In This Article
What Does ‘Liver Detox’ Mean?
Your body is exposed to toxins regularly. Among these are pollutants, industrial products, chemicals, heavy metals, cosmetic additives, and alcohol. Even the foods you eat and the medications you take can contain toxins.
This is why it’s essential to have a properly functioning liver. Its job is to break down potentially harmful substances and remove them from the body. The organ can also cleanse itself of toxins.
However, there’s a limit to how much the liver can detoxify. If it is overloaded, diseased, or damaged, it will have difficulty performing its functions. In other words, it’s crucial to reduce the toxins you consume to keep your liver healthy.
There are liver cleansing products available that can support its health and enhance the detox process. The most effective way to keep your liver strong is to avoid unhealthy foods and alcoholic drinks.
The Liver Detoxification Process
The liver detox cycle consists of two steps:1, 2
- Phase 1: The liver activates a group of enzymes called cytochrome P450. Phase 1 generates a lot of free radicals, which are very reactive molecules that damage cells.
- Phase 2: P450 enzymes convert toxins typically stored in fats into water-soluble toxins. This makes the toxins and the free radical byproducts less toxic. The byproducts are excreted through the bile or urine.
6 Signs That a Liver Detox is Working
The liver is detoxifying well if you show the following signs:
1. More Energy
Toxins impair physical functions. If there are no or few circulating toxins, you should feel lighter, refreshed, and energetic.
If you like to nap frequently, feel sluggish even after 8 hours of sleep, or have sleeping problems, these are signs that you need to detox.
2. Improved Mental State
A calm physical feeling is tied to a person’s mental state.
Detoxification clears the brain of toxins, improving mood and other aspects of mental well-being. This is one reason detox is an integral part of mental health treatment programs.3
3. Clearer Skin
Toxins produced by stress are a bad combination for the skin. Detox would likely lead to clearer skin.
Aside from toxins, the liver also deals with hormones. Hormonal imbalance can cause hormone-related symptoms like acne and skin rashes. If the liver is properly functioning, your hormones will balance out.
4. Reduced Inflammation
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to infection or injury. It can also trigger the immune system to attack healthy parts of the body.
If left unchecked, this could lead to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and liver diseases.
Free radicals the body produces from toxins can cause inflammation. If the liver isn’t functioning properly, toxins build up, interact with cells, and trigger inflammation. Proper liver detox can reduce inflammation.
5. Healthy Gut
When food is improperly digested, it creates and deposits toxins in the digestive tract. If the liver doesn’t deal with these toxins, bloating and nausea can occur.4
But if the liver is detoxifying properly, there’s a high chance that these gut problems will go away. Moreover, a functioning liver is correlated with hormone balance and better metabolism.
6. Healthy Weight
Toxins are usually called "persistent organic pollutants," which are sometimes found in the food we eat. The body detects these toxins and may declare it unsafe to dissolve fat and release toxins. This explains why some people have unexpected weight gain or have a hard time losing weight.
If the liver is detoxing correctly, there will be fewer toxins to store in fat. The body is more effective in its function if you are exercising and avoiding unhealthy foods. Some also say that detox program’s low-calorie diet may lead to early weight loss, but this is mostly water weight; people will regain the pounds as soon as they go back to their usual diet.
How to Perform Liver Cleansing
Some people resort to several liver cleanses for better liver function. However, they are controversial due to insufficient scientific evidence. Some are not regulated. Some may even be harmful or unsafe.5
Here are some examples of liver cleanses:
Milk thistle has been found to treat liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. It contains an active ingredient called silymarin, a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Milk thistle has been used in treating several liver disorders like cirrhosis and liver cancer.2, 6 Still, studies on milk thistle's effect on liver health show mixed data.
Here are other liver cleansing products:1, 2, 7, 8
- Green tea
- Calcium D-glucarate
- Bladderwrack extract
- Dandelion root
- Apple cider vinegar
Proteins consist of building blocks called amino acids.
Some amino acids, like glycine, taurine, and glutamine, are also essential for liver functions. During phase 2 detoxification, the liver uses amino acids to convert toxins into a less toxic form.
Amino acids as liver cleanse supplements have provided many benefits to patients with liver disease.2, 9
Detox Diets and Liver Cleanse Drinks
Juice fasts and enemas are the other types of liver cleanses. While they may help in enhancing the liver detox process, seek a doctor’s advice first. This is to ensure that liver cleansing drinks meet both your medical and dietary needs.
What are the Side Effects of a Liver Cleanse?
Some side effects of a liver cleanse include:
- Bloating, sluggishness, and irritability. Toxin build-up and hypoglycemia from low-calorie intake that's associated with certain liver cleansing diets can cause these unpleasant effects. However, you may continue experiencing these symptoms at the start of liver detox. It’s expected as the body is still adjusting. Drink lots of water to help flush out the waste.
- Withdrawal symptoms. A person may experience withdrawal symptoms during a liver detox, especially if the person has gone cold turkey. These symptoms include headache, muscle or joint pain, and lethargy. They happen because the body is withdrawing from things that produce toxins. Withdrawal symptoms are temporary and will be gone once the body adjusts.
- Nausea and abdominal pain. Milk thistle, turmeric, and other liver cleansing supplements may cause nausea or abdominal pain. This happens because the digestive system is not accustomed to these products.
- Malnutrition. A juice fast or an all-liquid diet may not contain all the nutrients a person needs. This can lead to malnutrition, particularly in children, pregnant women, and people with diabetes.
How to Perform Liver Detox Naturally
Liver cleanses may be trendy as quick fixes for liver health. However, they are not long-term solutions for enhancing the body’s detox process.
You can ditch liver cleanses and live a healthy lifestyle. Or, combine liver cleanses with natural detox techniques listed below:
- Eat liver-friendly foods. Balance the intake of proteins from plant and animal sources. Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts enhance activity of the liver's P450 enzymes.1 Eating organic food reduces the chances of ingesting pesticides.
- Avoid saturated fats and sugar. Avoid junk foods and processed foods. Foods high in saturated fat, simple sugars, and refined carbohydrates can lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, diabetes, and insulin resistance. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease happens when fat deposits prevent the liver from removing toxins.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity increases a person’s risk of developing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.5
- Avoid alcoholic drinks. Stopping alcohol consumption gives the liver a chance to recover.
How Long Does it Take to Detox Your Liver from Alcohol?
Liver detox starts within a few hours of your last drink and may last for days. How much you drink, how long you've been drinking, and a history of past detox all affect how the liver detoxifies alcohol from the body. Various withdrawal symptoms may also happen during the detox process:10
- 6 hours after the last drink: The person may experience minor withdrawal symptoms, like headache, tremors, and stomach upset. Heavy drinkers may experience seizures.
- 12 to 24 hours after the last drink: Very few people have hallucinations.
- 24 to 48 hours after the last drink: Minor withdrawal symptoms may persist, but they may stop in 4 to 5 days.
- 48 to 72 hours after the last drink: Some people may experience delirium. This is characterized by elevated high heart rate and body temperatures, as well as seizures.
- 72 hours after the last drink: The more severe symptoms, like rapid heart rate and hallucinations, worsen during this period.
Not all people who decide to stop drinking experience these symptoms. In rare instances, withdrawal symptoms last for a month.
Why is Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder Important?
The liver can heal minor damages caused by alcohol within days or weeks. More serious liver damage could take months to heal. Liver damage from long-term drinking or a binge-drinking session may be permanent.
Here are common liver complications caused by drinking alcohol:
- Alcoholic fatty liver disease: Fat build-up in the liver can be caused by even a few days of drinking. There may be no symptoms, but this fatty liver disease is an initial sign of drinking at a harmful level. Stopping alcohol consumption for two weeks can reverse this condition.11, 12
- Alcoholic hepatitis: The liver is inflamed. This is a more severe condition caused by chronic alcohol abuse. If mild, alcoholic hepatitis can be reversed by avoiding alcohol altogether. If severe, alcoholic hepatitis is life-threatening.11, 12
- Cirrhosis: The liver is scarred. It's not reversible. However, permanently stopping alcohol consumption can prevent further damage and increase the person’s life expectancy.11, 12
It’s important to address alcohol use problems to prevent liver diseases. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends persons of legal age to "choose not to drink, or to drink in moderation by limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men or 1 drink or less in a day for women."
If people have difficulty stopping, it’s highly recommended to seek medical advice, support, or treatment.