There have been a lot of ads and articles recently about the virtues of liver cleanses. These ads and articles make it sound like your liver is a giant sponge full of toxins just waiting to kill you, so you need to do a cleanse before you rot from the inside out. They promise you everything from dramatic weight loss to clearer skin to lower blood pressure. So what’s the truth? Do you really need to cleanse your liver?
First, lets look at the liver itself. The liver is an organ, located on the right side of your belly, that works to remove toxins from your blood stream. The liver also makes certain proteins that your body uses for blood clotting and other important functions. For now, lets focus on the filtering aspect. Think of your liver as a giant filter. As the blood passes through, the liver works to filter out toxins before they can travel to and damage other organs. The liver then converts the toxins into water soluble solutions and causes your body to excrete them through your waste.
Now the premise behind the liver cleanses is the theory that your liver becomes “gunked up” with all these toxins and stops functioning as it is supposed to. The liver cleanses are intended to do just that, cleanse the liver and allow it to resume normal functions. So do you need a liver cleanse? Probably not.
The liver was designed to filter toxins, and it does it very efficiently. Some things that affect the liver and can cause it to lose some of it’s functioning powers include: a poor diet with a lot of processed food, heavy alcohol intake, smoking, some medications, and genetics. Some symptoms of decreased liver function include: jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and eyes), dark urine, pale stools, easy bleeding, itching, chills, fluid in the abdominal cavity, the emergence of small spider web like blood vessels on the skin, and a constant feeling of “fullness” in the abdomen. Speak with your doctor as soon as possible if you have any of these symptoms.
Studies have shown liver cleanses can be beneficial if you need it. Liver cleanses really do remove toxins from the liver, but it is not always needed. Before doing anything, visit your doctor. They can run a simple blood test called a liver function panel. This will show how well your liver is functioning.
If your doctor decides a liver cleanse would be beneficial for you, there are many options available. I personally recommend an all natural brand made with milk thistle. Milk thistle is a natural plant that cleanses the liver more gently that some other types of liver cleanse. These types of cleanses can be found at any health food store or online.
For general liver health, here are some basic tips to keep your liver healthy on a daily basis:
1) Drink water. This is extremely important for all your organs. Water helps flush out toxins and makes the liver’s job a little easier.
2) Avoid excess fat in your diet. Excess fat in the body and in the blood stream puts extra stress on the liver, making it more difficult to remove the toxins.
3) Eat a well balanced diet. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables will strengthen your overall body and help your liver function properly.
4) Limit alcohol consumption. This doesn’t mean you have to give up drinking all together. A glass of wine or beer, or a small glass of liquor a day is usually fine. Heavy drinking for long periods of time and binge drinking make the liver work harder to filter the alcohol out of the bloodstream, thereby putting increased stress on the liver.
5) Regularly see your doctor. Your doctor can monitor your overall health, including liver function. Your doctor will also make sure you are up to date on immunizations, including hepatitis A and B. Hepatitis is an inflammatory disease of the liver usually caused by a viral infection. These infections can cause serious damage to the liver. Your doctor can also monitor your medications to make sure any medications you are taking won’t damage your liver.
6) QUIT SMOKING!!! Smoking introduces so many toxins to the body. The liver must work in overdrive to remove these toxins. Stopping smoking reduces damage to your liver and the rest of your body.
7) It goes without saying, but avoid illegal drugs such as cocain, meth and heroine. These drugs put extreme stress on the entire body, especially the liver which attempts to remove these substances from the bloodstream.
If you are living a generally healthy lifestyle, your liver is probably fine. However, if you are at all curious or concerned, please speak with your doctor. Do not start any liver cleanses or any other cleansing-type regimens without your doctor’s consent.