Liver Detoxification Programmes…Do They Work?

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Liver Detox programmes (LDP) have become very popular recently, but are they safe? And why do we need to detoxify?

Our bodies have a defence system (our livers), which converts toxic substances in our bodies, so they can be eliminated. The types of toxins our livers deal with include drugs, alcohol, petrochemicals and other chemicals, heavy metals, hormones and viruses. Our livers are designed to be able to deal with a lot, which is why many question if detoxification programmes are necessary.

We live in a world where toxins in our environments are increasing all the time. It doesn’t matter where you are; they’re unavoidable because so many can be carried in the air. There are two to three thousand new chemicals developed and released into our breathing spaces every year. These chemicals can be passed through generations, as we now know babies are often born with high levels of chemicals in umbilical cord blood. Toxicity is emerging as a cause for chronic disease as it can affect our digestive systems hormone functions; neurological function, immune system and can cause inflammation. However these toxins can affect us all in different ways due to genetics, diet and lifestyle and exposure.

Toxins get stored in our bodies, predominantly in our fat (and to a lesser extent our bones, kidneys and liver). LDP’s aim to reduce our toxic burden and enhance our natural detoxification processes. The ways we can reduce our toxic loads are through:

  • Nutrition and lifestyle changes – reduces intake and allows toxins to be released
  • Improving our gut – where toxins often enter
  • Stimulate the liver detoxification phases using specific nutrients

When people do a LDP they will make some dietary changes but will often not consider other important areas, therefore limiting detoxification.

As we lose weight during the LDP, toxins are released from our fat cells into our circulation. However, in order to process these toxins, certain nutrients are required. Basically, if the liver can’t keep up toxins can recirculate and end up being redistributed to other organ.

Usually LDP’s focus on what you need to cut out such as coffee, alcohol, red meat, wheat, dairy etc. However, what needs to be included is just as important including specific antioxidants, proteins and other vitamins and minerals. Antioxidants in particular help to reduce the effects of oxidation that happens.

Many detoxification programmes involve some form of fasting (at times complete fasting) with very limited sources of proteins and iron. For example if it involves severe fasting over an extended period, you may not get the nutrients required to produce Glutathione which is necessary and can be depleted very quickly. So its important you understand what you liver needs, particularly for longer detoxes.

Nutritionally you can further enhance the detoxification with things such as increased bitter and cruciferous vegetables, and foods high in antioxidants.

There are a number of health conditions that may work against LDP’s, for example:

  • If someone is iron anaemic they may not have the liver enzymes required for effective detoxification
  • Gut damage and leaky gut can be a major contributor to levels of toxins, because this is where many enter, and the lining of the gut should normally create a barrier
  • If there is ongoing constipation this could effect toxins being excreted

It may be necessary to rectify other health issues prior to a detox. Often gut detoxes are done prior to a liver detox, and probiotics are also beneficial for all detox programmes.

Additionally It is essential that you reduce your toxic exposure particularly in your home during a detox and for the long term, especially with major fasting as toxins are more absorbable on an empty stomach. Other areas that can enhance the detoxification include massage, sauna and light exercise.

LDP’s can be very effective, however it’s important to consider how it may affect you specifically based on your exposure, individual metabolism and symptoms. If you feel you need support with a detoxification programme or would like to understand if you need to do one, then consult a qualified nutritionist.