Liver Detox: Why You Need It … How to Do It

Reader Contribution by Kathleen Jade and N.D.
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A liver detox program can be an incredible natural cure for fatigue and the perfect tool for boosting energy and overall health. Although the research is in its infancy, healers have been utilizing therapies that enhance the body’s detoxification mechanisms for ages. You may find it hard to believe that dietary adjustments, supplements, and other natural therapies to enhance detoxification can end your fatigue and increase your overall health. But if you’re tired all the time or just want to insure your body can handle the myriad of toxins it encounters daily, you need to experience for yourself the transformative powers of a natural liver detox like the one presented here.

What is a Liver Detox?

The phrase “liver detox” does not refer to drugs or alcohol, or even to juice fasting or colon cleansing, as you might think. It refers to the science of how your body rids itself of waste—a metabolic process involving the liver’s detoxification enzyme systems. These detoxification enzyme systems convert toxic substances into non-toxic, water-soluble compounds that can be eliminated through your urine, sweat, and stool. Because the liver is the body’s major site for detoxification activity, the primary focus of a liver detox is enhancement of the liver’s enzyme systems. However, the gastrointestinal tract is also instrumental in decreasing toxic load. Therefore, most liver detox protocols, including the one recommended here, also strengthen intestinal mucosa integrity and enhance colon function. 

The Goals of a Liver Detox are to:

• Increase your intake of specific nutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals) required for detoxification-related biochemical processes.

• Minimize ingested allergens, toxins, and chemicals to reduce your exposure. (This provides your intestinal tract with a chance to repair and allows it to process waste and harmful compounds more efficiently.)

• Increase bowel movements and bile flow for quicker elimination of waste and toxins, minimizing toxin exposure.

• Optimize alkalinity by increasing fruits and vegetables to encourage urinary excretion of toxic compounds.

The dietary portion of the liver detox program is paramount

The liver detox diet emphasizes organic natural whole foods to minimize exposure to antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, artificial chemicals, high fructose corn syrup, and preservatives. It also should emphasize alkaline foods like potassium-rich fruits and vegetables as well as adequate fluids, especially filtered water, to facilitate the process. The liver detox diet avoids acid-inducing foods, like animal proteins and refined carbohydrates, and limits common allergens to decrease potential immune activation and inflammation.

The Liver Detox Diet:

• Vegetables: 5 servings or more daily, including at least two or more servings of cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts). Also try to include dark green leafy vegetables, onions, garlic, asparagus, spinach, squash, beets, watercress, broccoli, sprouts, and tomatoes.  Avoid corn and potatoes.

• Grains: 3-5 servings daily of non-gluten grains or grain products made from brown rice, millet, quinoa, and amaranth. You may include sweet potatoes in this category. Avoid refined carbohydrates (white bread, white rice, and sugars), corn, and gluten-containing grains (wheat, oats, barley, rye, spelt, and kamut).

• Fruits: 5 servings or more daily. Include potassium-rich fruits like figs, apricots, and bananas.

• Nuts and seeds: 1 serving daily of any raw nuts or seeds or nut or seed butters (including almonds, cashews, pecans, sunflower, or pumpkin seeds, etc.). Avoid peanuts.

• Legumes: 1-3 servings daily (including lentil, kidney beans, black beans, etc.). Avoid soybeans and soybean products.

• Protein: up to 3 servings daily of coldwater, wild-harvested fish (i.e. salmon, sardines, or halibut) or organic, free-range (pesticide-free, hormone-free) poultry. Avoid: eggs, shellfish, and red meat (beef, lamb, or pork). You may eat legumes or use a non-allergenic protein powder (rice, pea, or hemp) in place of meat.

• Fats: 2-3 servings daily extra virgin olive oil, flaxseed oil, sesame oil, coconut oil, or avocado. Avoid butter, partially hydrogenated oils (margarine or shortening) and refined vegetable oils (corn, safflower, sunflower, and canola).

• Milk and dairy: up to 2 servings daily of rice milk or nut milk products. Avoid all dairy products (such as milk, cheese, and yogurt).

• Beverages: 8 glasses or more daily of purified water or non-caffeinated herbal tea. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and all juices except freshly juiced fruits and vegetables.

Supplements for Enhancing a Natural Liver Detox

In addition to following the liver detox diet, add a detoxification support supplement to aid you through your liver detox program. Liver detox supplements supply ingredients that have been studied and found to support the body’s detoxification mechanisms. Rather than purchasing individual ingredients and products, kits are available that make it easy to do a short detoxification program (1 week to 1 month) on your own. They may contain a nutritional beverage mix and additional supplements for liver and gastrointestinal support.

Important ingredients to look for in a liver detox supplement include the following:

• Pomegranate extract (contains the liver detox compound ellagic acid)  

• Green tea extract (contains the liver detox catechins compound epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG))  

• Cruciferous/brassica vegetable extracts (including watercress and broccoli) (contain the liver detox compounds glucosinolates and sulphoraphane)  

• Milk thistle and artichoke leaf extracts (contain the liver detox compounds silymarin, cynarin and chlorogenic acid)   

• Others: N-Acetylcysteine (NAC) , methyl-sulfonyl-methane (MSM), alpha lipoic acid  

Remember to Go Green and Sweat

While undergoing your liver detox, don’t forget to avoid exposure to as many harmful chemicals as possible, including plastics, packaged foods, and “non-green” cleaning products and personal care products. Also paramount to a comprehensive liver detox program is sweating. Regularly sweating with exercise or in a sauna facilitates excretion of toxins through the skin. Many different types of saunas, temperatures, durations, and sauna treatments have been utilized and found to be effective. The important thing is to break a good sweat at least once a day and drink plenty of filtered water before, during, and after.

If you feel sleepy all the time or are dealing with fatigue that seems extraordinary for the amount of rest you’re getting, a short liver detox is an excellent way to boost your energy. Try the simple liver detox as outlined above, even for a week or two. You will be ridding your body of toxins and learning how to optimize your detoxification systems.

Now tell us about your own liver detox experience (click the Comments button at the end)

1. If you’ve done a liver detox in the past, how did it made you feel?

2. What was the hardest part of the liver detox?

3. How long did your liver detox last?

4. What suggestions would you give to someone wanting to do their first liver detox?

5. Would you recommend a liver detox for others? Why?


1. J Environ Public Health. 2012;2012:356798.

2. Hum Exp Toxicol. 2011 Jan;30(1):3-18.

3. Altern Med Rev. 2011 Sep;16(3):215-25

Kathleen Jade, ND is a licensed Naturopathic Physician in the Seattle area where she conducts natural health research and writes for Natural Health Advisory Institute.  Contact Dr. Kathleen by commenting on one of her blogs. She has written a recently released e-Book Fatigue Causes and Relief: Natural Remedies for Excessive Tiredness and Chronic Fatigue.

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