Before we can discuss how to detox your liver naturally, there’s some information to consider first. In functional medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine (“TCM”), and other holistic medicine approaches, the liver is at the center of detoxification in your body – almost like a filter. Throughout the day, we are exposed to toxins and other substances in the environment we live in and the food, drinks, and medicines we consume. While a cleanse often refers to a short-lived practice, functional medicine approaches detoxification of the body in year-round liver support with healthier habits and lifestyle adjustments that support liver health. Read on to learn more about the important functions of our liver and how TCM and functional medicine treat liver issues, including how to detox your liver naturally.
What Are The Body’s Liver Detox Systems?
Our liver detox systems’ primary responsibility is to filter the blood sent from the large and small intestines. Our liver is there to protect our bodies, and the liver detox system as a whole work to keep our bodies free from toxins. The way the liver functions is through enzyme pathways inside our liver cells that metabolize all the stuff that enters our bodies from our environments, including microorganisms, food additives, drugs and alcohol, insecticides and pesticides and pollutants, contaminants, and metabolic end products. Additionally, liver cells contain enzymes that detox any substances in the blood coming from the intestines.
A very important function of the liver is breaking down the fat-soluble toxic chemicals that enter our bodies. Toxins are fat-soluble, which means that when they enter fat tissues and cell membranes, they may be stored as fat for years. These toxins may only be released while fasting, exercising, or during stressful periods in life. This sudden release can cause stomach pain, nausea, dizziness, headaches, and more.
The body has two phases of detoxification: Phase 1 & Phase 2. During Phase 1 Detoxification, our body converts these toxins into less harmful chemicals. The process involves a few chemical reactions, including oxidation, reduction, and hydrolysis. Your liver cells create a chemical reaction that helps release toxins in your body and filter your blood. In Phase 2 detoxification, the liver cells add a substance to a toxin to make it less harmful to our bodies. These substances, which include cysteine, glycine, or sulfur molecules, help convert the fat-soluble toxin into water-soluble waste that can be excreted from the body through the bile in the gallbladder or urine in our bladder.
An imbalanced liver detox system’s function has been linked to a variety of issues, including gut flora imbalances, issues with mitochondrial function, changes in genetic health, and/or an increased risk of diabetes, cancer, and neurological dysfunction.
Functional Medicine and TCM Approaches to Liver Health
Both TCM and functional medicine look for the root cause of symptoms rather than using the conventional approach of simply treating symptoms.
There are many natural ways to detox the liver in TCM. In TCM, the liver is the body’s main organ of detoxification. Its primary function is to regulate the smooth flow of Qi (energy) and blood throughout the body. When looking at liver issues, functional practitioners look at the body’s inability to eliminate toxins. Too many toxins in the body can lead to an overloaded detoxification pathway, immune function imbalance, and endocrine disruptions.
Additionally, when there is an imbalance and liver qi is stagnant, a person may experience symptoms such as breast distension, menstrual pain, headache, irritability, inappropriate anger, dizziness, dry, red eyes, other eye conditions, and tendonitis.
When looking at treating liver issues, functional medicine also takes an additional step of focusing on daily lifestyle and nutritional changes that will help rid the body of the toxins it is exposed to on a daily basis. Detoxification programs are tailored to your specific needs, looking at your daily habits and switching them out for healthier habits that support the overall wellness of the liver detox system.
How to Detox Your Liver Naturally
Many products are touted as natural ways to detox livers, but these tend to be very harsh on the body, especially the liver and gallbladder organs. These types of detox programs often don’t do the vital job of lowering the toxic load in the body. It is better to approach liver issues with ongoing, gentler methods, including holistic changes to support overall liver function. Here are some suggestions on how to detox your liver naturally.
Natural Ways to Detox Liver: Reduce Daily Exposure
It can be helpful to look at and reduce some of the everyday toxins that you are exposed to, this is a simple way to detox your liver naturally. Some of the toxins in our lives are unavoidable-they are in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink. However, we can work to reduce exposure to unwanted toxins from your personal care products and cosmetics. Reading labels will help you get started when finding cleaner products. Some things to look out for include:
- Triclosan: Typically found in body wash and toothpaste.
- Phthalates: Found in nail polish, fragrances, and hairspray.
- Parabens: Commonly found in moisturizers and soaps.
- Toluene: Often found in nail polish.
- Carbon Black: Often found in mascara, lipstick, and eyeliner
You can also visit EWG’s Skin Deep website to research the products you are currently using or to find new ones.
Natural Ways to Detox Liver: Focus On Your Gut Health
Gut health is an essential part of our wellness and health – imbalances of your gut (between beneficial and harmful bacteria) will contribute to not only digestive symptoms but to other illnesses or diseases. The human gut microbiome is a complex mix of microorganisms, genomes, and other substances. Add toxins to the mix, and your gut health is bound to be affected. Indeed, studies have shown that imbalances in your gut microbiome can be linked to increased disease risk. You can work with your functional medicine practitioner to check the health of your gut microbiome and make any improvements required.
Natural Ways to Detox Liver: Liver Detox With Foods
- Water – Many of us already know the importance of hydration and health. Specifically, when talking about liver health, our liver detox system relies on water in both phase 1 and phase 2 detoxification processes to help break down toxins and assist in excreting them from our bodies. Make sure you consume approximately half of your body weight in ounces to keep your body well-hydrated.
- Prebiotic foods – Prebiotic foods include apples, dandelions, and Jerusalem artichokes. These foods help feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut.
- Probiotic foods – These foods can help restore microbial balance in your gut. Probiotic rich foods include yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha.
- Fiber-rich foods – Eating lots of fiber helps keep your bowel movements regular. This is crucial to liver health since an essential part of the detoxification process is excreting toxins through our waste.
- Cruciferous vegetables – Vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, radishes, and kale are all cruciferous vegetables that you want to include in your regular diet. These vegetables transform phase 1 enzymes and increase phase 2 liver enzymes because they contain phytonutrients and antioxidants.
- Pungent foods –Used in TCM to remove qi stagnation from the liver. Some of my favorites include mint, spring onions, ginger, horseradish, chamomile, and black pepper.
- Green foods – Eating green foods will help decongest your liver, promote qi movement, and restore balance.
- Organic foods – Reduce the number of foods you eat that contain pesticides. By omitting these toxins, you reduce your risk of toxin overload. A great way to start is to remove the “dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables found to have the most pesticides.
- Lemon water – Lemon juice contains citric acid, an antioxidant, and has been shown to help protect the body from liver damage and support detoxification processes. Many people start the day with a glass of warm water and lemon juice to rid their bodies of toxins.
- Apple Cider Vinegar – Apple cider vinegar can also be used to detoxify the liver because of its sour taste.
Supplements to Support the Liver Detox System
You may also want to consider the following supplements that can help support your liver detox. I recommend working with an herbal medicine or functional medicine specialist to determine the correct dosage for your specific needs.
- Dandelion – This bitter plant has been shown to help boost enzymes needed in phase 2 detoxification
- Milk thistle – This herb contains silymarin and has been long known for its antioxidant properties and liver support
- Glutathione – An antioxidant that supports cellular detoxification
- Alpha-lipoic acid – Another antioxidant that can help support liver function
- Turmeric – Also known as curcumin, decreases inflammation and rids the body of free radicals
How to Detox Your Liver Naturally: Other Ways to Support Health
Sauna – Sweating out toxins through perspiration can help reduce the toxic burden on the body and remove toxic trace metals. Saunas are a great way to do this. Far infrared saunas are effective in moving toxins through the skin. Infrared saunas heat your body directly and raise your core body temperature, which can be very beneficial in promoting a deeper level of detox and ridding the body of excess toxins.
Fasting – Fasting has been used as a means of detoxing since ancient times in many Eastern cultures and spiritualities, including traditional Chinese medicine. In functional medicine, intermittent fasting can be beneficial in giving your liver a break from having to detoxify the toxins coming from your gut.
Everything in moderation-TCM philosophy is based on moderation-specifically the notion that too much or too little isn’t best. However, too much food, toxins, excess sugar, alcohol, and stress can cause liver stagnation, which prevents your life energy or Qi from circulating throughout your body – including your liver qi.
Spring detox-Spring cleaning isn’t just important for your home, it’s also important for your body. According to TCM, Spring is a time of cleansing, renewal, and rebirth. It’s also the season of the liver and gallbladder. A spring cleanse can help reset your metabolism, boost your energy, improve your sleep, and so much more.
But don’t limit your cleanse to just the spring! I encourage you to implement some of my recommendations, including the diet and lifestyle tips. To learn more about how to use TCM to improve your liver health, including how to detox your liver naturally, check out my blog at Healing Points Acupuncture and Wellness Center
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