Here’s why you shouldn’t try to ‘detox’ your liver with diets or pills

Diets or products that promise to ‘detox’ your liver FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
  • Some diets and supplements promise to detoxify the liver.
  • But the body’s natural detoxification system already removes toxins without any external assistance.
  • Detox and cleanse diets may also deprive your body of needed nutrients, experts say, and dietary supplements could end up harming your liver.
  • Instead, protect your liver by avoiding excess alcohol and staying at a healthy weight.

The idea of a detox is alluring in the first week of a new year. After the holiday onslaught of booze and decadent treats, detox diets and supplements appear to offer a fresh start – a way to erase all traces of overindulgence.

Some detox plans and products specifically claim to detoxify the liver, the organ that processes medicines and filters out toxins,among many other critical functions. But promises of a “cleaner” liver through detoxing are more hype than substance, experts say.

Here’s you shouldn’t undertake a detox for your liver – or your body in general – in 2019.

Detox products and diets aren’t necessary

You don’t need to eat a certain way to detox your body. Creative Family/Shutterstock

If you’re healthy, your body is already removing toxins for you.

“Our body is able to cleanse or detox itself by using normal bodily functions,” registered dietitian Rachael Harley previously told INSIDER. “When we breathe, when we go to the bathroom, when our liver is functioning – the body does all the cleansing and detoxifying itself. There’s no need to follow a certain diet plan to do that.”

The work of detoxifying is primarily done by your liver and your kidneys. The kidneys filter blood, removing waste and extra water to make urine. The liver converts toxins into harmless substances or ensures that they’re excreted from the body. Together, they keep removing toxins whether you sip green juice or not.

“Unless there’s a blockage in one of these organs that do it day and night, there’s absolutely no need to help the body get rid of toxins,” Dr. Ranit Mishori, a faculty member in family medicine at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, told NPR in 2012.

Evidence on detox diets is lacking

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Detox claims aren’t backed up by science. Flickr/Jason Paris

Liver detoxes won’t help repair damage that’s already happened.

“Liver cleanses have not been proven to treat existing liver damage,” hepatologist Dr. Tinsay Woreta said in a post on liver-detox myths published by Johns Hopkins University.

There’s also no good evidence that detox diets help eliminate toxins from the body, according to a review published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics in 2014.

Read more: Sorry, but superfood is a ‘nutritionally meaningless term’

Though the detox industry is “booming,” the authors wrote, “at present, there is no compelling evidence to support the use of detox diets for weight management or toxin elimination.”

It’s also difficult to test the often-vague promises made by detox diet marketers.

In medical settings, the word “toxin” typically refers to drugs or alcohol, according to the paper. But in the world of detox diets, “toxin” is not so clearly defined. It could refer to anything from pollutants to synthetic chemicals to processed foods.

“Commercial detox diets rarely identify the specific toxins they aim to remove or the mechanisms by which they eliminate them, making it difficult to investigate their claims,” the authors wrote.

Detox diets may lack necessary nutrients

Green juice smoothie
Detox diets are often nutritionally inadequate. Joanna Slodownik/Flickr

“Most of the detoxes I’ve seen are very inadequate in fat and protein and carbohydrates as well,” Hartley previously told INSIDER. “[They’re] just inadequate in calories.”

Eating too few calories can cause headaches, moodiness, weakness, and constipation, as INSIDER previously reported. Detox diets low on carbohydrates and/or fat can negatively affect the brain in particular.

Read more: 8 ways your body is telling you that you aren’t eating enough

“A lot of clients who have done cleanses or detoxes in the past have told me how they felt very low energy, fatigued, that it increased moodiness, that they felt more depressed,” Hartley added. “And a lot of that has to do with the fact that their brain is eventually being starved for nutrients.”

Detox supplements can be risky

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Supplements may cause harm. Sarah Schmalbruch/INSIDER

Diets aren’t alone in making grandiose detox promises. Some over-the-counter supplements also claim they can cleanse the liver.

But some dietary supplements may actually cause harm to the liver, leading to drug-induced liver injury, according to Johns Hopkins.

In the US, supplements aren’t regulated like drugs, and may not be as innocuous as they seem. Some may be contaminated with unlisted chemical or drug ingredients. In fact, it’s estimated that they send more than 20,000 Americans to the emergency room every year.

There are better ways to protect your liver

Excessive drinking can lead to liver disease. Justin Sullivan/Getty

Liver detox diets and pills may be pure bunk, but there are other, expert-approved ways to protect your liver against disease, according to Johns Hopkins.

First, don’t drink excessive amounts of alcohol. (The Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines “moderate” drinking as up to two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.) Over time, drinking too much can cause alcoholic liver disease and several other health problems.

Second, keep your weight in a healthy range by eating well and exercising regularly. This will decrease the risk of developing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Next, skip behaviours that increase the risk of getting viral hepatitis, like using illicit drugs or having unprotected sex with multiple people.

And finally, if you have certain risk factors, like excessive alcohol use or a family history of liver disease, ask your doctor about screening tests, since chronic liver diseases may progress for years before they’re recognised.

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