Detox is a trendy topic right now. There are endless products, methods, advice, kits, fasts, even foot pads! It’s hard to know where to turn. Even celebrities are promoting detox & products. How do you know what to choose? Here are some simple liver detox tips to ensure your body is taking out the trash.
Critics of detox say that we are already equipped with our own detoxification system: the liver, skin, and kidneys, and that cleansing is unnecessary. It is true that the liver, our second largest organ (after the skin) filters & detoxifies everything we eat, breathe, drink, and apply to the skin. But we are exposed to an unprecedented number of toxins from our environment, food supply (think chemicals, preservatives, pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones), personal products, household cleaning products, clothing, and detergent, to name a few.
The liver can become easily overwhelmed and congested when your total toxic threshold is exceeded, and toxins can get backed up in the system, especially if we have a poor diet and habits such as drinking sodas, alcohol, taking pain killers, allergy meds, or recreational drugs. These substances are very hard on the liver. Its pathways become blocked as it is not able to handle the load, and symptoms result: bloating, fatigue, constipation, hormonal issues (the liver is in charge of metabolizing hormones), high cholesterol (the liver plays a critical role in cholesterol production), irritability, depression, poor sleep. These are symptoms–our body’s signals that something is off balance. Taking a break from junk food, booze, poor habits, and stress, and cleaning up the diet and lifestyle is just the ticket to improving health. And at the basic level, that is what a detox does.
Cleansing or detoxing is a time honored tradition that has been practiced in varying forms for tens of thousands of years. There are varying degrees of detoxing, from water fasting to juice fasting and using particular foods and herbs. Just go to any health food store and take a look at all the books and kits offering promises of renewed vigor by following their plan. Often, you can find kits with herbs and a diet plan to follow. How do you know what’s right for you?
First off, you should never undertake a cleanse without consulting with a practitioner first. Nutritionists or naturopaths will do an intake and discuss your health history to determine what cleanse is right for your particular physiology. You can do serious damage on some of the more popular cleanses, like the Master Cleanse. It involves drinking lemon water with cayenne, maple syrup, and sea or epsom salt. The problem with liquid fasting using this drink or even just water is that you have not properly prepared your body for a cleanse, and toxins can be released too quickly, causing you to feel like crap, or actually upsetting your electrolyte balance, which can have serious consequences. Or if you are hypoglycemic, you will crash on this foodless cleanse.
Many people have success doing juice or water fasts, but I just cannot recommend this. Just google “liver cleanse” and you get some nasty/graphic images of stones expelled from the liver or junk that comes from the depth of your intestines. I really can’t vouch for any truth in those photos OR safety in the methods they promote. It is far too risky, and interestingly enough, the liver needs protein to detox. From protein comes amino acids that your liver uses to synthesize powerful antioxidants that help it cleanse.
There are many kits available that you can buy at the store. Some involve smoothies, drinks, or herbs. Again, caution: some of these kits contain very powerful herbs like senna or cascara sagrada or even epsom salt, and that will send you running to the bathroom. Plus, you don’t know the quality of the herbs. If you are buying a kit from the store, you can be fairly certain that the quality of the herbal preparations is not great.
The basis of every good detox is diet. You want to clean up the diet, prepare the body, and address lifestyle. That is the key to a holistic cleanse: covering all the bases! I recommend removing gluten, dairy, soy, sugar, alcohol, coffee and focusing on organic, seasonal whole foods: vegetables, fruits, seeds, nut, and organic proteins. Aim for a minimum of two weeks, three to four is ideal. On top of your detox diet, consider adding some liver supportive herbs like milk thistle, oregon grape root, dandelion, red clover, and burdock. This will support the liver and clean the pathways.
This is the method I use with my clients, depending on their health goals. A week of pre-cleansing to prepare the body for a comfortable detox, detox diet, herbs (not available over the counter, only through healthcare practitioners so you can be sure of good quality!), and for those who want extra cleansing or have a goal of weight loss, I add a functional detox support preparation of herbs & nutrients that can be added to smoothies. The three week period involves slowing down, removing toxic products from your life, resting more, and following the diet and herb recs. Read more about my recommended plan here!
There are a number of plans that include eating certain foods like mostly greens and gluten-free grains, and some of these are fine, but here again, it depends on your health status and goals, which is why it’s important to consult with a professional. All in all, if it sounds faddish (i.e. if you see a celeb promoting it on an infomercial after midnight), involves harsh herbs or stimulants, involves fasting or drinking “tonics” or smoothies that have chemical preservatives or come in a plastic bottle, or if it comes in a kit you buy off a shelf, AVOID. Cleansing is a great way to improve your health and feel better, but always best to do a cleanse with quality products guided by a professional.
If you’d like a guided, 21 day holistic, whole foods-based cleanse, click here to download my ebook, 3 Weeks to Vitality. The book is a simple detox program with real food that can help you lose weight, cleanse your liver, break sugar cravings, reduce pain and inflammation, gain energy and vitality, and get clear skin. You can use these easy 14-day or 21-day liver detox support kits to provide you with all the supportive nutrients you need.
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. In addition to her coaching practice, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and kick nagging digestive issues for good. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.