Health & Wellness, Nutrition

What is a Liver Detox? (+ 5 Foods for Detoxing Your Liver)

Did you know that your liver is one of your most vital organs—playing a role in virtually every system within your body? From cleaning your blood of harmful substances to supporting your immune system in defeating viruses or bacteria to aiding digestion, your liver plays many crucial roles. In fact, the liver is so important that it can actually regenerate itself after injury! And since everything must pass through the liver before reaching its destination, when there’s a problem with your health, it’s typically involved somehow. That’s why it’s so important to detox your liver and keep it as high-functioning as possible.

Doing a liver detox isn’t that difficult. In fact, there are actually several foods for detoxing your liver that you likely already enjoy eating! So, let’s take a few minutes to review what your liver does, what a liver detox entails, how it benefits your overall health, and the top foods for detoxing your liver.

 

The Role of Your Liver

You may be surprised to learn that your liver is considered as part of your gastrointestinal system. But its functions aren’t limited to the digestive process, as it has a role in virtually all of your body systems.

As I mentioned above, it’s responsible for cleaning your blood of harmful substances and routing clean blood to other organs for use. It also aides in the removal of immune threats to your body, such as viruses or bacteria. Finally, it produces bile to help facilitate digestion. When it comes to your bodily processes, there’s actually not much that doesn’t involve your liver. Think of your liver like like a colander—straining out particles to be utilized, stored, or removed from your body.

Now, your liver actually is one of five organs that assist in eliminating toxins from your body. The other four are your skin, lungs, kidneys, and colon. One of your liver’s unique jobs is to determine that a substance is harmful and begin to facilitate its removal. And while your body can easily remove water-soluble substances, fat-soluble toxin removal is a different story. These toxins must be “manually” broken down into safer byproducts and water-soluble substances before they can be removed from your body as waste. This manual breakdown is exactly what your liver does.

Given all of these responsibilities, I often equate the liver to a receptionist, sitting at her desk. Her phone is ringing, someone walks in the door with a delivery, and clients are waiting to be seen. Meanwhile, the boss comes along and dumps a stack of papers on her desk to be sorted, faxed, and filed. Which task does she complete first?

Your liver similarly has multiple tasks to complete at the same time. It must decide which tasks are the most life-threatening and which can be saved for later. Then, your liver handles those tasks in order of priority.

How Stress Impacts Your Liver Function

Your environment and lifestyle constantly drop more work onto your liver’s “desk,” and stress is just another contributor. Why? Well stress causes stimulation in your sympathetic nervous system, which activates to prepare your body to enter the fight-or-flight mode. But your liver does most of its everyday work in parasympathetic mode, or during your calmer moments.

So, what does this mean? When stress alerts your liver to the presence of a new “bear,” your liver must put aside its everyday work, such as toxin removal. Then, it has to shift its focus toward creating energy from your stored sugar so that you can react to the stress, or “run from the bear.”

Every responsibility placed on your liver must be handled at some point. Temporarily, this “to-do later” pile is fine. But imagine that you’re regularly stressed out, so you make a habit of indulging in a margarita or two each day. Plus, your diet typically includes a lot of take-out, which consists of fatty or processed foods that are more difficult to break down.

Your liver’s “to-do later” pile can quickly become a more permanent fixture. If it never gets resolved, your body will eventually experience mass chaos. And this is precisely why it’s so important to keep your liver from getting bogged down.

 

What is a Liver Detox?

When you think about doing a liver detox, do you imagine that you’re simply ridding your liver (and your body) of harmful environmental substances such as drugs, food colorings, preservatives, alcohols, air pollution, fumes, etc.? While this is partially true, your liver is also responsible for dealing with toxins created within your body. Think of these “in-house” toxins as your body’s “leftovers,” such as excess hormones and dead red blood cells.

Your liver will always prioritize tasks with immediate risk, shuffling the rest to its “to-do later” list. So, in order to be able to produce energy (a “to-do later” item), your body must first clear itself of potentially harmful substances. That’s why so many complaints of low energy or fatigue can be traced back to your liver.

Detoxing your liver can actually help to rid your liver of the toxins it stores throughout the filtration process. As a result, your liver is able to work more effectively and support your overall health.

So, how does it work? Well, it’s actually pretty simple. You focus on eating foods for detoxing your liver and drinking water to help clear those toxins via your kidneys. And since some of these top foods are not only tasty but also filled with the vitamins and minerals you need to support whole-body health and fight conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, adrenal fatigue, and more, you’re really setting yourself up for success! Now, let’s dive in and take a closer look at some of the top foods for detoxing your liver.

Top 5 Foods for Detoxing Your Liver

Here are five of the top foods for detoxing your liver, along with a few recipe and/or meal suggestions.

1. Beets

Beets are one of the top foods for detoxifying your liver. They not only help to decrease inflammation, but beets also contain betalain, a methyl donor and type of amino acid, which increases your enzymes to support detoxification. [1] Not only that, but beets have also been found to help thin the bile in your liver, which supports better digestion. Why is this important? Well, inadequate bile flow is linked to poor liver detoxification. [2]

If you’re not used to eating beets, they can be great additions to smoothies or salads. You can also roast them to bring out the naturally sweet taste.

2. Dandelion greens

Dandelion greens are another one of the top foods for detoxifying your liver, as they are also known to promote the flow of bile. But they actually have a protective effect on your liver as well. A 2017 study revealed that the polysaccharides in dandelion can protect the liver from acetaminophen-induced hepatic injury. [3] Moreover, dandelion greens have been shown to act as a diuretic, increasing urinary quantity and frequency, which helps your body to flush out toxins. In fact, according to a 2009 study, subjects who consumed dandelion extract experienced increased urinary frequency within five hours. [4]

When it comes to eating dandelion greens, two of the easiest ways are to add them to a salad or steam them. Be sure to drink a lot of water when consuming dandelion greens.

3. Kale

Kale and other cruciferous vegetables account for more of the top foods for detoxifying your liver. Why? Well, studies have shown that isothiocyanates (small molecules derived from the glucosinolates, or sulfur-containing compounds, found in kale and other cruciferous vegetables) increase the detoxification of carcinogens in the body. This means that kale can actually help to regulate the detoxification activities in your cells! [5]

Kale’s high concentration of chlorophyll is another reason this nutrient-packed food made the list of the top foods for detoxifying your liver. It’s actually well-documented that chlorophyll can purify your blood as well as assist with liver function in both humans and animals. [6]

I love to include kale in my salads, but it’s also a great ingredient in soups, stews, and this White Bean Chili recipe. I also love to use it in many other recipes, such as my Sweet Potato Black Been Enchiladas.

4. Garlic

The health benefits of garlic are likely too great to fully discuss here, but this health food actually contains anti-fungal, antibacterial, and anti-viral properties. [7] In addition, garlic aids your liver in activating certain enzymes to help eliminate toxins from your body. Not only that, but garlic is full of selenium, which is known to support liver health and even aid in liver cleansing. [8]

The beauty of garlic is that you can use it in almost any savory dish. But if you’re looking for a few new ideas, you can try these Golden Garlic Smashed Potatoes or this delicious Wild Rice Soup.

5. Walnuts

Walnut consumption has not only been found to improve liver functioning in those with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, but it’s also linked to improvements in overall inflammation levels. [9] They’re not only high in amino acids, but are a great source of  omega-3 fatty acids and glutathione, which are known to support natural liver and bile acid detoxification. [10]

You can eat walnuts alone or on top of salads or other meals. Personally, I love to throw a handful of walnuts on many of my dishes, including these amazing Vegan Stuffed Sweet Potatoes.

 

Foods for detoxifying your liver - Dr. Pingel

 

 

If you’re interested in detoxing your liver, the most important thing to remember is that you need to support the detoxification process not only with foods for detoxing your liver but also by drinking plenty of water. You can also add certain herbs and spices know to aid detoxification, such as turmeric, for additional support.

 

Key Takeaways

  • Your liver is one of your most vital organs—playing a role in virtually every system within your body.
  • Due to its many responsibilities, your liver can easily become bogged down and not function as optimally, which can lead to disease and other health concerns.
  • You can choose to spend a few days eating specific foods for detoxing your liver to help promote optimal health. These foods include: beets, dandelion greens, kale, garlic, and walnuts, among others.
  • Don’t forget to drink plenty of water throughout the detox to support your liver and kidneys in their efforts to rid your body of toxins.

2 Comments

  1. Cathy

    April 8, 2020 at 8:06 am

    Wonderful article! I’m going to start this right away. Also, based on your advice I started taking turmeric and it has ‘significantly’ minimized my aches and pains associated with osteoarthritis. Thanks so much and keep these articles coming!

    1. Dr. Tricia Pingel, NMD

      April 8, 2020 at 9:59 am

      That’s great news! I promise I will keep the articles coming! Also, check out my weekday “lives” on FB and/or IG – Monday – Friday around 9-10am hour!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.