You may have seen the many “liver cleansing formulas” and “detox drinks” that claim all sorts of miraculous abilities to cleanse your body of toxins, “flush out impurities,” “improve your energy,” or “strengthen your liver.”
But there isn’t any evidence that these beverages work as suggested. Worse than not being helpful, they may even be harmful.
One of the strangest things about these claims is that the liver is already a detoxifying organ. One of its central functions is to break down and filter out harmful toxins, so why would you need a special drink to help your liver do what it already does?
A Brief Overview of Digestion and Liver Function
The food we eat can be categorized into three groups of macronutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
Your stomach acids break down the proteins into amino acids, so they can later be reassembled into new proteins for new cells.
Before this acidic mixture can damage your other organs, your pancreas secretes an alkaline fluid of digestive enzymes that neutralizes the acidic mixture and turns it into an alkaline mixture (pH > 8.0). This is the perfect environment for digesting the carbohydrate starches and sugars.
Then what about the fats? And before you say, “I don’t want any fat!” – fat is an essential ingredient in your cells, skin oils, hormones, and so much more. We need fat. But oil and water don’t mix, so how do the oily fats get dissolved into our watery bloodstream and watery cells?
Oil and water are emulsified together with a detergent. In the body, bile from the liver serves as a detergent. This bile is added to the food mixture running through your intestines, breaking down the fats so the intestines can absorb them.
The intestines pull the nutrients out of the mix (and expel the unneeded waste), into the veins, and right up to the liver, where these ingredients are synthesized into new materials that your body needs.
The liver’s functions are complex and fascinating, but this brief overview should illustrate the vital importance of protecting it.
How To Help Your Liver
If detox drinks won’t help, what can we do to keep our liver safe and healthy?
Rather than trying – unsuccessfully – to “flush out the toxins,” don’t expose yourself to the toxins in the first place.
Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol does terrible damage to the liver, especially in excess or combined with acetaminophen. This damage can be reversed if you stop drinking before scar tissue is formed.
Beware of hydrocarbons. Common hydrocarbons include gasoline, propane, paint solvents, cleaning fluids, and car exhaust. When you’re filling up your car’s gas tank, be mindful about not breathing in those fumes. If you need to use paint thinner or something similar, be sure to ventilate the area and wear an appropriate mask.
The liver is fantastic at regenerating itself if you stop poisoning it repeatedly with toxic substances.