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Cautions to Heed Before a Liver Detox


Putting in the extra effort to detoxify your liver can significantly improve your liver’s health, but be aware of which cautions might apply.

Liver detoxification programs can take on many different forms, each of which may be associated with certain cautions. Detox diets, liver cleanses or liver flushes are often advocated as ways to purge the liver of toxins – with some regimens even claiming to help expel gallstones.

Before beginning some type of liver detox, make sure you know what symptoms might arise, what to look out for and what could pose a serious health threat.

There is more than one way to do a liver detox. As such, it is easy for innovators to call an effective, ineffective or potentially hazardous regimen a valid detox plan.

5 Common Liver Cleanses

  1. Master Cleanse – Also referred to as the lemonade diet, participants are instructed to fast for 10 days while only consuming a lemonade concoction made with lemon juice, water, maple syrup and cayenne. Laxatives are taken before bed and salt water is consumed in the morning to encourage defecation.
  • CAUTIONS: This is a type of starvation diet. Unfortunately, going into starvation mode slows down metabolism. The daily laxative regimen can cause dehydration, deplete electrolytes, and impair normal bowel function. It can also disrupt the normal microorganisms that perform useful digestive functions. A person who goes on this diet repeatedly may run the risk of developing metabolic acidosis, a disruption of the body’s acid-base balance, which results in excessive acidity in the blood – a potentially perilous condition.
  • Although initial dramatic weight loss is common, the weight typically comes back quickly after the fast. In addition, starvation diets can cause gallstones, the use of laxatives can damage the gastrointestinal tract, and dependence on laxatives can manifest in a short period of time.
  1. Liver or Gallbladder Flush – Originating from the work of Randolph Stone, participants are to consume primarily apples and apple juice, restrict their food intake to fruits and vegetables, consume a laxative (such as Epsom salt water) and drink olive oil and herbal tea.
  • CAUTIONS: Besides the risks of fasting and using laxatives, the most serious danger for a liver flush is the risk of dislodging a real gallstone. Often, those who have gallstones are not aware of their existence, and getting a gallstone stuck in the gallbladder duct necessitates emergency surgery.
  1. Colon Irrigation – Similar to an enema, a colonic involves flushing water into the colon via a tube inserted into the rectum. This process is believed to remove built-up toxins in the colon.
  • CAUTIONS: Even if performed by a knowledgeable professional, colonics can have uncomfortable side effects, such as cramping, bloating, nausea and vomiting. In addition, colon irrigation increases the risk of dehydration, may lead to bowel perforations, infections and can dangerously alter electrolyte levels.
  1. Detoxifying Herbal Supplements – There are many types of nutraceuticals, especially milk thistle, alpha R-lipoic acid, N-acetyl-cysteine, Vitamin C and turmeric that aid liver detoxification. The primary ways supplements do this is by protecting the liver from damage and supporting detox at a cellular level.
  • Although rare with the herbs listed above, some people have unique sensitivities to herbal supplements. Whenever taking a new medication or herbal formula, care should be taken to follow instructions and be on the lookout for any potential negative reactions.
  1. Eat Liver Cleansing Foods – Sometimes called a detox diet, eating foods that support detox (like lemon, grapefruit, dandelion, artichoke, walnuts and apples) and avoiding foods that burden the liver with toxins (like alcohol, fat, chemicals and sugar) greatly benefit liver detoxification.
  • Eating plenty of liver cleansing foods is safe as long as it is accompanied by adequate protein, carbohydrate and caloric intake.

In addition to the cautions associated with the different detox methods above, liver detox can be associated with the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Body Odor
  • Skin Eruptions/Acne
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Anxiety/Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Coughing
  • Diarrhea /Foul-Smelling Stool
  • Body Aches
  • Insomnia
  • Sinus Congestion
  • Cold/Flu

Usually, these symptoms are the result of toxins being released from fat cells into the bloodstream. As long as not severe, these symptoms typically resolve after the body is able to eliminate the toxins.

Some people are more vulnerable to the hazards of a liver cleanse than others. To be safe, always check with a healthcare provider before beginning any detox program. Those with the following conditions should only approach detoxification under a physician’s assistance:

  • Diabetes
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Heart Disease
  • Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women
  • Children or Senior Citizens
  • Colon Problems (such as IBS, Diverticulitis, Crohn’s or Colon Cancer)
  • Anyone with Chronic Kidney or Liver Disease

Because the kidneys and liver are intimately involved with detoxifying the body, it may seem unfair to caution those with kidney or liver disease from doing a detox. However, having fewer kidney or liver cells available to process the toxins that are released during a detox regimen makes it that much harder to eliminate them. On the other hand, those with kidney or liver disease could especially benefit from toxin elimination!

The Solution

The solution for these affected individuals is simple. Avoid starvation and laxative techniques, eat the right foods, drink nutritional shakes that focus on your liver, stay well hydrated and carefully choose reputable detox herbal supplements that support and protect your liver.

Helping the liver get rid of toxins is no simple task, but worthwhile for longevity. Even though there are many ways to approach a liver detox, some are definitely safer than others. Before committing yourself to a rigid liver detox program, investigate your plan thoroughly and be alerted to the potential side effects. Particularly important if living with a chronic ailment, choosing a physician-approved, gentle, liver detox method is likely your safest and most effective bet., Detox Healing Symptoms, Jon Barron, Retrieved August 17, 2014, The Baseline of Health Foundation, 2014., Are Detox Diets and Cleanses Dangerous?, Jill Richardson, Retrieved August 17, 2014,, 2014., Detoxing Cautions Before You Cleanse, N. Howell, Retrieved August 17, 2014,, 2014., The Dubious Practice of Detox, Retrieved August 17, 2014, Harvard Health Publications, 2014., A Healthy Liver Through Detoxification, Retrieved August 17, 2014,, 2014., Experts Warn of Detox Diet Dangers, Susan Moores, RD, Retrieved August 17, 2014,, 2014., Natural Liver Detox Diets, Retrieved August 17, 2014, WebMD, LLC, 2014.

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About the Author

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)®

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM is a long time advocate of integrating perspectives on health. With a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and a Master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches Institute, Nicole has been a licensed acupuncturist since 2000. She has gathered acupuncture licenses in the states of California and New York, is a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, has earned diplomat status with the National Commission of Chinese and Oriental Medicine in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and is a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. In addition to her acupuncture practice that focuses on stress and pain relief, digestion, immunity and oncology, Nicole contributes to the integration of healthcare by writing articles for professional massage therapists and people living with liver disease.

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