. After all, the elimination of cellular waste happens without us making any conscious effort and few people genuinely understand how the process works. Even if you live the cleanest life possible, a by-product of any type of consumption is waste. Over time, if toxins build up in your body, illness can result.
The liver is the body’s grand detoxifier.
The liver is part of the digestive system and is involved in over five hundred metabolic processes in the body. It is classified as a gland because it secretes hormones but its functions are much more complex than that one purpose. The largest of your internal organs, the liver is responsible for life-critical processes, such as:
Bile production– bile breaks down fats, cholesterol, proteins, and some vitamins to make them readily absorbable by the intestines.
Metabolizing and absorbing bilirubin– bilirubin is formed by the breakdown of hemoglobin, the protein in blood that makes it red. The iron released from hemoglobin is stored in the liver and bone marrow and is used to make new blood cells.
Supporting blood coagulation– vitamin K is necessary for the creation of certain coagulants that help clot the blood (without them, you’d bleed to death if you cut yourself shaving). Bile (which is produced in the liver) is essential for vitamin K absorption.
Metabolizing carbohydrates– carbohydrates are broken down by the liver into glucose and released into the bloodstream for cells to use for energy. Excess glucose is stored in the liver as glycogen, which is burned when a quick burst of energy is needed.
Storing vitamins and minerals – the liver stores vitamins A, B12, D, E, and K, and minerals such as iron and copper for use when dietary intake is temporarily inadequate.
Filtering blood – the portal vein and hepatic artery carry blood to the liver, whose hepatocytes (metabolizing cells) filter it and sort out its components, deciding what to store, what to send back out into the blood, and what should be discarded. This filtering removes potentially toxic compounds from the blood, including excess hormones (such as estrogen and aldosterone) and ingested compounds (such as alcohol and environmental chemicals).
Immune system function – Kupffer cells in the liver are central to the organ’s immune response to pathogens and its ability to heal and repair itself.
Albumin production – the most common amino acid in blood serum, albumin maintains fluid levels in the bloodstream. It transports fatty acids and steroid hormones to cells to help maintain correct pressure and prevent leaking of blood vessels.
Synthesizing angiotensinogen – this hormone is part of the renin-angiotensin system that produces peptides (strings of amino acids) that regulate blood pressure, mineral and water homeostasis, blood circulation, and edema, among other things. It is synthesized in the liver from enzymes in the kidneys and secreted into blood plasma.
The liver is remarkably resilient.
If you want proof of the liver’s importance, consider that it’s the only visceral organ that will regenerate if injured because there’s only one.
It will grow back to its original size if as little as one quarter of it is intact and functioning properly; the regenerative process is astoundingly fast, at a rate of complete re-growth in eight to fifteen days.
Various illnesses and disease can affect the liver, as well as lifestyle choices such as excessive alcohol consumption.
Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver that occurs over time as repeated injury or illness causes damage that then heals, forming scar tissue. If left unaddressed, cirrhosis can lead to liver failure. It’s possible to arrest the progression of damage caused by cirrhosis if caught early enough, however, full reversal is rare. Alcoholism is the most common cause of cirrhosis but there are other chronic conditions that can severely damage the liver:
- chronic viral hepatitis B and C
- non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
- iron accumulation in the body (hemochromatosis)
- cystic fibrosis
- copper accumulation in the liver (Wilson’s disease)
- malformed bile ducts (biliary atresia)
- genetic glucose metabolism disorders (galactosemia or glycogen storage disease)
- genetic digestive disorders (Alagille syndrome)
- autoimmune hepatitis
- destruction of bile ducts (primary biliary cirrhosis)
- hardening and scarring of bile ducts (primary sclerosing cholangitis)
- infections such schistosomiasis
- medications such as methotrexate, ibuprofen, antacids, cholesterol regulators, acetaminophen, and others
- excessive sugar consumption
- exposure to aluminum
- eating wild poisonous mushrooms
- viral or bacterial infection, especially when concurrent with liver disease
Risk Factors for a Compromised Liver
Because of its multiple and varied functions, the liver can sustain damage from seemingly unrelated sources. The liver processes a quart and a half of blood every minute. Virtually anything that makes its way into your body will go through your liver.
Excessive alcohol consumption is probably the best-known risk factor for liver damage and disease.
Other factors that can increase the risk of liver damage include:
- intravenous drug use with shared needles
- tattoos and body piercings
- exposure to others’ blood and body fluids
- unprotected sex
- exposure to certain chemicals and toxins
- poor diet, particularly with a high sugar content
- potassium deficiency
- smoking tobacco
- blood-borne viruses
- metabolic/autoimmune disorders
Signs of Liver Dysfunction
Because of its restorative nature, the liver can withstand a good deal of punishment but it does have its limits. The liver’s most noticeable function is its part in digestion, so related symptoms may be the first you recognize if your liver is in trouble, but there are other tell-tale signs as well:
- abdominal swelling and pain
- swollen legs and ankles (edema)
- itchy skin, rosacea
- dark urine color
- pale, bloody, or tar-colored stool
- chronic fatigue, extreme sleepiness
- nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite
- tendency to bruise easily
- disorientation or confusion
- joint pain
- nose bleeds
- low libido
- gynecomastia (male breast development)
- depression and emotional distress
5-Step Liver Cleanse
Periodic detoxifying of your liver is a good idea even if you’re in the best of health.
If you’ve started showing signs that your liver is in distress, it’s imperative to facilitate the liver’s restorative processes.
The following simple steps will put you on the right path.
- Eliminate toxic foods from your diet.
- Drink raw vegetable juice.
- Increase your potassium intake.
- Add milk thistle, dandelion, and turmeric to your diet.
- Eat cooked animal liver or take a liver supplement.
How To Cleanse Your Liver
Liver Cleanse Details
1. Eliminate toxic foods from your diet – you’ll ease your liver’s burden by not taking in toxins that it has to work hard to process.
- Processed foods contain additives of all kinds, including chemical preservatives, emulsifiers, color, etc.
- Hydrogenated oils (“trans fats”) are not naturally-occurring and are therefore difficult (if not, impossible) for your liver to break down. They are produced by adding oxygen to natural oils to make them thicker and increase shelf life. The S. Food and Drug Administration announced in 2013 that these types of oil are not “generally recognized as safe”, yet they persist in processed and fried foods and on grocery store shelves.
Trans fats are known to raise cholesterol (increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke) and have been linked to cancer, nervous system and vision disorders, diabetes, obesity, and allergies.
In addition, trans fats are inflammatory, disrupt the immune system, and their fumes when heated are carcinogenic. Switch to fruit and seed oils, like coconut, avocado, olive, sesame, and walnut.
- Nitrates and nitrites are chemicals added to processed foods as coloring and preservatives. Processed meats are especially loaded with them. Nitrates are a naturally-occurring compound (found in abundance in beets) but that’s not the stuff that’s added to your morning bacon, your afternoon salami sandwich, or your dinner-time hot dog. When ingested, added nitrates mix with enzymes and other body chemicals and can form N-nitroso compounds that have been strongly associated with increased cancer risk.
2. Drink raw vegetable juice – an easy way to pack a whole lot of nutrition in one glass.
Your liver benefits from a wide variety of vegetables but it’s hard to eat enough to provide a thorough cleanse.
Using a juicer, you can pack four to five servings of raw vegetables into one glass, creating a nutrient-dense liver-detox powerhouse. Mixing vegetables also makes it easy to include selections you don’t particularly like.
Additionally, drinking just the juice—rather than the entire vegetable that contains digestion-intensive fiber in the pulp—is easier on the liver.
Best foods for your liver-cleansing juice:
- cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, daikon)
- dark leafy greens
- sea vegetables
- ginger root
- herbs: parsley, mint, cilantro
3. Increase your potassium intake – liver damage depletes blood potassium levels. (If you have problems with your kidneys, consume potassium-laden foods in moderation.)
Research has shown a direct correlation between low serum potassium and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Potassium is important to the liver to regulate cell pressure and maintain heartbeat; the heart supplies the liver with blood.
Liver cells, when faced with restricted blood flow, lose dangerous amounts of potassium.
Potassium deficiency in otherwise healthy people isn’t uncommon so if you are at a loss to begin with, liver dysfunction will exacerbate the problem.
Getting enough potassium is delicious! Bananas are the most well-known source but there are many others. Make sure your produce is organic for the best flavor, nutrition, and no applied toxins.
- Beans – they’re good for more than just your heart. White, kidney, and lima beans are among the most potassium-rich.
- Beet greens and spinach – beet roots are great for circulation but don’t throw away the greens! Beets and their greens stimulate bile production and flow, which are important for liver support. These might be a good candidate for juice or a smoothie but can be eaten raw or cooked to get over 1300mg of potassium in one cup (almost forty percent of the daily recommended intake).
- Blackstrap molasses – this raw product of sugarcane is extraordinarily nutrient-dense. You can use it to replace other, less-nutritious sweeteners.
- Sweet potato – contains more potassium than a banana; vitamins A, B-complex, C, and K; manganese, copper, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. A sweet potato is mostly carbohydrates, so you may want to skip or limit this root vegetable if you’re diabetic.
- Tomato (concentrated) – this berry is mostly water, so to get all the potassium from it (and significant vitamins A and C), eat it in a puree, paste, or sauce, where loads of them can be mushed together. One cup of whole tomatoes contains 400mg of potassium, whereas one cup of puréed tomatoes contains almost three times that much.
- Banana (we couldn’t leave it off the list) – on top of its potassium content, bananas are a fiber-rich prebiotic that feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut to improve digestion. Furthermore, pectin in bananahelps to rid the body of heavy metals, an important part of detoxifying your liver.
4. Add milk thistle, dandelion, and turmeric to your diet – these herbs and spice are notorious for liver support.
- Milk thistle is probably the most effective herb for liver support. It contains several flavonoid antioxidants and protects the liver from toxins and heavy metals. Thistle has been shown to speed healing of the liver when it’s been plagued by hepatitis and cirrhosis. A 2010 study found significant reductions in liver toxicity resulting from chemotherapy after supplementation with milk thistle. You can find milk thistle tea, tinctures, or capsule supplements at natural food stores.
- As with beets, the entire dandelion is edible and extremely beneficial for human health. Dandelion greensare a natural diuretic that promote toxin elimination and stimulate bile production and flow. The leaves can be rather tough but are wonderful as a tea or in a juice or smoothie. The root of the dandelion improves lipid (fat) profiles and its antioxidants reduce the risk of metabolic disorders. It’s also good for easing digestion.
- Turmeric is a superspice, good for whatever ails you and the liver is no exception. Its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory compound curcumin has been found to help improve liver metabolism and repair injury caused by various toxins and illnesses.
5. Eat cooked animal liver or take a liver supplement – there are many benefits to eating organ meats. While it may seem kind of weird to eat animal liver to support your own liver, it actually makes a lot of sense, as the nutrients and composition of the meat are the same as yours.
Liver contains bioavailable vitamins, minerals, antioxidant enzymes, and healthy fats.
Ensure the liver is from organic or grass-fed animals to avoid the chemicals with which conventionally-raised animals are infused. If you don’t like to eat liver, supplements can be found in capsule form.
Quick-start 24-hour Liver Cleanse
The liver doesn’t get gunked up overnight; neither can you completely clean it out in that time. The steps we’ve laid out above are intended as a long-term solution to liver detoxification and support.
We can, however, offer a boost that will wake up a sluggish liver and start chipping away at the toxins that affect it.
To prepare for the twenty-four-hour cleanse and improve its efficacy, start seven days before.
- Eat: kale, cabbage, lettuces, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, citrus fruits, asparagus, beets, and celery.
- Cut out: processed foods and alcohol.
- Limit or eliminate: meats, refined carbohydrates, and gluten.
Liver Detox Drink
At the end of the week, mix and drink only the following cleansing detox drink for an entire day. How much you prepare depends on how much you will drink; consume a minimum of 72 ounces of this mixture and 72 ounces of water throughout the day.
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ginger
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 3 oranges
- 3 lemons
- 54 ounces filtered water
- 18 ounces cranberry juice (real organic juice, not “cocktail” or mixed juices)
- Place nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon in a tea diffuser and steep in simmering water for 20 minutes. Remove water from heat and allow to cool.
- Squeeze juice from oranges and lemons and mix with spice water. You may sweeten with honey, maple syrup, molasses, or organic stevia, if desired.
- Mix cranberry juice with water.
- Add citrus juices and mix well.
- Sip throughout the day, alternating with plain water.
After your quick-start liver cleanse, re-introduce the foods you ate the week before, then follow the guidelines above to continue the detoxification process. Once you’ve resumed your normal diet with the modifications outlined, repeat the twenty-four-hour cleanse periodically to maintain a healthy liver.
Your liver is at work at all times to purify your blood, aid in digestion, and secrete vital hormones. Keeping it clean will help your liver to work at its best, heal from damage, and prevent diseases of all kinds in the long term.