Maybe weâ€™re just a little obsessed with â€œclean.â€ â€œCleanâ€ living, â€œcleanâ€ eating, disinfecting your surroundings, detoxing your internal organs. Anything in the pursuit of wellness, right?
But organs like the liver do a pretty solid job of detoxing for us. Do you need a special supplement or juice fast to keep it in top shape? This research can help you decide.
Letâ€™s get to know your liver
The liver is a hefty organ (about 3 pounds!) that sits to the right of and somewhat atop your stomach, under your lungs and rib cage. Itâ€™s responsible for many vital functions, including cleaning your blood. It breaks down drugs and chemicals and secretes bile into your small intestine to help with digestion.
Your liver is like the saintly roommate who cleans up the apartment after a party and then makes you scrambled eggs and toast to soothe your hangover.
What are all these liver cleanse and detox products about?
You see them in the supplement aisle and on wellness websites â€” bottles of capsules, packets of powder, juices, soups, and multiday protocols meant to detox your liver and start with a clean slate. They claim to:
- â€œsupport liver health and assist with toxin eliminationâ€
- â€œrevitalize the liver, support healthy digestion, naturally flush toxinsâ€
- â€œcleanse the liver, gallbladder, and pancreasâ€
- â€œnourish and rejuvenate the liver, organs, and skinâ€
- â€œdetoxify your body, improve your energy and wellnessâ€
So you might think, â€œIâ€™ve been eating a lot of snacks and drinking alcohol â€” my liver must be pretty dirty. Time to detox!â€
Packaging might lead you to believe not only that your liver needs a good wash but also that detoxing it will give you more energy and help you lose weight.
Use caution with cleanses (and all unregulated supplements)
Some of the ingredients in herbal â€œcleansesâ€ are associated with kidney failure and liver failure.
Researchers in a 2017 study reported that a commercially available â€œdetoxâ€ tea contained six ingredients that are believed to be toxic to the liver: gardenia, skullcap root, cinnamon bark, black pepper, juniper berry, and rhubarb root.
One study found that 51 percent of supplements taken by participants contained ingredients that werenâ€™t listed on the labels.
Because the composition of multi-ingredient products can vary widely from batch to batch, itâ€™s nearly impossible to know whether a â€œcleanseâ€ is accurately labeled and whether all the ingredients are in safe concentrations.
If your liver is the cleanup crew, do you need a detox too?
Short answer: No.
One of the dopest things about the human liver is that it can regenerate after as much as 70 percent of the organ is surgically removed. Scientists still donâ€™t totally understand how the liver does it, but this superpower could be related to its job as a filter for all the toxin-filled blood flowing from the gut.
In other words, your liver is really the expert at detoxification.
Unless you have a liver disease like hepatitis or cirrhosis, your liver probably functions just fine without any extra herbal support. The biggest risk factors for liver disease are excessive alcohol consumption and a family history of liver disease.
Are any supplements good for the liver?
Some botanical ingredients have been linked with supporting liver function. Here are a few that might help:
This Mediterranean plant has been used to treat liver ailments for centuries. Research indicates that silibinin, a component of milk thistle, has antioxidant properties and improves liver conditions. Itâ€™s generally believed to be nontoxic in humans.
This spice derived from the root of Curcuma longa is commonly grown in India and Southeast Asia. The active extract curcumin is believed to be both anti- inflammatory and antioxidant. Itâ€™s traditionally used for digestive and liver support.
Both turmeric and the extract are considered safe and have only rarely been linked to liver injury. In cases where patients taking turmeric sustained liver injury, it was unclear whether other substances could have been to blame.
This flower is traditionally used in China as both food and medicine. The roots are especially rich in polysaccharides. Research indicates that two polysaccharides show potential for preventing liver injury due to acetaminophen toxicity.
Vinegar is a good household cleaner, but is it a liver cleaner?
Apple cider vinegar is thought to have many possible health benefits, including liver detoxification. But scientific evidence for such claims is thin to nonexistent.
Recent studies have examined the use of apple cider vinegar to prevent weight gain (in rats), prevent diabetes complications (also in rats), soothe dermatitis, and treat fungal infections.
Where scientific support is lacking, anecdotal evidence abounds across social media. Drinking a little vinegar is probably harmless if it makes you feel better, just be sure to dilute it with plenty of water to protect your teeth and throat.
Vitamins do a liver good
On the other hand, there is a fair amount of scientific evidence that vitamins can support a healthy liver.
Hereâ€™s what the research says:
- The antioxidant effects of vitamins C, E, and B-12 can protect the liver from acetaminophen toxicity (in rats, at least).
- According to a 2016 review of studies, carotenoids and vitamins B-3 and C have positive effects on alcoholic liver disease in animal models when combined with alcohol cessation.
- In a small 2019 study, women with polycystic ovary syndrome showed improvement in liver tests after taking a daily vitamin D supplement for 3 months.
Eat your way to a cleaner liver
One way to keep all your organs in good working order is to eat a varied, healthful diet of foods that make you feel good.
While it might be tempting to do a little spring cleaning on your internal organs, your liverâ€™s like, â€œNah, Iâ€™m good.â€ Your liver serves many functions in your body, including detoxifying your blood.
Unless you have liver disease, your liver is probably doing a good job without the help of a special â€œdetox,â€ cleanse, or fast. Avoid obscure herbal ingredients and stick to the botanicals and vitamins that research has proven effective for liver support.
If youâ€™re concerned about liver disease, focus on things you can do to keep your liver healthy and prevent damage. Minimize alcohol and drug consumption, stay hydrated, eat a balanced diet, and maintain a moderate weight since fat around the liver can significantly interfere with its function.
If you have liver damage or if medical tests of your liver have shown any irregularities, donâ€™t try to DIY treatment. See your healthcare provider for evaluation and effective medications.
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