Can a Detox or Cleanse Help Your Liver?

You want to do everything you can to take an active role in your health. But if you think you need a liver detox (also known as a liver cleanse or flush), you should know there isn’t much it can do for you.

Your liver is one of the largest organs in your body. It helps remove waste products and processes various nutrients and medicines. Most people think a cleanse will help their liver remove toxins better after too much alcohol or unhealthy foods. Some hope it will help their liver work better on a daily basis. Many believe it’ll help treat liver disease.

Like most detox methods, a liver cleanse has specific steps. You may have to fast or to only drink juices or other liquids for several days. You might need to eat a restricted diet, or take herbal or dietary supplements. Some detoxes also prompt you to buy a variety of other commercial products. Some approaches may combine several of these methods.

Is There Any Proof That Liver Detox Works?

There isn’t any scientific proof that cleanses remove toxins or make you healthier. The reason detox diets may make you feel better is that they usually don’t allow you to eat highly processed foods. These foods contain solid fats and processed sugar. They’re high in calories but low in nutrition. Detox diets can also cut out foods that you might be allergic or sensitive to, like dairy, gluten, eggs, or peanuts.

Doctors say liver detoxes aren’t important for your health or how well your liver works. There’s no proof they help get rid of toxins after you’ve had too much food or alcohol. There’s also no evidence that they fix liver damage that has already happened.

Does Milk Thistle Help Your Liver?

Milk thistle is an herb that contains a compound called silybin. You may have heard that it helps your liver work better and can help treat liver disease. But, just as there isn’t enough evidence that liver detoxes work, there isn’t enough to show that milk thistle or extracts from it make your liver healthier.

There is some proof that compounds from milk thistle have helped to improve the symptoms of certain types of liver disease. But no studies show that it treats the disease itself.

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Are Liver Detoxes Safe?

There are medical treatments for various liver diseases. But nothing shows that detox programs or supplements can fix liver damage. In fact, detoxes can harm your liver. There are also things you need to know about these programs and products:

  • Some companies use ingredients that could be harmful. Others have made false claims about how well they treat serious diseases.
  • Unpasteurized juices can make you sick, especially if you’re older or have a weakened immune system.
  • If you have kidney disease, a cleanse that includes large amounts of juice can make your illness worse.
  • If you have diabetes, be sure to check with your doctor before you think about any diet that changes how you normally eat.
  • If you need to fast as part of a detox program, you can feel weak, faint, have headaches, or get dehydrated. If you have hepatitis B that has caused liver damage, fasting can make the damage worse.

How to Keep Your Liver Healthy

Your overall health and your genes affect your liver. So do diet, lifestyle, and environment. There are simple, commonsense steps you can take to help keep your liver healthy without special detox programs. These guidelines can be especially important if you have certain things that make liver disease more likely, like heavy alcohol use or a family history of liver disease. You should:

  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink. Talk to your doctor about what’s right for you.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet every day. That’s 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables, along with fiber from vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Also, be sure to include protein to support enzymes that help your body detox naturally.
  • Keep a healthy weight, or lose weight if you need to.
  • Exercise every day if you can. Check with your doctor if you haven’t been active.
  • Cut down on risky behavior that can lead to viral hepatitis:
    • Avoid illegal drugs, but if you do use them, don’t share needles or straws to inject or snort them.
    • Don’t share razors, toothbrushes, or other household articles.
    • Only get tattoos from a sterile shop.
    • Don’t have unprotected sex with strangers.

If you think you might have any kind of problem with your liver, or complications from any condition that you have, contact your doctor.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on August 21, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Detoxing Your Liver: Fact Versus Fiction.”

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “ ‘Detoxes’ and ‘Cleanses,’ ” “Milk Thistle.”

Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics: “Detox diets for toxin elimination and weight management: a critical review of the evidence.”

Mayo Clinic: “Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease,” “Nutrition and healthy eating.”

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “What’s the Deal with Detox Diets?”

World Journal of Gastroenterology: “Silybin and the liver: From basic research to clinical practice.”

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Milk Thistle.”

Phytomedicine: “A randomized controlled trial to assess the safety and efficacy of silymarin on symptoms, signs and biomarkers of acute hepatitis.”

Hepatitis B Foundation: “If Fasting Safe for People Living with Hepatitis B?”

World Hepatitis Alliance: “Prevention, Diagnosis, Treatment of Hepatitis B and C.”

American Liver Foundation: “13 Ways to a Healthy Liver.”

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