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The liver is the primary organ in our body that helps break down toxins. All blood from the stomach and intestines must pass through the liver for filtration. Because of this function, many people subscribe to the idea that a liver detox is necessary to keep it working optimally. Moreover, because the liver is one of the primary sites of toxins filtration and thyroid hormone conversion, people with a thyroid condition like hypothyroidism may be curious if detoxing the liver supports thyroid health. Before signing yourself up for a liver detox or cleanse, there are several things you should know.
The liver is one of the largest organs in the body. Located in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen, its primary role is to filter and process all blood that passes through the stomach and intestines. It also breaks down old red blood cells, balances your electrolytes, creates nutrients that your cells can use, and even metabolizes drugs.
Along with blood filtration, the liver performs over 500 essential functions.
Here are a few key processes of the liver:
- Makes certain proteins for blood plasma and processes hemoglobin
- Coverts excess glucose to glycogen for energy storage
- Forms bile, which helps the digestive system break down fats
- Produces cholesterol to carry fats throughout the body
- Rids the body of poisonous substances and drugs
- Manages blood clotting factors
- Clears out bilirubin - a byproduct of old red blood cells
- Supports the immune system by ridding the body of pathogens
Waste products from the liver go into bile, entering the small intestine and leaving the body as stool.
A liver detox, cleanse, or flush is a regimen geared toward flushing toxins out of your system. The goal of a liver detox or liver cleanse is usually to make your liver more effective or give it a chance to reset, especially if a person has been overindulging in habits like drinking excess alcohol or eating poorly. Sometimes, people also do liver detoxes for weight loss or general health improvement.
There are a variety of different ways you can perform a liver detox. For example, some people drink only juices or take herbal preparations, whereas others fast or use enemas. Typically, a liver detox requires some temporary dietary modification in the hopes that your liver gets a chance to reset and become more efficient at its role.
Liver cleanses and detox products often contain a variety of herbs, fruits, and vegetables.
Common ingredients of liver detox products include:
- Milk thistle
- Dandelion root
Of course, nothing is wrong with each of these ingredients, and indeed, each has a host of health benefits. However, little scientific evidence supports claims made by manufacturers that these will remove waste and toxins, flush out impurities, improve energy, or support liver health.
Not all cleanse or detox products are equal, either. The market has various options made with varying ingredients and formulas. Some products are for continued daily consumption. In contrast, others are only for a temporary period of a few weeks to a few months.
The liver plays a vital role in supporting thyroid function. As one of the primary sites of thyroid hormone activation from thyroxine to triiodothyronine, the body relies on a healthy liver to support the thyroid in its mission to regulate our metabolism. The liver also transports and metabolizes thyroid hormone.
When liver health is compromised, we see problems with the thyroid gland emerge. For example, people with chronic hepatitis may be more at risk for autoimmune thyroid disease, possibly leading to hypothyroidism.
But, the thyroid supports liver function as well. Thyroid hormones can impact hepatocytes (liver cells) and liver metabolism. When the thyroid is hypoactive, such as in people with hypothyroidism, serum liver enzymes may be abnormal, which could impair lipid metabolism and cause fatty liver disease and myopathy.
A healthy liver will be better suited for converting T4 to T3 and potentially decreasing your risk for thyroid problems like Hashimoto's thyroiditis (an autoimmune disease). But is a liver detox the answer to better liver function? There is little evidence supporting liver detoxes in general and certainly for improving thyroid health. With that said, a healthy liver is essential for healthy thyroid function, so it is crucial to make healthy choices to support both organs.
Research does not show that liver detoxes improve your liver health and function. Some detoxes may even harm your liver, especially from taking an excess of herbal and dietary supplements. In addition, some people experience electrolyte imbalances when they restrict food and drink intake or give themselves enemas. And, if a person has a weakened immune system, or health conditions like liver disease, kidney disease, and diabetes, a detox program may worsen your condition.
Being more mindful about your liver and taking daily steps toward better liver health is important, and there are many safe and healthy ways we can do this. And, because the liver is so proficient at regenerating, lifestyle changes and beneficial long-term dietary modifications can support the liver in repairing itself.
Our genes and lifestyle primarily determine liver health. While we can't do too much about our genes, we can control our lifestyle. We know that lifestyle modifications happen to be one of the best ways to care for our liver. Supporting your liver naturally is different from liver detox, cleanse, or flush.
Here are several tips for optimizing your liver (and thyroid) health.
Drink plenty of water
Drinking plenty of water is the best way to help remove toxins from the liver (and kidneys). Ingesting the recommended intake of water (about 8-10 glasses per day) is ideal for maintaining electrolyte balance and keeping your body hydrated.
Alcohol consumption is one of the most common reasons people turn toward a liver detox program. Reducing your alcohol intake, or avoiding it altogether, is one of the best ways to decrease your toxin load on your liver.
One of the most common liver problems is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. A sedentary lifestyle and a high-fat diet can cause fat cells to cling onto the liver, thereby reducing its functionality. Getting regular exercise is key to preventing inflammation and scarring from this disease.
Removing dietary triggers
Common food triggers, especially for people with an autoimmune disease like Hashimoto's disease, are gluten, dairy, sugar, soy, alcohol, and caffeine. Suppose any or all of these are dietary triggers for you. In that case, they could be irritating the gut or disrupting nutrient absorptions. Removing these foods from your diet, at least temporarily, can help your liver to reset.
Eat nutrient-dense foods
A healthy, balanced diet that includes whole grains, fruits, and vegetables is important for liver health. In addition, decreasing sugar intake, consuming healthy fats, and getting plenty of protein is also important for optimizing your liver function. If you feel your liver needs a little extra support, introduce supportive foods to your diet like hot lemon water, beets, fiber, chlorophyll, fermented foods, turmeric, and berries.
Reduce toxic exposure
Many consumer products that we inhale, ingest, and apply to our bodies put us in contact with hundreds of toxins each day. Some of the top ways that we expose ourselves to these toxins include but are not limited to:
Personal care products
Many beauty, skincare, haircare, and toothpaste brands include dangerous ingredients that alter hormone levels and raise estrogen to unhealthy levels.
Canned food and plastic containers
While most companies have removed Bisphenol-A (BPA) from their packaging, some products still contain this endocrine disruptor. BPA acts like estrogen in the body and raises estrogen levels in men and women.
Conventional produce is often sprayed with pesticides and herbicides. Produce with soft edible skin is the most common culprit because the chemical residues leach into the produce, and the skins are often consumed as well.
Mercury interferes with thyroid function, especially in those with Hashimoto's. This metal is often in dental fillings and fish, such as tuna.
Fluoride may affect thyroid function because it shares similar properties with iodine, which we need for thyroid hormone production. Because fluorine is structurally similar to iodine, it may take up receptor sites in the thyroid gland, inhibiting iodine absorption, which may, in turn, cause iodine deficiency. Fluoride is in our tap water, toothpaste, and even black and green tea.
There are multiple toxic chemicals in aerosol cans, bleach, air fresheners, and other cleaning products that we breathe and are absorbed through our skin. In addition to being endocrine disruptors, they can also cause respiratory illness and headaches.
Treat liver diseases
Several effective options now exist for treating chronic liver diseases like hepatitis C. Some vaccines can prevent other forms of hepatitis. Knowing your options and taking proactive steps to cure disease is vital.
Support other detox pathways
Supporting the skin and lymphatic systems can also be beneficial in supporting the liver. The lymph system is responsible for transporting and eliminating toxins, so dry brushing, lymphatic massage, and exercise can improve lymphatic flow. Exercise, hot yoga, or sauna therapy can support your skin which is the body's largest elimination organ, through sweat.
Manage your thyroid health
Because the liver and thyroid impact one another, it is important to treat any thyroid conditions. For example, people with hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) usually need thyroid hormone replacement medication to balance their thyroid hormone levels and support their metabolic demands.