Let’s get one thing straight before we begin: because livers are the body’s chief detoxifier, helping to cleanse the liver is a lot like saying, “Doctor, have I got the cure for you.” You can’t detox the best detoxifier you’ve ever met, but you can aid the process by first of all not overtaxing your liver (excess in moderation!), and by taking scientific studies about which foods best boost liver functioning under advisement. If nothing succeeds like excess in polluting the liver, this article will let you know what foods and nutrients help with liver cleansing, and assist the organ in its good work.
Step One: Detox Your Thoughts
We’ll start with some myth-busting from Tinsay Woreta, M.D., a Johns Hopkins hepatologist, on liver health and liver function.
- Liver cleansing is not a cure for excess. If you overindulge on a night of partying, you can’t make it disappear, but because the liver is a self-healing entity, you can help it undo the damage by taking it easy and by focusing on ingredients that have had positive clinical showings, like milk thistle and turmeric extract.
- Liver detoxification is not a weight-loss solution. It’s also recommended that if taking a dietary supplement to aid weight loss, make sure it is natural enough to not damage the liver itself.
- Liver cleanses cannot undo liver diseases. It sounds obvious, but it must be said. However, do keep in mind that if you’re concerned about your liver’s health, the liver has amazing regenerative powers, unlike the heart which keeps all damage done to it—the better you treat your liver, the healthier it can get.
Which of course begs the question: how can you treat your liver well? What does it want, and how can you cleanse out any problem substances and replace them with healthy ones? That is the best mindset with which to approach the topic of liver cleansing, and now we can leave behind what can’t be done, to discuss what you can do in the service of detoxification and cleansing.
Why Liver Health Matters
You can protect yourself against liver disease. The protective steps you’re able to take include the following directives.
- Know your own risk factors for liver disease. If you have a family history of liver disease, or if you use alcohol to excess, you are more at risk than others, and may want to take action to improve your health.
- Avoid drinking alcohol to excess. For men that means no more than three drinks per day, and for women it means two. Limiting your alcohol consumption will help prevent the development of alcoholic liver disease.
- Avoid risky behaviors. Illicit drug use or unprotected sex with multiple partners can increase your risk of viral hepatitis, which leads to liver disease.
- Know the dangers of hepatitis C. Those on hemodialysis, with HIV, or those who are health care workers are more at risk of coming into contact with hep C.
- Avoid excessive weight gain. Your BMI should be between 18-25 to lower your risk of acquiring nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Fat in the liver may cause inflammation leading to cirrhosis.
Science-Backed Liver Cleansing Ingredients
You can judge the merits of these foods yourself, and pick and choose which ingredients you might combine in a liver cleanse drink. We will include a recommended liver cleansing juice below that utilizes a few of these top picks, but you can easily compile your own liver cleanse recipe from the following list.
Used in herbal medicine, milk thistle is a purple flower that’s been shown to decrease liver inflammation and aid those with alcohol-related liver disease. Milk thistle may also help those with diabetes improve their cholesterol and decrease their blood sugar levels.
Garlic has at least 39 antibacterial agents that protect you from opportunistic illness, and helps activate the liver’s detoxification enzymes. Fresh garlic can help reduce the number of organisms producing toxins within your GI tract, and it contains selenium, another detoxification-aiding mineral.
Turmeric contains antioxidants that help repair liver cells and provides enzymes that are used to flush out toxins. Turmeric boosts bile production and aids with the liver’s detoxification of metals. Turmeric may also prevent liver damage, which can especially help those who are on strong, liver-taxing medications for diabetes.
High in antioxidants, beets affect bile production, which is important for the absorption of healthy fats and fat-soluble vitamins and nutrients. More than that, the liver binds toxins to bile that will then be excreted by the body; this is the detoxification aid that beets can bring. Beets also activate liver enzymes and contribute vitamin C and fiber, two more aids to natural detoxification and cleansing done via the digestive system.
Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower) help the liver by stimulating the production of detoxification enzymes. These vegetables also aid liver health by providing sulfur compounds and leaching toxins out of the bloodstream with chlorophyll. Leafy greens vegetables like broccoli leaves can also neutralize heavy metals, protecting the liver from their damage.
The fiber in apples is excellent for feeding your good gut bacteria. Apples also contain pectin, which helps cleanse toxins from the digestive tract, meaning the liver won’t get stalled as it filters and detoxes your body.
High in beta-carotene, which stimulates overall liver function and helps produce bile, carrots also provide your body with vitamin A, known to help prevent liver disease. With antioxidants and fiber, carrots are another healthy aid to your body’s natural detoxification processes.
Not the full grown broccoli, which is also useful for liver function, broccoli sprouts aid liver detox by increasing the antioxidant glutathione and by providing indole-3-carbinol, which aids in detoxing excessive hormones. More than that, these sprouts can help to prevent certain cancers, as they are precursors to the sulforaphane compound, found in cruciferous veggies, which guards against free radicals and the progressive effects of aging.
Sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, and kefir: these kinds of fermented foods offer you good gut bacteria to keep your digestive tract healthy. How does that help the liver? Because the liver does not work alone, and needs your digestive system to bounce the toxins it isolates out the back door. You can brew your own kombucha to get its probiotic benefits, and easily include kombucha in a liver cleansing juice.
Green tea is another easy addition to a liver cleanse drink. With antioxidant catechins that are known to benefit liver function, green tea is great to drink regularly for liver health, as one Japanese study showed that those who drank 5–10 cups of green tea per day had increased blood markers for liver health, and concluded that green tea acted protectively against both cardiovascular disease and certain liver disorders.
Known as boosters for brain function, walnuts also work to increase blood flow and circulation, a peripheral benefit to the liver, which accesses our bloodstream to filter out the toxins we take in or create as byproducts of proper functioning. Walnuts are a great source of arginine, an amino acid that helps the body flush toxins from our brains, especially ammonia. High in omega-3 fatty acids and glutathione, natural supporters of liver cleansing, walnuts are an easy snack to access such important benefits.
Oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruits! The high vitamin C content of these fruits helps prevent liver damage due to its use as an antioxidant in the body. These fruits help the liver produce detoxifying enzymes that then flush out pollutants, and they make for an easy breakfast beverage to start the day off cleansed and energized.
A Liver Cleanse Drink Recipe
Brew up some green and milk thistle tea, either by combining tea bags in 1 cup and adding boiling water, or by putting the loose leaves of milk thistle into a tea infuser. As it steeps, add the following ingredients:
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon of turmeric powder
Pair that tea with a snack of walnuts and a dinner of garlicky vegetables from the list above, and rest assured that you’re doing your liver a gentle favor.
Beware of overloading on supplements. For example, while green tea the drink is perfectly helpful to liver functioning, green tea supplements can sometimes give you too much of a good thing. Whenever you have too much of something in your body, it’s your liver that has to break it down and sort it out, so balance is key, moderation is key, and as any medical professional will tell you, there’s no quick cure that will ever replace healthy, responsible habits.
Liver Your Best Life
Your liver is the main organ in your body that filters and cleanses your blood. Its work helps blood to clot, helps break down any chemicals or drugs you add to the mix, and produces bile and glucose, both vital substances necessary to healthy human functioning.
If the liver is ever overwhelmed with toxins, it creates a sort of traffic jam in your body that will require time to sort out. The best thing you can do for your liver is to first abstain from the toxic input if you can (for example, cut back on drinking alcohol), and increase the dietary input of foods you know will help get it back on track. None of these suggested ingredients is a cure, but they may each in their own way help the liver cleanse itself naturally, and contribute to your overall health.