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Liver Cleanse: Separating Fact from Fiction

Is a “liver cleanse” a real thing?

The liver is your body’s largest internal organ. It’s responsible for more than 500 different functions in the body. One of these functions is detoxification and neutralizing toxins.

Knowing that the liver is a detoxification organ, you might think doing a liver cleanse could help your body recover faster after a big weekend, give your body that much-needed health kick, or boost your metabolism so you can lose weight faster. That’s what all those “liver cleanses” on the market claim they can do.

But truth be told, you’re likely wasting your money and could be doing your body more harm than good.

The reality is that toxins are everywhere in our environment, and our bodies have the built-in capacity to defend against these toxins naturally.

Of course, there are things you can do to improve your health and support healthy liver function.

Keep reading to learn how certain lifestyle changes can provide the real benefits that liver cleansing claims to give.

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Are liver cleanses necessary?

Myth #1: Liver cleanses are necessary

Most liver cleansing products and supplements are available over the counter or even on the internet. And most, if not all, haven’t been tested in clinical trials and aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

What this means is there is absolutely no proof that liver cleanses work at all. If anything, they may actually cause harm to your system. So if you do decide to use them, proceed with extreme caution.

Fact: Some ingredients can be beneficial to your health

Milk thistle: Milk thistle is a well-known liver cleansing supplement because of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It may help reduce liver inflammation.

Turmeric: Turmeric has been shown to decrease the key pro-inflammatory molecules that contribute to the initiation, development, or worsening of diseases. It may help reduce your risk of liver disease.

Due to turmeric’s low bioavailability, it’s best taken in supplement form, standardized for 95 percent curcuminoids. For supplement dosages, follow the instructions on the manufacturer’s label.

Research on these supplements and others is ongoing, so talk to your doctor about the potential risks and benefits they may offer you before use.

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Do they aid in weight loss?

Myth #2: Liver cleanses aid in weight loss

There is no evidence that liver cleanses aid in weight loss. In fact, studies have shown that certain types of cleansing diets may lower the body’s metabolic rate, which would actually slow down weight loss.

By doing a liver cleanse, people may claim they lose weight. But in most cases, it’s just fluid loss. Once these people resume their usual eating habits, they often regain weight very quickly.

Fact: Some ingredients can help you lose weight

The three most important factors to help you lose weight are calorie intake, calorie use, and diet quality.

Calorie intake: The recommended daily calorie intake is approximately 1,600 to 2,400 calories a day for adult women and 2,000 to 3,000 calories for adult men. Your doctor can provide you with a range tailored to your individual health profile.

Calorie output: Exercise is necessary to burn calories and lose weight. Diet changes alone don’t work well or long term. Moving and using up calories help the body eliminate extra weight.

Diet quality: While calories are important, if you’re eating a lower-calorie diet and all of those calories come from processed junk food, you may still be unable to lose weight.

Processed junk food is low quality. To assist your liver in functioning at its best and to help you lose weight, choose high-quality foods instead.

This includes a variety of:

  • vegetables
  • fruits
  • unrefined whole grains
  • healthy fats, such as olive oil and nuts
  • proteins, such as chicken, fish, and eggs

Switching your diet to high-quality unprocessed foods is one of the best ways to achieve weight loss. This is because it naturally decreases your caloric intake while increasing the number of vitamins, minerals, and beneficial compounds you consume.

Check out: 6 essential nutrients and why your body needs them »

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Do they protect against liver disease?

Myth #3: Liver cleanses protect against liver disease

Currently, no evidence exists to prove that liver cleanses protect against liver disease.

There are more than 100 different forms of liver disease. A few common ones include:

The two biggest risk factors for liver disease are drinking alcohol excessively and having a family history of liver disease. 

Fact: There are things you can do to protect against liver disease

While you can’t change genetic factors, you can focus on lifestyle changes to protect against liver diseases:

Keep alcohol intake limited: Alcohol is a toxin that your liver is responsible to deal with. When consumed in excessive amounts, it may cause liver damage. The recommended intake is just one standard drink per day for women and two for men up to the age of 65. After age 65, men should also revert to one standard drink per day. Drinking alcohol in moderation is the most crucial factor to protect against liver disease. Never take medications, even acetaminophen (Tylenol), in the same 24-hour period as drinking alcohol.

Vaccinate against hepatitis: Hepatitis is a liver disease caused by a virus. If you’re at increased risk, talk to your doctor about having hepatitis A and B vaccinations. There is treatment for Hepatitis C now, but all types of hepatitis are very hard on your liver. The best approach is to protect yourself from exposure to these viruses.

Choose medications carefully: Your liver has to process medications, so whether it’s prescription or nonprescription drugs, choose them carefully and speak to your doctor about alternative options. Most importantly, never mix alcohol with any medications.

Be wary of needles: Blood carries hepatitis viruses, so never share needles to inject drugs or medications. And if you’re getting a tattoo, ensure you choose a shop that practices safety and cleanliness and is inspected and approved by the state health department.

Use condoms: Bodily fluids also carry viruses, so always practice safe sex.

Handle chemicals safely: Chemicals and toxins can enter your body via your skin. To protect yourself, wear a mask, gloves, and long-sleeved pants or shirts when handling chemicals, insecticides, fungicides, or paint.

Maintain a healthy weight: Non-alcoholic-related liver disease is associated with metabolic issues, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. You can reduce your risk for each by making healthy lifestyle choices.

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Can they correct liver damage?

Myth #4: Liver cleanses can correct any existing liver damage

There is currently no evidence to prove that liver cleanses can treat existing damage to the liver.

Fact: Some repair is possible

Damaging your skin or other organs in your body results in scars. Your liver is a unique organ because it can regenerate damaged tissue by regenerating new cells.

But regeneration does take time. If you continue to injure your liver via drugs, excessive alcohol intake, or poor diet, this can prevent regeneration, which may eventually lead to scarring of the liver. Scarring is irreversible. Once it reaches a more severe level, it’s known as cirrhosis.

Learn more: Cirrhosis and hepatitis C »

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Takeaway

The bottom line

The touted benefits of liver cleansing products and supplements aren’t based on evidence or fact. They’re really just a marketing myth.

If you’re concerned about your health, the best person to talk to is your doctor. They’ll be able to advise you on what you can do to safely promote liver health or address any other health concerns you may have.

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