Liver Detox at Home: How Ayurveda Can Help with Liver Cleansing

by Zan Kokalj, expert review by Meghna Unhawane, B.Sc. (Home Science & Nutrition)
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With rising levels of pollution and our ‘toxic’ lifestyles, it’s no surprise liver disease is on the rise. After all, as the body’s major detoxing and digestive organ the liver is under increasingly high levels of pressure. By capturing toxins and breaking them down for excretion, the liver plays a critical role in your body’s natural detox process. Although the liver has the remarkable ability to heal itself from minor damage, this ability is severely compromised with prolonged or unusually high exposure to toxins. This has led to a rise in the incidence of liver disease, with liver disease now affecting more than 3.9 million Americans. As a direct consequence, there’s been growing demand for liver detox and liver cleanse diets. But, do these diets really help and should you even try them out?

Do You Need A Liver Detox?

Ancient Ayurvedic physicians recognized the vital role of the liver, recommending various formulations and practices to help liver function. Cleansing and purification rituals or remedies to lower ama levels are in fact a major component of Ayurveda, but balanced eating with a focus on natural foods is what is emphasized above all else. Restrictive liver detox diets and juice cleanses are fads that are simply not consistent with Ayurveda. An Ayurvedic liver cleanse therefore involves healthy dietary and lifestyle modifications in combination with the use of herbs and formulas that support the natural cleansing process of the liver.

When it comes to liver detox pills, supplements, and diets, the scientific consensus closely echoes the recommendations of Ayurveda, with most experts opposing the use of restrictive diets and untested supplements. The liver is actually part of the body’s self cleansing mechanism and only requires the right balance of nutrition and physical activity to function efficiently. Some foods, herbs, and spices may aid this natural process, but no product can cleanse the liver if it is constantly subjected to abuse.

So, to answer the question of whether you need a liver detox or not, this would depend on what you define as a liver detox. If you’re looking for diet and lifestyle recommendations that support the liver’s natural detox process, along with a little extra help from Ayurvedic herbs and ingredients, then it wouldn’t hurt and could in fact help. If however, you are simply looking for a quick fix that will cleanse your liver magically, whilst allowing you to enjoy an unhealthy diet and lifestyle, you’ll be disappointed.

Top 10 Signs That You Need A Liver Detox

Your body is your best doctor, as it often gives you early warning prior to the onset of any serious health condition. All you need to do is learn how to listen to it. Here are some of the most common signs that your liver is under stress and could benefit from some added liver support:

  1. Abdominal bloating
  2. Trouble digesting fatty foods
  3. High blood pressure or cholesterol
  4. Fatigue and nausea
  5. Pain around the liver area
  6. Heartburn/acid reflux
  7. Increased body heat/excessive sweating
  8. Itchy, blotchy skin
  9. Yellowish skin and eyes
  10. Sudden, unexplained weight gain

Ayurvedic Liver Detox Herbs

There is no universal herb that can ensure healthy liver function, but in combination with the appropriate diet and lifestyle modifications, these herbs can support healthy liver function.

1. Milk Thistle (Silybum Marianum)

As a one-of-a-kind liver-friendly herb, thistle has been used for over 2,000 years to protect the liver from toxicity and encourage its regeneration. Traditionally used in European folk medicine, milk thistle has also been embraced by Ayurveda because of various potential therapeutic applications. It is most valued as a liver cleanser and detoxifier that is used to support liver function. Although more rigorous testing is needed to support the use of milk thistle for liver detoxification or restoration, there have been several studies that are indicative of hepatoprotective benefits. According to studies published in Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology and Clinical Liver Disease, silymarin, the main bioactive component in milk thistle, can have positive effects on alcoholic and non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases derived from oxidative stress thanks to its ability to support liver detoxification.

Milk Thistle Liver Cleanse

Milk thistle might be most effective when consumed in the form of capsules. If you don’t like the sound of that however, you can also make yourself some milk thistle tea.

  • Add 1 tablespoon of powdered milk thistle to a cup of boiling water
  • Cover the cup and let it sit for 5 minutes
  • Strain, sweeten with honey, and enjoy the solution!

2. Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

As an all-time favorite herb across many cultures and systems of traditional medicine, it’s no surprise that ginger has a history of widespread application including its use for liver detoxification. In Ayurveda, ginger has been applied to assist the liver in clearing accumulated toxins and is believed to destroy ama.

Ginger possesses strong digestive properties that promote the removal of toxic build-up in the colon and liver amongst other organs. In addition, several studies confirm that ginger might play a significant role in the prevention of liver cancer.

Ginger Liver Detox

You can add fresh or powdered ginger to your drinks and dishes. For maximum effect, you are also advised to chew on a fresh piece of ginger daily. Additionally, treat yourself to a detox drink consisting of one cup of hot water, a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, a teaspoon of raw honey, a piece of grated ginger, and ½ teaspoon of turmeric or cinnamon powder.

3. Amla (Phyllanthus emblica)

Known as amla or Amalaki in Ayurveda, Indian gooseberry has been traditionally used for detoxifying the body and strengthening the immune system. Due to its potent antioxidant activity, this “Ayurvedic wonder” makes an excellent liver cleanse and helps the body balance all doshas.

Plenty of studies confirm the positive effects of amla on liver health. As some researchers suggest, this Ayurvedic herb may enhance liver function and protect the organ from toxicity. In a 2013 study, researchers found that diabetic rats showed a considerable increase in antioxidant levels after being introduced to amla extract, thereby enhancing protection against oxidative damage.

Amla Liver Cleanse

The herbaceous fruit can be consumed fresh, as well as in the form of capsules, and powder. You can also drink amla juice daily to secure its many benefits.

4. Garlic (Allium sativum)

Garlic may not be the best choice for bad breath, but it certainly helps support natural detoxification. This heating, pungent herb has been valued for its medicinal benefits since ancient times and is widely used in Ayurveda. It is used as a digestive and detoxifying aid that can lower levels of ama or toxins in the body. Nevertheless, due to its fiery nature, garlic can cause pitta aggravation and should only be consumed in moderation by individuals with a pitta dominant constitution.

According to research, the sulfur compounds found in garlic promote liver health by stimulating enzymes that are responsible for liver cleansing. Researchers looking at the hepatoprotective and antioxidant effects of garlic also state that garlic “might be an effective alternative medicine against acute oxidative liver toxicity.” However, it should be pointed out that they found single clove garlic or solo garlic to be more effective than multi clove garlic.

Garlic Liver Detox

To encourage a natural liver cleans, you can simply chew on a fresh clove of garlic once a day. As garlic can be quite unpalatable to many because of its pungent taste and the offensive odor that it leaves behind, you can also opt for garlic powder or supplements.

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    5. Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

    This anti-inflammatory ‘spice of life’ is widely used in Ayurveda for its cleansing effects. While it is known to balance all three doshas, turmeric has long been applied by Ayurvedic practitioners to aid liver recovery and detoxification.

    According to a number of studies, curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric may protect against liver damage and encourage natural detoxification. One of these studies suggests that turmeric may significantly assist liver detoxification by stimulating the production of bile, while others suggest that its hepatoprotective ability may be associated with bothantioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities.

    Turmeric Liver Cleanse

    Turmeric is usually used in the powdered form as a culinary ingredient that can be added to meals or beverages. It can also be consumed in the capsule form. Turmeric milk or golden milk is one of the best liver detox drinks and can be prepared by simply adding a teaspoon of the powder to a glass of hot milk, which may be consumed once a day.

    Diet & Lifestyle for Liver Detox Support

    While liver detox herbs and remedies may aid natural detoxification and liver function, they are of little use if you continue to follow unhealthy diet and lifestyle practices that adversely affect your liver’s capacity for detoxification and regeneration. To correct your diet, keep these points in mind.

    STEP 1: Reduce Toxic Buildup

    Reduce the toxic load on your liver by limiting or eliminating your consumption of alcohol, food preservatives, colas and carbonated drinks, processed foods including processed meats, food-derived heavy metals, and chemically-altered foods.

    Additionally, you should avoid smoking and exposure to toxic products such as pesticides, gasoline, perfumes, nail polish, and cleaning products. These substances can raise toxicity through ingestion, contact, or inhalation.

    STEP 2: Additional dietary changes

    Say goodbye to low-quality processed oils, simple carbs, sugar, and salty foods. These foods not only increase the stress on your liver, but they also increase the risk of other health conditions that affect liver function.

    Focus on increasing your intake of fresh and wholesome food products including vegetables, fruits, lean meats, whole grains, and nuts and seeds. Avoid overcooking your food and try eating more fresh fruits and vegetables.

    STEP 3: Stay active

    Higher levels of physical activity are associated with a lower risk of liver disease and hepatotoxicity. This is because of the stimulating effect of exercise, as well as its influence on bodyweight – obesity is one of the major risk factors for liver disease.

    Parting Advice

    Changing your lifestyle and diet to eliminate bad habits is never easy, but this is the first step towards protecting your liver. To make the change a little bit easier, begin by making small changes in a phased manner. Try to incorporate these changes into a healthy daily routine, making it easier to cultivate healthy habits. Once you’ve moved closer to the healthy lifestyle, you can also turn to the herbs mentioned above for some added liver detox support. In case you experience any of the warning signs of liver toxicity or liver disease despite your adoption of a liver friendly diet, make sure to visit your health care provider for an early diagnosis.

    References:

    • Féher J., Lengyel G. (2012). Silymarin in the prevention and treatment of liver diseases and primary liver cancer. Current pharmaceutical biotechnology. Jan;13(1):210-7.
    • Ferenci, P. (2016), Silymarin in the treatment of liver diseases: What is the clinical evidence?. Clinical Liver Disease, 7: 8-10. doi:10.1002/cld.522
    • Mashhadi, N. S., Ghiasvand, R., Askari, G., Hariri, M., Darvishi, L., & Mofid, M. R. (2013). Anti-Oxidative and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Ginger in Health and Physical Activity: Review of Current Evidence. International Journal of Preventive Medicine, 4(Suppl 1), S36–S42.
    • Patel, S. S., Goyal, R. K., Shah, R. S., Tirgar, P. R., & Jadav, P. D. (2013). Experimental study on effect of hydroalcoholic extract of Emblica officinalis fruits on glucose homeostasis and metabolic parameters. Ayu, 34(4), 440–444. http://doi.org/10.4103/0974-8520.127731
    • Hodges, R. E., & Minich, D. M. (2015). Modulation of Metabolic Detoxification Pathways Using Foods and Food-Derived Components: A Scientific Review with Clinical Application. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, 2015, 760689. http://doi.org/10.1155/2015/760689
    • Lee, H.-Y., Kim, S.-W., Lee, G.-H., Choi, M.-K., Jung, H.-W., Kim, Y.-J., … Chae, H.-J. (2016). Turmeric extract and its active compound, curcumin, protect against chronic CCl4-induced liver damage by enhancing antioxidation. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 16(1), 316. http://doi.org/10.1186/s12906-016-1307-6
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