The liver is a remarkable, adaptable, and particularly resilient organ. We hammer it with not-so-healthy foods, medications, and lifestyle choices but it continues to chug along, processing everything we eat and drink, synthesizing proteins and fats, and filtering out toxins and waste while passing along nutrients that we need.
Because of the workload, the liver can sometimes get backed up. If not addressed with diet and lifestyle changes, toxins accumulate and cause serious problems. Additionally, lifestyle-related conditions obesity and diabetes are linked to fatty liver disease and liver cancer.
Symptoms of a toxic liver include:
- Abdominal pain/engorgement
- Bitter taste in the mouth
- Loss of appetite
- High cholesterol
- Fluid retention in the abdomen
- Skin sensitivity/outbreaks
- Dark urine
- Gallbladder attacks
Whether you experience symptoms or just want to pay some special attention to this very special organ, below are 12 ways to get a natural liver detox.
Natural Liver Detox in 12 Steps
This is just what your liver needs!
1. Scale Back the Alcohol
You can’t do a natural liver detox without scaling back on the alcohol.
A glass of wine or beer with dinner can be beneficial in some ways but drinking more than that can harm your liver. Damage can be caused by metabolic by-products of consuming alcohol and the resulting inflammation. (1) Alcoholism is a given, as chronic overindulgence often overcomes this vital organ whose job it is to filter out everything harmful. Binge drinking of 4 or more drinks at once just twice a week is enough to make your liver say stop.
In fact, 21 binge-drinking episodes within a 7-week period are enough to cause symptoms of early liver disease. (2) To give your liver a break, drink no alcohol for at least a week, then reintroduce light to moderate drinking (1-2 glasses no more than a few times a week) to keep from overtaxing your liver.
2. If You’re Overweight, Shed Some Pounds
Obesity is defined as carrying too much body fat—distinguishable from being overweight, which is defined as carrying more than a healthful weight for your height. Weight can come from muscle, bone, water, and fat. Researchers have found a definite correlation between obesity and liver disease.
“Obesity has been linked not only to initial stages of the [non-alcoholic fatty liver] disease, i.e., simple steatosis (SS), but also to its severity. From a clinical point of view, obesity has increased morbidity and mortality when combined with NAFLD [non-alcholic fatty liver disease], owing to cardiovascular and liver-specific mortality, including higher HCC [liver cancer] risk. From a therapeutic point of view, weight loss is regarded as the cornerstone for the disease prevention and treatment,” writes a 2017 study. (3)
3. Cut Back on Processed Food
Even if you aren’t overweight or obese, if you eat a lot of processed food, your liver may be suffering for it. Fast and processed foods (including soda) contain inordinate amounts of sugar, salt, trans fat, chemicals, genetically-modified organisms, and other nasty stuff.
Perhaps the worst ingredient for the liver (and every other part of your body) in processed food is high fructose corn syrup, a ubiquitous derived sweetener that is causing liver disease—even in children. (4) The title of one 2015 study on the effect of high fructose corn syrup on the liver wrote: “Carbohydrate intake and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: fructose as a weapon of mass destruction”. (5) That’s pretty clear and unusually bold for a scientific study.
Cutting back on processed foods and replacing them with real, whole foods will help heal your liver and you’ll feel better for it.
4. Reduce Over-the-Counter Pain Medications
Pain meds like aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen are sold virtually everywhere and undeniably reduce mild pain quickly for most people. These common remedies, however, are terrible for your liver.
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol, Excedrin, NyQuil, TheraFlu) – known to cause liver damage and failure in as little time as 2 weeks of regular use. Taking these with alcohol drastically increases the risk of liver damage. (6)
- Ibuprofen – works by blocking the production of liver enzymes that regulate inflammation, directly impeding liver function. This can cause damage, disease, and failure if used over time.
- Naproxen – causes acute liver failure. (7)
- Aspirin – included in the group of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) along with the ones mentioned above, aspirin disrupts liver function by interfering with the synthesis of hormones and regulatory biochemicals. Aspirin can also cause bleeding throughout the digestive system.
Instead of these, find some natural pain relief suggestions here.
5. Beet It
Beets are rich in antioxidants and are especially protective of the liver. In one study of the efficacy of beets on liver function, antioxidant levels increased significantly in liver tissue following a period of ischemia (deprivation of oxygen), stimulating enzymatic function to return the liver to normal function. (8)
Betalain is a red-violet pigment found in beetroot that has significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Lipid peroxidation is the damage that free radicals wreak on cells by stealing electrons. Livers of rats fed beetroot extract were found to avoid most of the imposed oxidative stress as compared to rats in a control group. On top of that, antioxidant levels remained stable after the experiment.
“…beetroot supplementation might be a promising adjunct strategy to help manage diseased states propagated by oxidative stress, such as liver injury and cancer,” concluded the study. (9)
Betalain is metabolized from the nutrient choline. Studies confirm that choline deficiency is the primary cause of fatty liver disease. (10)
You can find some interesting, check out yummy recipes using beets here.
6. Detox with Water
Most of us don’t drink enough water. When it comes to rebooting your liver, a good flush is what’s needed while replenishing supportive nutrition. Increasing water intake will help the liver to clear out.
Water filtered by reverse osmosis is best, to remove most of the chemicals that are added to municipal water. If your tap water contains fluoride, filtered water is especially important in the context of liver health, as fluoride has been found to cause fat deposits in the liver, amongst other things. (11)
We have some detoxifying infused water recipes that include herbs to help clean out the gunk while the water flushes it out—you can find them here.
7. Eat Healthy Fats
Trans fats that come from hydrogenated oils will clobber your liver. Organic cold-pressed virgin oils are healthy fats that will support it with antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and other nutrients.
Other healthy fat sources include:
Coconut oil, with its medium-chain fatty acids, is especially healing for the liver. Its antioxidants prevent liver toxicity and speed healing after chemotherapy and antibiotic damage. (12, 13) You can increase your coffee’s abilities as a liver-healer by mixing in a spoonful of coconut oil instead of creamer.
Olive oil is also very supportive of the liver. Some of its potency escapes when heated so if you’re looking to specifically assist your liver, pour it out of the bottle directly in foods. For a natural liver detox flush: mix 1 tablespoon of olive oil with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and drink first thing upon awakening before breakfast. Olive oil prevents the build-up of bad fats in the liver and lemon cleans and protects.
8. Increase Exercise
Exercise helps everything. You get your blood flowing, toxins flushed, muscles strengthened, weight controlled, stress reduced, sleep improved…and the list goes on. Even moderate exercise (150 minutes a week of brisk walking) has a significant effect on reducing liver fat in people with fatty liver disease. (14) To heal and maintain liver health and for a natural liver detox boost, exercise regularly.
9. Supplement with Vitamin E
According to a 2012 study published by the National Institutes of Health:
“The prevalence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is likely to increase over time due to the epidemics of obesity and diabetes. Presently, there is no definitive treatment for NAFLD. Based on available evidence, vitamin E (RRR-α-tocopherol) is only recommended in NASH adults without diabetes or cirrhosis and with aggressive histology…vitamin E therapy demonstrated a significant improvement in steatosis [cell fat retention], inflammation, ballooning, and resolution of steatohepatitis [fatty liver disease] in adult patients with aggressive NASH who do not have diabetes or cirrhosis.” (15)
Foods with significant vitamin E content include:
- Mustard greens
- Nuts: almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts
- Palm oil
- Olives/olive oil
- Raw seeds: sunflower, pumpkin, sesame
- Butternut squash
- Sweet potato
- Swiss chard
- Turnip greens
10. Eat Bitter Greens
Green vegetables are supremely nutritious and are the best kind for liver health. They contain flavonoid antioxidants in their pigments that are potent healers. Bitter greens like arugula, dandelion, beet, endive, collard greens, and watercress modulate liver fatty acids. (16) The bitter flavor stimulates bile secretion to clean the liver and promote efficient digestion. Green tea also provides liver support.
Replacing less healthful foods with more greens will rejuvenate you and help you to drop a few pounds if you’re overweight.
Find other foods to support your liver here.
If you are having problems with your liver, avoid:
These nightshade plants can be mildly toxic to a compromised liver. (17)
11. Go for Grapefruit
This bitter citrus fruit doesn’t get the credit it deserves. For one, it’s a vitamin C powerhouse that contains countless antioxidants.
In terms of liver health, grapefruit contains naringenin, which protects against liver injury and fibrosis caused by eating cured meat.(18) The compound also has antiinflammatory properties that fight chemical-induced oxidative stress. (19) Moreover, the compound’s chelating effects work against liver necrosis, hydropic degeneration, and hepatic cord disorganization. (20)
Add half a grapefruit or a tall glass of grapefruit juice to your daily breakfast for a great natural liver detox. Just know that the fruit can interact with prescription medicine, so speak to your doctor if you have ongoing prescriptions.
12. Eat Organic
Roundup is the world’s most popular herbicide. It contains the ingredient glyphosate, which causes a whole plethora of serious illness, including autism spectrum disorders, headaches, neurological dysfunction, obesity, allergies, asthma, and liver disease. Glyphosate residues exist in almost all conventional foods sold in North America, from honey to boxed cereals to wine. You can find more information about what foods to specifically avoid here.
A recent study found that regular ultra-low doses of Roundup (proportional to what humans can expect to ingest if eating conventional packaged and processed foods) fed to rats over a 2-year period resulted in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in the second year. (21)
“Regulators worldwide accept toxicity studies in rats as indicators of human health risks. So the results of this latest study have serious implications for human health.” (22)
This is important, the study states, as fatty liver disease correlates with obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. In addition, there are cumulative effects:
“there is increasing evidence to suggest that GBHs [glyphosate-based herbicides] and glyphosate can bring about toxic effects via different mechanisms, depending upon the level of exposure.” [Ibid.]
This study also observed glyphosate damage to other organs as well. Results included tissue cell death, fibrosis (scarring), abnormal metabolism of fats, and damage to cell mitochondria (the centers of cells that take in nutrients, break them down, and release them as energy).
Organic food by definition means that the produce grows without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. It also means that the farmers use seeds which are not genetically modified. These factors drastically reduce your exposure to glyphosate and other toxic chemicals. No matter how good the natural liver detox, pesticides can damage your liver permanently.
Your liver is the largest internal organ in your body and it filters everything you eat and take in. Take care of this critical organ with a natural liver detox lifestyle and toxins will be a thing of the past!