Liver detox - a hot topic
Liver detoxification is a hot topic. Many of us are prone to having a blow out; say when you are off on holiday enjoying yourself or over the festive period, and you end up overindulging in food, or having one too many drinks. However, the guilt soon kicks in, your clothes suddenly feel that little bit neater and you soon feel the after-effects. You suddenly realise a detox is in order and you hope your poor liver will forgive you.
So, what’s the best way to approach a detox and cleanse your liver?
Many detox programmes out there boast some impressive results: “Shed weight in 2 weeks” or “Flush your liver out in 7 days!” But just how effective are they? Well, it all depends. Some involve adding a barrage of supplements to your daily regime but not really giving much thought to your diet and lifestyle, whilst with others, you soon find yourself not drinking much more than a gloopy green juice for a week.
In my opinion, there are many stages to a detox and these don’t necessarily need to be so extreme – or short-lived. Slow and steady wins the race after all. Make some gradual changes that you are more likely to be able to stick to them longer-term, rather than revert back to your old ways within a week.
Below I outline 3 steps for a safe and effective liver detox.
1. Rid your body of toxins
The meaning of detox is to rid your body of toxins – so, unsurprisingly this is my first step. What’s important to understand is that your liver is pretty good at ridding your body of toxins already. Once they’re in there it’s pretty efficient at breaking them down and getting rid. So, as much as it’s nice to support the function of the liver directly (we will go on to this later) actually, what is most effective is to stop putting so many toxins in there in the first place. You may be more ‘toxic’ than you realise so here’s our guide to reducing the toxic load on your liver.
- Air – This is a tricky one to avoid, but yes, the air around us is most likely to contain toxins. There are many routes for toxins to enter your body and your lungs are one of them. Unfortunately, the growing rates of industry mean that more and more unspoiled areas are becoming victims to pollution. Busy cities are unsurprisingly the worst culprits with London, New York and Beijing being pretty toxic! Spend as much time as possible outside in fresh, unpolluted air
- Water – As much as I’m all for drinking water, be sure to consider where the water you are guzzling has come from. Many water supplies have chemicals added such as chlorine. Sory using a water filter at home or in the workplace
- Food and drinks – Do you always eat fresh food? Read the back of a packaged food and the likelihood is there are more than 5 ingredients – many of which aren’t what you expected from the product description. What is ‘disodium guanylate’ anyway?? Packaged and processed foods are readily packed with preservatives, artificial colours and sweeteners, not to mention added sugar and salt. Eat foods that you know where they came from and that you understand the full ingredients list! Cut out all refined sugar, processed foods and alcohol and limit fatty cuts of meat too
- Soil – So even fresh food can be slightly problematic... many fresh fruit and vegetables which aren’t organic, have been treated with nasty pesticides. You consume the food and hey presto, your liver has to process them. Try to opt for organic varieties as much as possible, if not in all foods, at least make a special effort to replace the ‘dirty dozen’ which include: apples, strawberries, nectarines, peaches, grapes, cherries, celery, spinach, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and cucumbers. These fruit and vegetables are more likely to have higher amounts of chemicals present
- Products – So it isn’t just what you eat or breathe. Your skin is the largest organ in the body and another major route that toxins can enter into your system. Beauty products, cleaning products and gardening products (you often touch them and can breathe them in) are often laden with chemicals. Try to use natural alternatives and when it comes to your skin-care regime.
2. Add in important macronutrients, micronutrients and antioxidants
OK, so you’ve managed the important first step of eliminating as many toxins as possible, now you are ready to nourish your liver and body as whole – give it some goodness back! So, what foods should you be opting for?
- Fresh fruit and vegetables – fresh (preferably organic) fruit and vegetables are really important to support your liver. They are nutrient-packed and full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants
- Antioxidant rich foods – antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene are important free radical scavengers. Free radicals can damage the integrity of your body cells, including hepatocytes of the liver. Antioxidant-rich foods are often bright in colour – eat the colours of the rainbow and you’ll be doing well
- Sulphur rich foods – Sulphur is an important precursor to glutathione. Glutathione is the master of all antioxidants and is particularly relevant to the liver. With over 1kg of cells making up a human liver – there are lots of metabolically active cells that need protecting. Glutathione is also involved in the detoxification pathways of the liver and helps us to utilise other important antioxidants. Therefore, sulphur-rich vegetables are brilliant in order to up your levels, these include: garlic, onions and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts
- Other precursors to glutathione – B vitamins are important for the production of glutathione so incorporate plenty of whole grains. Methionine and cysteine are also two important amino acids necessary for the synthesis of glutathione which can be found in beans, pulses, eggs and lean cuts of meat
- Omega-3 rich foods – Omega 3 offers a host of health benefits and the anti-inflammatory properties are one of them. Try incorporating more oily fish, nuts and seeds into your diet for a healthier liver.
3. Support your liver with herbs
Finally, herbs certainly have their place in the process of detoxifying your liver. Once you have decreased your exposure to toxins, added in some nutritional goodness, you can begin to support the liver with herbs.
Bitter herbs are extremely beneficial for digestion. Try having a small bitter salad before your meals (this is a common feature in the Mediterranean diet, which is regarded as one of the healthiest in the world) and include leaves such as chicory, endive, rocket or dandelion leaves.
Dandelion leaves act as a gentle diuretic which help encourage the excretion of toxins from the body (helping the liver out!) and the root of dandelion is useful too, it helps with bile secretion, therefore, also particularly useful for people with gall bladder issues.
Globe artichoke is classed as ‘bitter’ too and research  has shown that it helps the functions of the liver, specifically helping to better process, and as a result, lower blood cholesterol levels.
Finally, the herb milk thistle is rich in antioxidants which help scavenge free radicals which can damage your body cells, so this may also prove useful.
Kelp tablets are also a nice addition for any detox programme. Kelp is an excellent food source of many vitamins and minerals which can support the functions of the liver.
So there we have it: eliminate + incorporate + introduce herbs – three simple steps to a liver detox! We suggest trying to eliminate toxins and introduce nutrient packed foods on an ongoing basis rather than just for a specific period of ‘detox.’ The herbal additions can be nice to add into your programme as necessary, to give your liver a little boost. Good luck!
1. Bundy R et al. Phytomedicine 15 (2008), 668-675