Liver detox 101

Let’s talk about:

  • the symptoms of toxicity
  • how liver toxicity occurs
  • how the liver detoxes itself and …
  • how to help that process along

So first of all, do I even need to detox my liver?

Very often, there’s nothing that we can pinpoint as a definite sign that we need to detox the liver, but if you look at the list of some of the possible symptoms of liver overload, my feeling is that you will tick at least three:

  • Feeling like you just don’t want to get out of bed in the morning
  • Lethargy and bad moods that lead to depression
  • Digestive troubles such as excess gas, bloating, constipation and bad breath
  • Pee problems – the liver and kidneys are linked
  • Skin problems such as spots, rashes and dark patches and pouches under the eyes.
  • Arthritis 
  • Gout

However, the two biggest signs of liver toxicity are yellowish skin or eyes, and an intolerance to caffeine – if, for example, caffeine gives you tummy troubles or prevents you from sleeping.

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Adding cardamom powder, as they do in Greece, Turkey and many Middle Eastern countries, helps the liver to clear the caffeine easily, so if you love coffee but your body doesn’t, try drinking it Middle Eastern style. It’s proven that the more coffee you drink, the less likely you are to suffer from liver cancer – see here, here and here.

Is it possible to avoid liver stress?

The liver is the first line of defence against all kinds of toxicity – what we breathe, consume and feel. The fact is that, unless you live in a pristine natural environment and eat only locally-grown, organic – or preferably biodynamic – seasonal foods, in moderation and with a small glass of red wine every day, you will need to detox your liver regularly. Nowadays, the air we breathe, the water we use to brush our teeth and boil pasta with and the microwaves from our mobile devices have all been linked to toxic overloads, all of which the liver has to cope with. 

Not only that, but the emotional stress of our daily lives (spending 2 hours a day on a crowded trains, impossible work deadlines and difficult children are all examples of this) all get the better of the liver as it struggles to clear away stress hormones. 

Pablo Picasso – Blue Nude

Having a really good cry when you feel stressed releases more toxins than shouting – or sitting there fuming and doing nothing – and having a pee after a traumatic event also helps to clear your body.

Before we get overwhelmed by the whole issue, there are many pathways to detox. So now, let’s look at the way the liver detoxifies itself, and how we can assist this valiant organ in it’s work.

So what exactly is liver detox, anyway?

Very simply, the liver detox process happens in two phases. In phase I, the body uses a group of enzymes known collectively as cytochrome P-450. These enzymes break down toxins into chemically smaller pieces or make them water soluble, so they can be excreted through urine, sweat or tears. 

In phase II, the liver wraps the toxins in a chemical compound that makes them easier to get rid of in bile. The key enzyme in this process is gluconoric acid, and we will see how to enhance your intake of that later.

How can I help my liver to detox?

1. Avoid stressful situations – for example: the people in your life that exhaust you, the impact on your health of non-stop lifestyles, reading the news – all of this limits the impact on your liver. Think about it: how much news do you actually need to know? How much stress does it cause you to watch or listen to / read the news? Can you help any of the people suffering or make right the world? If you cannot debate the latest topics with your friends, does that really matter, if your health is being impacted negatively? This recent study shows how stressful reading Facebook posts is.

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2. Spend time doing nothing, and that means just staring at the sky, or relaxing on the sofa (without TV) is also a great way to unwind and allow the body to get on with important re-building. In deep sleep, growth and re-building hormones are released, so getting 7 hours at least per 24 – 7 and a half is optimum – is what you want to aim for. And yes, this means considering the possibility of doing meditation, even if you hate the whole idea of it. 

3. Do things you love doing, just because you love doing them. Make time for pleasure, enjoyment and relaxation.

4. Eat foods that assist the detoxification process. 

For phase I:

  • riboflavin (vitamin B2)Marmite, offal, nuts, egg yolk, dried peas and beans, shiitake mushrooms, cheese and whole grains
  • niacin (B3) – Marmite, whole grains, nuts, peas, beans, offal, oily fish.
  • magnesium – cocoa powder, brazil nuts, beans, peas, nuts, whole grains, dried fruit and canned fish
  • carotenoids – orange fruit and vegetables, such as pumpkins, carrots & squashes, as well as green leafy vegetables
  • flavonoids – berries, citrus fruits, chocolate, green and white tea
  • vitamin C – guavas, chillis and peppers, parsley, berries, green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits especially lemons, tomato puree
  • vitamin E – whole grains, vegetable oils, nuts, tomato puree, canned fish, peas, beans, avocados, parsley, green leafy vegetables, offal
  • selenium – brazil nuts, shrimp, crab, whole grains, light meat, milk, walnuts
  • Glucoronic acid whey powder, agar-agar gel, apples, dill oil or whole dill seeds, citrus fruits (but not grapefruit) and caraway oil or seeds. Also broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower

For phase I and II:

  • Brassicas – again: broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower
  • Allia – garlic, onions, shallots, leeks – as raw as you can stand them
  • Citrus fruit (but not grapefruit as it assists the toxicity processes) 
  • Green tea
  • Turmeric
  • Eggs

Let’s get the party started!

1. Master herbalist Amanda Rayment recommends a daily detox shake first thing in the morning, every morning for a month. In a blender, put the following:

  • a small piece of ginger
  • a clove of garlic
  • a quarter of apple
  • a slosh of olive oil
  • a slosh of lemon juice

Whizz the lot up and quaff it down, then wait for at least 30 minutes – an hour is best – before eating breakfast.

2. I love lemons in hot water:



Read this Facebook post to find out how easy it is to detox, even at work.

With thanks to the Linus Pauling Institute and INL for their help with this article. 

How much do you think you suffer from an overloaded liver? How have you helped your liver to detox? Do you have any stories, tips or resources that can help other blog readers? Share them below!

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