A Primer on Liver Cleansing

A general description of why and how people implement liver cleanse programs

At one time or another, the average American is likely to hear mention of someone who is doing a “cleanse” or “detox” or “liver cleanse”. Even though people refer to this process differently, they all mean the same thing, yet there are numerous ways to go about such a feat.

Liver cleansing, as it is most commonly known, is an attempt to clean the inside of the human body. The liver, kidneys, immune system cells, lymphatic fluid, intestines, lungs and skin all work together to remove toxins; but sometimes these organs, cells and fluids can use some help.

What Are Toxins?


Toxins are anything that can potentially harm body tissue. Toxins can originate inside or outside the human body:

  • Exogenous Toxins

    Originating from outside the body, these are what most people imagine when discussing toxins. Exogenous toxins can enter our bodies via food, air and water. Some examples of exogenous toxins include chemicals in processed foods, air pollutants, alcoholic beverages, pesticides and medications.

  • Endogenous Toxins

    Originating from inside the body, endogenous toxins are a normal byproduct of cellular metabolism. Sometimes referred to as metabolic waste, endogenous toxins include lactic acid, urea, ammonia, homocysteines, carbon dioxide, yeast and bacteria.

Signs that you may be harboring excessive toxin levels in your body are indigestion, poor concentration, sluggishness, headaches, bad breath, fatigue, poor skin and muscle pain.

Normal Toxin Removal

Human Body

The liver, bile, digestive, urinary, respiratory, skin, blood and lymphatic systems work together to ensure that toxins are transformed and eliminated. Although each of these organs and systems are crucial to living healthfully, the liver, bile and intestines tend to shoulder the bulk of detoxifying our bodies – with the liver and bile primarily responsible for cleansing the blood of impurities and the intestines primarily responsible for eliminating solid waste.

Liver Cleanse

To help the body eliminate exogenous and endogenous toxins liver cleanses have become increasingly popular.

Besides synthesizing and secreting bile, the liver acts as a filter for toxins and bacteria in the blood and chemically neutralizes toxins. The primary goals of liver cleansing are to reduce the toxic burden, prevent damage to the liver’s cells from toxicity and provide the liver with essentials it needs to cleanse the blood optimally.

Furthermore, when the liver is not functioning at its best it also adversely affects your digestion system. Toxins, parasites and solid waste take longer to clear and begin to build up in the intestines. The liver cleanse enables the digestion system to better eradicate parasites and expel toxic, fecal matter that have accumulated and adhered to the intestinal walls.

Four Ways to Implement a Liver Cleanse

With the overall goal of improving health, here are five ways to perform a liver cleanse.

    1. Detox Diet

      Minimize ingested chemicals by avoiding anything fatty, sugary or processed and primarily consuming organic foods. This strategy is safe and, although it costs more than eating at a local drive-thru chain, it is best applied as a year-round lifestyle.

      In addition to going organic, certain foods promote exceptionally good liver and digestive health. Examples of foods included in many ‘detox diets’ are artichokes, lemons, seaweed, apples and walnuts.

    2. Liquid Cleanse

      There are many versions of liquid cleanses promoted today, but they primarily involve some version of a fast to empty out the intestines. Liquid cleanses dramatically reduce caloric intake by eliminating solid foods for several days to weeks.

      Rapid weight loss typically accompanies a liquid cleanse, but a rebound effect is likely to follow. A rebound occurs because with a minimal amount of calories, the body goes into starvation mode. Starvation mode slows the metabolism so you can survive on fewer calories. When eating resumes, the metabolism is set to a lower rate so even consuming fewer calories leads to rapid weight gain.

      Liquid cleanses are known to starve the body of protein, essential fatty acids and many other vital nutrients. Side effects may include diarrhea, dehydration, fatigue, irritability, acne, depression, fogginess and hunger. Because ‘starvation mode’ may be hazardous to certain individuals, anyone with a chronic disease such as cirrhosis, kidney disease, or blood sugar imbalances should consult with a physician prior to doing a liquid cleanse.

    3. Supplements

      Antioxidants Antioxidants – Fresh, brightly colored, organic produce are loaded with antioxidants, substances that neutralize endogenous and exogenous toxins. Antioxidants in supplement form are also useful for aiding with detox. Examples of valuable detox antioxidants include Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Alpha R-Lipoic Acid and N-Acetyl Cysteine.

      Although most antioxidants are completely safe, you should always adhere to dosage guidelines. In addition, those with liver disease should restrict their Vitamin A intake and those taking a blood thinner or who have blood coagulation problems should consult with a physician prior to taking Vitamin E.

      Milk Thistle – The #1 herbal supplement proven to support liver health, milk thistle is a component of many liver detox plans. Because it has shown an ability to promote bile flow, protect liver cells from damage and promote new liver cell growth, milk thistle is the top herb suggested for aiding liver detoxification.

      Due to its stimulation of the liver and gallbladder, milk thistle may cause loose stool in a few, sensitive individuals. In addition, it may reduce the effectiveness of oral contraceptive pills and immunosuppressive drugs.

      All-in-1 Supplements – Instead of taking supplements individually, some favor a multi-pronged approach and prefer to take supplements that have milk thistle, antioxidants and liver detoxifiers all in one supplement bottle.

      Milk Thistle with Artichoke & Turmeric, Liver Support & Detox and Clinical LiverSupport are all supplements that contain milk thistle, artichoke and turmeric. All three attack inflammation, cleanse, detox, support, and protect your liver.

      Liver Support & Detox and Clinical LiverSupport have more supplements that offer even more liver protection. You decide which supplement fits your needs and budget.

      Artichoke & Turmeric
      Liver Support & Detox
      Clinical LiverSupport

    4. Colon Irrigation

      Colon cleansing Otherwise known as a high colonic, colon irrigation is similar to an enema under the guidance of a trained practitioner. For individuals who suffer with chronic constipation, irritable bowel syndrome or other gastrointestinal malady, colon irrigation may provide relief.

      Many support this practice for detoxification; however, colonics can also have side effects, such as cramping, bloating, nausea and vomiting. Colon irrigation may also increase the risk of dehydration, lead to bowel perforations, dangerously alter electrolytes and increase the risk of infection.

In order to keep toxins to a minimum and support your liver’s health, several of the detox methods described above can be incorporated into a regular routine while others should be used sparingly:

    1. Detox Diet

      A detox diet full of foods that support liver function and devoid of those that hamper the liver produces the best results when adhered to as much as possible.

    2. Liquid Cleanse

      The frequency of a liquid cleanse should be limited to twice a year so that a constant yo-yo effect of altering metabolism is avoided.

    3. Supplements

      Often recommended as part of a liver maintenance plan, taking antioxidants to neutralize toxins, milk thistle and other liver supplements to protect liver cells is another strategy that has a maximum benefit when done year-round. Click here to see the best liver cleanse and protection package that we recommend.

    4. Colonic Irrigation

      The frequency of a colonic irrigation should be limited to once a year (unless there is a valid medical reason) so the gastrointestinal system does not become dependent on the assisted colon cleansing.

As mentioned above, there is more than one way to help rid your body of toxins. Despite the assumption that grabbing a detox kit off the shelf at your local pharmacy guarantees improved health, some detox methods are definitely safer than others.

Just like we prioritize cleaning our body’s exterior, cleaning our body’s interior is vital for maintaining health. Supporting detoxification can make you feel much better – as long as you pay attention to your body’s limits and proceed wisely.

About the Author

Stephen Holt, MD, PhD, FACP

Stephen Holt, M.D. is a Distinguished Professor of Medicine NYCPM (Emerite) and a medical practitioner in New York State. He has published many peer-review papers in medicine and he is a best-selling author with more than twenty books in national and international distribution. He has received many awards for teaching and research. Dr. Holt is a frequent lecturer at scientific meetings and healthcare facilities throughout the world. He is a best selling author and the founder of the Holt Institute of Medicine.

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