Liver Cleansing Overview

3d rendered human liver
What exactly does a liver cleanse entail?
©iStockphoto/Sebastian Kaulitzki

It's time for a little anatomy trivia. Which organ typically weighs an average of 49 ounces (1.4 kg) and ranges between 8 to 9 inches (20 to 23 cm) in diameter [source: Waltz]? Need another hint? It's an organ often forgotten until it fails, which is usually due to various strains, such as excessive drinking. If you guessed the liver, you're right. This essential organ demands to be healthy and when that demand isn't met, it can cause an array of medical problems, even death.

Your liver is responsible for much of your body's detoxification functions. The organ is armed with the capability of eliminating toxins and essentially cleansing your body. It's an important piece to your body's puzzle -- producing bile for digesting food, storing glucose for energy, metabolizing proteins and fats, and breaking down toxins you might ingest [source: MSN/Encarta].


There's little rest for this crucial organ due to the hefty load on its plate. If healthy, the processes it carries out will go smoothly [source: Hoffman]. But when your liver isn't healthy, it can't handle its workload and becomes overwhelmed by a surplus of toxins, which can include pollution, food additives, pesticides, alcohol and drugs.

While there are other options -- such as improving your diet -- that might help your liver function better, some people suggest a yearly liver cleanse [source: Willis]. So what exactly does this cleanse entail? Keep reading to sort out the typical process of a liver cleanse, the side effects and the foods that are best for maintaining a healthy liver.


Read on to find out what you can expect if you plan to complete a liver cleanse.


Liver Cleansing Process

While there are variations on some of the specifics of the liver cleansing process, there are some similar aspects that resonate no matter what form you choose.

The first phase of the cleansing process is fasting. This is followed by sticking to a disciplined diet, usually involving teas and other herbal remedies.


One aspect that varies between the different suggested cleansing processes is the duration of the fasting process. On average, the common fast lasts about two days, but the particulars of the fast differ. Some call for the consumption of water, fresh juices and salads, while others recommend apple juice, Epsom salts, olive oil and lemon juice [sources: Waltz, Morgan].

Once the fasting period is over, most cleanses recommend that you gradually reintroduce more solid foods, such as raw fruits and vegetables. As weeks go by, you can eat cooked meals, but only once a day [source: Weight Loss Guide]. Also, various cleanses recommend drinking tea daily that contains herbs that aid the liver's functions, such as milk thistle and dandelion root [source: Waltz].

If none of these processes sounds appealing, some proponents of liver cleansing also recommend acupuncture and essential oils. The essential oils can be ingested by adding a few drops to your favorite tea or they can be used topically -- apply directly to your skin during massage or add to your bathwater [source: Lisanti].

Don't forget about the fine print. Continue reading to learn the benefits and the possible side effects of a liver cleanse.


Liver Cleaning Benefits

The goal in cleansing your liver is clear: to rid your liver of toxins and leave it healthy and fully functional. By boosting your liver's health, your digestive tract and immune system are said to benefit [source: Morgan]. You may even feel relief from allergies, hepatitis and gall stones all while lowering your cholesterol. Also, the cleanse may regulate blood sugar levels and body fats while increasing the amount of amino acids that reach your cells [source: The Natural Path].

Aside from maintaining your overall health, proponents of the liver cleanse claim it offers relief from fatigue, body aches and nausea. And those who support liver cleanses put a lot of emphasis on the idea that it results in higher levels of energy [source: Hoffman].


But is it really the liver cleanse bringing about all these great health benefits? Some critics suggest it's not a healthier liver that provides all these benefits but the reduction of alcohol, caffeine, fat, refined foods and processed foods [source: Hoffman]. Like many diets, it's not the specific plan you're on that's giving you results, but the act of ridding yourself of unhealthy habits.

Though the benefits sound good, be sure you understand the possible side effects. Nausea, vomiting and illness could result from fasting and the general detoxification process [source: Weight Loss Guide].

Don't try the liver cleanse if you have certain health problems or ailments that might react badly to the process, and remember that fasting isn't a healthy option for all. Keep away from the cleanse if you have any chronic conditions, such as a heart problem, eating disorder, low blood sugar or diabetes [source: Hoffman]. And it's a good idea to check with your physician before embarking on new dietary regimen -- including the liver cleanse.

Read the next page to discover what kinds of foods are appropriate to eat while on the liver cleanse.


Liver Cleansing Foods

Understanding that the liver is an organ that plays a large role in many bodily functions -- primarily detoxification -- will help you rule out some foods. Alcohol is one of the big no-nos, especially considering that alcohol abuse is a common factor in many cases of liver failure.

Other foods to avoid during the liver cleanse include anything with too much fat, cholesterol, processed sugar or sodium. It's components like these, which are often found in junk food, fast food and processed food, that don't contribute many nutrients to your diet. Red meat, deli meat, soda and caffeine are a few particular items to avoid [source: Waltz].


But forget what you can't have -- what can you eat? Like any health-conscious diet will suggest, foods that treat the liver well are rich in nutrients. To aid the liver in carrying out its processes, you should consider foods that are high in fiber, vitamins C and E, and zinc. In addition, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables are also highly recommended [source: Waltz].

There are also foods that will help you maintain your liver's health after you've completed the cleanse. Aim for a diet rich in fruit and vegetable juices, artichokes, beets, carrots, wild greens, sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage [source: Lisanti].

Visit the next page to learn more about your liver and the cleansing process.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Hoffman, Matthew. "The Truth About Natural Liver Detox Diets (Liver Cleansing)." Web MD. 7/30/09. (Accessed 3/20/09)
  • Lisanti, Dr. Fred. "Spring Liver Cleansing." Integrative Med Solutions. 2/25/09. (Accessed 3/20/09)
  • Liver Doctor. "The Liver and Detoxification." (Accessed 3/20/09)
  • Morgan, KD. "What is a Liver Cleanse?" Wise Geek. (Accessed 3/20/09)
  • The Natural Path. "Liver Cleanse." (Accessed 3/20/09)
  • Waltz, Dr. "Cleansing and Supporting the Liver." The Herbal Encyclopedia. (Accessed 3/20/09)
  • Weight Loss Guide. "Liver Cleansing Diet." (Accessed 3/20/09)
  • Willis, Carol. "The Willis Protocols." Medicine Garden. 2005. (Accessed 3/20/09)