“Liver cleanses” are a popular product at health food stores and through online health entrepreneurs. The theory behind all of them is that disease or lack of well-being is often caused by a toxic overload in the body, which can be reduced by aiding the liver in doing its job. They then make a case that their product or protocol will clean out the liver or give it time to rest, or energize it to work better in some way. A liver cleanse may sound appealing and even sensible, but is the logic behind it true or mostly hype?
The Hard Truth on Cleanses
Detoxification is a process your body does automatically when it is healthy. Toxins are removed from the body through the cooperation of several major organs like the lungs, the liver, the kidneys, the intestines, and the skin. A build-up of toxicity in the body means that one of these major organ systems is not functioning properly or is out of balance with the others.
Unfortunately, no product can detoxify anything for you. Fasting, herbal cleanse supplements, enemas, or regimens of drinking only juice or eating one certain food, may help you feel that you are moving things out of your intestines, but that’s about it. You may go to the bathroom more as you empty your bowels of waste, and often you’ll be flushing beneficial gut flora out of your bowels as well. But those extra bowel movements are not detoxing your liver.
Common Culprits in Liver Toxicity
Liver toxicity is most commonly caused by drugs, including: nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), anti-infective drugs, hormonal drugs, immunosuppressive agents, sedative, and neuropsychiatric drugs. Antibiotics and acetaminophen are the most common offenders.
Therefore, it is important to work with your healthcare provider and do whatever you can to reduce your dependence on such drugs, thereby reducing not only the risks of toxicity but also liver damage.
Additionally, some “liver cleanses” can actually hurt your liver under certain conditions. For example, “green tea extract” in excess can damage the liver and fasting can make liver damage worse for those with Hepatitis B. Extreme protocols like water or juice fasts can be contraindicated and even dangerous for those with kidney disease or diabetes.
That’s why it’s good to talk to your doctor before using any supplements or “cleanse” protocols, as these often contain powerful herbs or chemicals that may not only have a laxative or diuretic effect, but may also conflict with other prescriptions you are currently taking, or be contraindicated for your health profile.
The TCM Approach to Detoxification
Traditional Chinese Medicine improves the body’s inherent ability to remove toxins by rebalancing the major organ systems in charge of detoxification. Moreover, a TCM diagnosis goes to the heart of your individual health profile to find the cause of your unique health condition. It does not assume that toxicity is the problem. For example, if you are suffering from a skin condition, such as acne, eczema, psoriasis or TSW, toxicity may or may not be a factor in your case.
The liver is a major organ system in TCM, but the reason for your condition may have nothing to do with the liver. Rather, your symptoms may be caused by an imbalance in the immune system, or a blockage in your kidney system, or poor digestive function. A TCM doctor will get to the root of what’s wrong in your case and prescribe the correct herbal formula.
If a TCM doctor does diagnose that your liver organ system is not functioning properly, they will go deeper to find out why. A liver may be weak, stagnated, or negatively impacted by another organ system. Each case would require a different TCM herbal formula. There may be something in your lifestyle or your diet that is stressing your liver or causing an imbalance in your body’s detoxification process. Your TCM doctor would help you identify these factors so you can make changes that improve your condition.
What a TCM doctor won’t do is stimulate your liver for no reason, flogging it with herbs, or damaging your kidneys with diuretics, under the name of detoxification or a “cleanse.” Instead, they will prescribe herbs and lifestyle changes to nurture your liver or other aspects of your internal health back to lasting recovery in a gentle and natural way.
The Best Cleanse for Whole Body Health
In addition to keeping your internal health balanced through regular check-ups and a whole-body health approach, the best “cleanse” is drinking plenty of water, eating plenty of high-fiber and wholesome foods such as fruits and vegetables, along with healthy proteins and healthy fats. Actually, these are not components of a cleanse as much as the building blocks for running a healthy system that is able to perform smoothly. In the same way, the body’s detoxification process benefits greatly from regular movement and exercise, as well as restorative rest and sleep, and exposing ourselves to less processed foods, or toxic chemicals in our household or personal care products.
Staying Informed is Loving Yourself
We hope this information helps you make the right choices when evaluating any internal “cleanse” product you may be considering. Your body is an amazing system that works well at keeping itself detoxified when given the right care and the right environment.
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About the Author
Olivia Hsu Friedman, LAc, Dipl.OM, DACM, Cert. TCMDerm, is the owner of Amethyst Holistic Skin Solutions and treats Acne, Eczema, Psoriasis, and TSW. Olivia treats patients via video conferencing using only herbal medicine. Olivia is Chair of the Board of Directors of the American Society of Acupuncturists, serves on the Advisory Board of LearnSkin, and is a faculty member of the Chicago Integrative Eczema Group sponsored by the National Eczema Association.