What Is a Liver Detox?
A liver detox, cleanse, or flush is a program that claims to take out toxins in your body, help you lose weight, or improve your health.
You want to do everything you can to take an active role in your health. But if you think you need a liver detox, you should know that there isn’t much it can do for you.
Your liver is one of the largest organs in your body. It helps remove waste and handles various nutrients and medicines.
Most people think a cleanse will help their liver remove toxins after they drink too much alcohol or eat 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 detoxes, a liver cleanse has specific steps. It may tell you to fast or to drink only juices or other liquids for several days. You might need to eat a restricted diet or take herbal or dietary supplements. Some detoxes also urge you to buy a variety of products.
Are Liver Detoxes Safe?
There are medical treatments for liver diseases. But nothing shows that detox programs or supplements can fix liver damage.
In fact, detoxes may harm your liver. Studies have found that liver injuries from herbal and dietary supplements are on the rise. Green tea extract, for example, can cause damage like that from hepatitis. And the coffee enemas involved in some regimens can lead to infections and electrolyte problems that might be deadly.
Other things 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 start a diet that changes how you usually eat.
- If you fast as part of a detox program, you may feel weak or faint, have headaches, or get dehydrated. If you have hepatitis B that has caused liver damage, fasting can make the damage worse.
Do Liver Cleanses Help Your Liver Heal From Alcohol or Unhealthy Food?
There isn’t any scientific proof that cleanses remove toxins from your body or make you healthier. You may feel better on a detox diet simply because you aren’t eating highly processed foods with solid fats and processed sugar. These foods are 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 that they help get rid of toxins after you’ve had too much unhealthy food or alcohol.
Ways to help your liver after drinking too much alcohol
There’s a limit on how much alcohol your liver can handle at one time. It has to work harder when you drink too much. Over time, this can lead to inflammation, scarring, or cancer.
If you’re going to drink alcohol, experts recommend no more than one drink a day for women and two for men. A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or one shot of liquor.
Your liver can heal minor damage from alcohol in days or weeks. 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 2 days in a row each week.
Do Liver Cleanses Protect You From Liver Disease?
Your overall health and your genes affect your liver. So do your diet, lifestyle, and environment. Liver detox programs don’t treat damage or prevent disease.
Ways to prevent liver disease
Lifestyle changes can help keep your liver healthy without detox programs. These steps can be especially important if you’re at higher risk of liver disease because of something like heavy alcohol use or a family history of liver disease.
- Limit the amount of alcohol you drink.
- Eat a well-balanced diet every day. That’s five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables, along with fiber from vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Be sure to include protein for the enzymes that help your body detox naturally.
- Keep a healthy weight.
- Exercise every day if you can. Check with your doctor first if you haven’t been active.
- Cut down on risky behavior that can lead to viral hepatitis:
- Avoid recreational drugs. If you do use them, don’t share needles or straws to inject or snort them.
- Don’t share razors, toothbrushes, or other household items.
- Get tattoos only from a sterile shop.
- Don’t have unprotected sex with people you don’t know.
Do Liver Cleanses Help You Lose Weight Safely?
A few studies have linked liver cleanses with weight or fat loss, but they’ve been low-quality or looked at only a small number of people. Other research has found that a detox program’s low-calorie diet may lead to early weight loss, but people tend to regain the pounds as soon as they go back to their usual diet.
Ways to lose weight and help fatty liver
Some of the lifestyle changes that may protect against liver disease can also help you lose weight and get rid of inflammatory fat in your liver.
- Eat a healthy diet with plenty of water, fruits, and vegetables.
- Exercise regularly.
- Follow guidelines on alcohol use.
Do Supplements Help Your Liver?
Milk thistle is an herb that contains a compound called silybin. Some people claim 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 make your liver healthier.
Some studies say compounds from milk thistle have helped ease the symptoms of certain types of liver disease. But no research shows that it treats the disease itself.
Turmeric, sometimes called “the golden spice,” can give your body a boost and may help protect against liver injury. But there’s not enough research to support using it regularly for prevention.
Dandelion has also been considered a natural remedy for various conditions. More study is needed to prove that it works.
Remember that FDA rules about supplements aren’t the same as for foods or medicines. There’s no guarantee that that they work the way they say or that they’re safe.
If you think you might have any kind of problem with your liver or complications from a condition, talk to your doctor.