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A New Year’s detox cleanse is the perfect way to improve your health, jump-start a weight loss program, or taper off chemicals such as: nicotine, caffeine, alcohol or over-the-counter medications. In part 1, you learned about the importance of the gastrointestinal tract in the body’s detoxification process and how to enhance your digestive detoxification function simply by following the Elimination Diet. Now, in part 2, you’ll learn another simple, inexpensive way to further enhance your New Year’s detox program using a liver detox tea.
The Liver’s Role in Detoxification
The liver is the largest organ in the body and is intimately involved in all body functions and the health of all body tissues. It is especially important for detoxification, which is why all detox protocols address the health and function of the liver. The liver must detoxify substances made by our own bodies, such as hormones like estrogen, as well as substances that enter our bodies from the outside, such as drugs, pollutants, and artificial food additives.
In the detoxification process the liver transforms toxins into harmless molecules that can be eliminated. The liver sends bile into the GI tract where it binds toxins to be eliminated in feces. Toxins that are not rid by this process go through the liver’s Phase I and Phase II detoxification processes to be eliminated in the urine. The capacity of the liver to detoxify is determined in part by the available supply of nutrients and compounds required for Phase I and II detoxification reactions. Unfortunately, our bodies are slowly depleted of these nutrients and compounds because of chronic exposure to food additives, solvents, pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, and other toxins. The purpose of detoxifying is to enhance the effectiveness of these systems through diet, lifestyle changes, and herbal therapies.
Herbal Remedies for a Liver Detox Cleanse
Herbs that strengthen, tone, and stimulate the secretive functions of the liver (increasing the flow of bile) are known in the Western herbal medicine tradition as hepatics. Many hepatics have been found in animal and human experiments to regenerate and protect hepatocytes (liver cells), to stimulate the liver and gallbladder, and/or to promote its normal physiologic functions. Antioxidants are also crucial for liver health and function, and certain antioxidants such as schisandra berry and the compound silymarin (found in milk thistle seeds) are particularly powerful antioxidants when it comes to liver health.
Pre-made versions of liver detox teas are widely available in health food stores, and online. Look for medicinal teas containing the following liver herbs:
Dandelion leaves and roots: Dandelion may be a ubiquitous weed, but both its leaves and roots have been used medicinally for thousands of years for their choleretic (bile-stimulating), diuretic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and liver-protective properties. Modern research confirms dandelion’s healing properties. In animal studies, dandelion root has been shown to treat liver damage caused by toxins and alcohol, while the leaves have been shown to prevent liver damage from acetaminophen (Tylenol) toxicity.
Burdock root: The seeds, leaves, and roots of burdock have been used as medicine in Europe, North America and Asia for hundreds of years. In modern studies, seven days of burdock root ingestion significantly improved liver health and function in rats with liver damage due to chronic alcohol ingestion, carbon tetrachloride toxicity, and acetaminophen toxicity.[5,6] Burdock increased detoxification enzyme activity, restored the glutathione antioxidant activity, and healed the damaged liver cells in all three cases.[5,6]
Schisandra berry: Dried schisandra berries are among the most important herbs of traditional Chinese medicine to protect and improve the function of the liver. Schisandra berry extract in tablet form has been found to reduce liver damage and improve liver function in humans with fatty liver disease and in humans with acetaminophen-induced liver toxicity. The extract and components in the extract have been shown to protect the liver against inflammation and prevent liver dysfunction caused by viruses and toxic chemicals in animal studies.
Milk thistle seed: Milk thistle seeds have been used as a “liver tonic” for centuries. They contain the primary active constituent silymarin which is highly medicinal—there are literally thousands of published studies documenting the beneficial effects of silymarin on the liver. Milk thistle/silymarin is thought to work by preventing entry of various toxins into liver cells, stimulating liver cell regeneration, acting as a free-radical scavenger and antioxidant, and modulating the immune response. Silymarin prevents liver failure due to mushroom poisoning and helps treat alcoholic liver disease and hepatitis.
Additional Herbal Detox Tea Ingredients
In addition to the herbal tea ingredients for liver detoxification listed above, you’ll find that liver detox teas often contain other herbal ingredients as well. Ginger root, licorice root, and fennel seeds are often included in detox tea formulas to help with digestion, decrease inflammation, and mask some of the more bitter flavors from ingredients such as dandelion. You may also see other bitter, bile-stimulating ingredients like barberry and yellow dock. Cleavers and red clover are also sometimes included in detox tea formulas for their “blood purifying” properties.
When taken in tea form, all of these detox herbs are generally safe and well-tolerated. However, no version of a liver detox tea should be consumed by those with active liver or gallbladder irritation or obstruction (blockages of the gall bladder duct) except under the supervision of a qualified healthcare practitioner. Any formula containing licorice should not be used by those with hypertension. Pregnant and breast feeding women as well as children should also not consume liver herbs.
Drink at least four cups of tea throughout the day while following the Elimination Diet. Drinking more than 4 cups is generally safe and may provide additional benefits, depending on the tea formula. Drinking liver detox tea as part of your simple New Year’s Detox Cleanse is an excellent way to improve your health and well-being in the New Year! For more detox options, try these recipes for detoxifying soup.
This article was originally published in 2014. It is regularly updated.