Signs your Liver Needs a Detox

Written by Lindsay Christensen, MS, CNS, LDN

Five Ways to Support Your Precious Liver

Every day, your three-pound liver saves your life. The second-largest organ in your body (after the skin), your liver works tirelessly to keep you healthy—performing a stunning array of tasks. This workhorse filters everything you eat and drink, helps usher toxins safely out of the body, regulates blood sugar levels, stores extra sugar in the form of glycogen, and converts extra carbohydrate and protein into forms that can be stored for later use. Your liver also produces bile, which supports the breakdown of fats and helps carry various waste – including toxins out in the stool. Your liver even breaks down old or injured blood cells. It stores iron. It stores clotting molecules for the blood.

It’s versatile, your liver. But it is not invulnerable. Even this remarkable organ can be excessively burdened by the onslaught of toxicants so common in everyday life—chemicals, poor food, sweet snacks and sodas, excess alcohol, pollution, and the constant stress we all face today. We are routinely exposed to over 84,000 chemicals (many untested for safety because they were grandfathered in by the Toxic Substances Act). Then there is our “obesogenic” food environment, which tempts us to eat high-fat, sugary, refined foods that seem to beckon from every television commercial, store, and restaurant, and places a significant burden on the liver’s detoxification system. Finally, the liver is impacted by chronic stress, a feature of contemporary life—which can lead to chronic high levels of cortisol, and contribute to fatty liver.[1] According to the Mayo Clinic, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is common in the United States, affecting an estimated 80 to 100 million people.

Liver rejuvenation supports better health in the body – from cholesterol and hormone metabolism to detoxification, energy, and even cognitive function.

How to Know When Your Liver is Overtaxed

What are the early signs and symptoms of an overtaxed or stressed liver? Are there telltale warning signals that your liver could benefit from a little loving care and extra detox? Here are seven signs that your liver may indeed need some attention.

Excessive Fatigue

Fatigue is a common complaint all over the world and is often experienced when the liver is under stress.[2] The liver converts glucose into glycogen, a form of sugar that can be stored, and then later released as glucose when the body needs a burst of energy. By storing and supplying the body with glucose, the liver helps provide energy and combat fatigue. If the liver is stressed it may become less efficient at regulating blood glucose. Fatigue and sugar cravings may pop up.

Hormone Imbalances and Premenstrual Syndrome

The liver detoxifies more than chemicals and pollutants. It also detoxifies our own hormones, including excess estrogen. Not surprisingly, when liver function is impaired, excess estrogen may not be adequately bound and excreted. Signs of excess estrogen in women can include PMS, fibrocystic breasts, moodiness, weight gain, menstrual disturbances, fibroids, and more.

Belly Bloat and Excessive Gas

When the flow of bile is stagnant or slowed, the gut shifts towards a state of dysbiosis, where unfriendly flora dominate, and constipation is common. The toxins from pathogenic bacteria then block detoxification pathways in the liver as well.[3] With the resulting imbalance of flora and dysbiosis, excessive gas and bloating may be experienced after eating.

High Levels of Heavy Metals

Human exposure to heavy metals has soared, due to an exponential increase of metals in industrial, agricultural, and technological applications.[4] From coal-burning power plants to plastics, textiles, electronics, wood preservation, and paper processing, metals are ubiquitous in everyday life. Heavy metals can cause DNA damage and contribute to a variety of human illnesses.[5] When the liver’s detoxification pathways are impaired, heavy metals can accumulate in the body. In particular, the liver’s stores of glutathione, which safely and effectively binds to toxins and metals, can be depleted.[6]

Chemical sensitivities and allergies

When the liver is under stress, individuals may find themselves more reactive to chemical exposures, including gasoline, kerosene, natural gas, pesticides, solvents, new carpet, adhesives, glues, fabric softener, formaldehyde, cleaning agents, medications and more.[7]

Seasonal pollen allergies may worsen, and food sensitivities may increase. The liver is responsible for breaking down excess histamine, and if it is sluggish, histamine may build up in the body.[8] In individuals with chronic cholestasis and impaired bile flow, blood levels of histamine have been found to be significantly greater than normal.[9]

Poor Sleep

Nearly 60 million Americans are affected by sleep disorders every year. Sleep problems run the gamut, taking too long to fall asleep (called sleep latency), waking up too early, fitful and poor sleep quality, frequent nocturnal awakening, or early morning awakening. The solutions range from sleeping medications to cognitive reframing techniques, relaxation tapes, meditation, sleep hygiene, and more. But one simple solution may be to improve liver function. Sleep disturbances have long been observed in chronic liver conditions, and one mechanism may be impaired hepatic melatonin metabolism.[10] Melatonin is the “circadian rhythm” hormone—the hormone our bodies naturally release as darkness falls, and which readies us for a good night’s sleep.

How to Cleanse and Rejuvenate Your Liver

Your liver is the only visceral organ in your body that can actually regenerate itself. If even a mere quarter of your original liver is left, it can regenerate back to its full size. Your liver’s capacity for repair is immense. It just needs a little extra care and attention. Here are some tips for improving your liver function.

Improve bile flow with bitter botanicals

Bitter botanicals have been used for hundreds of years as both medicines and as aperitifs. They promote proper drainage of the liver, kidneys, and lymph, and help support intestinal health. First and foremost, they support healthy bile flow, which is critical for digestive function and helps balance your gut flora, since bile acids are antimicrobial.[11],[12]  Remember, toxins and their metabolites are eliminated from the liver into the bile, and out of the body via the stool.[13]

The classic bitter botanicals are potent yet gentle. They include gentian, milk thistle, goldenrod, myrrh, and dandelion. Gentian is often called our most bitter -bitters, offering digestive support and liver protection. Gentian has been shown to increase levels of our most potent endogenous antioxidant, glutathione. It also improves bile flow.[14],[15] Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) has a reputation as a potent liver protector, also with bitter properties. Its most active molecule, silymarin, has been shown to enhance glutathione levels in the liver and gut.[16],[17] Dandelion is widely known for its tonic function on the liver, gallbladder, and kidneys. Goldenrod helps the flow of bile. Myrrh is antimicrobial and improves bile flow as well. Guggulsterones are the molecules in myrrh responsible for their cholesterol-lowering effects.[18]

Support the Liver with Pure Phosphatidylcholine

Phosphatidylcholine (PC) makes up 90% of the phospholipids in bile.[19] Increased intake of PC has been shown to enhance and prevent liver stagnation and subsequent liver damage[20]. Phosphatidylcholine also is essential for the health of the gut and is a primary building block for the gut’s protective mucus layer.[21]

Support Glutathione Levels

Your liver’s ability to transform toxic molecules into less toxic ones, and then help your body excrete them, depends on two phases of detoxification. Phase I liver detoxification utilizes specialized enzymes to help neutralize innumerable substances. Phase II detoxification goes even further and neutralizes the byproducts of Phase I. Then the toxins are removed from the body. To detoxify, your liver relies on many enzymes and molecules, but the most important may be glutathione. Levels of glutathione are naturally higher in the liver than in the rest of your body. However, low levels of glutathione have been found in chronic liver disease.[22]

Mop up Toxins With a Comprehensive Blend of Binders

Many toxins are reabsorbed after excretion into the bile. In addition, endotoxins from unfriendly gut bacteria, as well as bacteria themselves, can actually move through an inflamed gut lining directly into the bloodstream. This is known as microbial translocation and is associated with immune activation and inflammation.[23] This puts more stress on the liver.

There is no universal binder that has an equal affinity for all toxins. However, a blend of natural molecules that effectively bind a wide array of toxins can help lessen the load on our bodies. Binders to consider include bentonite clay, activated charcoal, chitosan, and thiol-functionalized silica. Because each has a special affinity for certain types of toxins, a blend will offer broader protection.

Support the Gut with Soothing Natural Pre-Biotic Gums and Fibers

Because binders can be constipating, consider soothing supplements such as acacia gum, which serves as a prebiotic fiber, and aloe vera, which has long been used in traditional medicine to soothe inflamed tissues. These support the health of the intestinal lining, normal gut motility, and the growth of friendly flora, all of which can help improve liver function.


[1]Krones-Herzig A, Diaz MB, et al. The Glucocorticoid Receptor Controls Hepatic Dyslipidemia through Hes1. Cell Metab. 2008 Sep;8(3):212-23 View Abstract

[2]Swain, MD. Fatigue in Liver Disease: Pathophysiology and Clinical Management Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology. 2005 Oct;(20):181-188 View Abstract

[3]Tang W, Yi C, Kalitsky J, et al. Endotoxin downregulates hepatic expression of P-glycoprotein and MRP2 in 2-acetylaminofluorene-treated rats. Mol Cell Biol Res Commun. 2000 Aug;4(2):90-7. View Abstract

[4]Bradl H, editor. Heavy Metals in the Environment: Origin, Interaction and Remediation Volume 6. London: Academic Press; 2002.

[5]Chang LW, Magos L, Suzuki T, editors. Toxicology of Metals. Boca Raton. FL, USA: CRC Press; 1996

[6]Kaplowitz N. The importance and regulation of hepatic glutathione. Yale J Biol Med. 1981 Nov-Dec; 54(6): 497–502.

[7]Ziem G, McTamney J. Profile of patients with chemical injury and sensitivity. Environ Health Perspect. 1997 Mar; 105(Suppl 2): 417–436. View Abstract

[8]Drapanas T, Adler W. Primary Regulation of Histamine Metabolism by the Liver. Ann Surg. 1965 Mar; 161(3): 447–455. View Abstract

[9]Gittlen SD, Schulman ES. Raised histamine concentrations in chronic cholestatic liver disease. Gut. 1990 Jan; 31(1): 96–99. View Full Paper

[10]Zhao X, Wong P. Managing Sleep Disturbances in Cirrhosis Scientifica (Cairo). 2016; 2016: 6576812. View Full Paper

[11]Islam KB, Fukiya S, Hagio M, et al. Bile acid is a host factor that regulates the composition of the cecal microbiota in rats. Gastroenterology. 2011 Nov;141(5):1773-81. View Abstract

[12]Hellström PM, Nilsson I, Svenberg T. Role of bile in regulation of gut motility. J Intern Med. 1995 Apr;237(4):395-402. View Abstract

[13]Tremblay S, Romain G, Roux M, et al. Bile Acid Administration Elicits an Intestinal Antimicrobial Program and Reduces the Bacterial Burden in Two Mouse Models of Enteric Infection. Infect Immun. 2017 May 23;85(6). pii: e00942-16. View Full Paper

[14]Lian LH, Wu YL, et al. Gentiana Manchuria Kitagawa reverses acute alcohol-induced liver steatosis through blocking sterol regulatory element-binding protein-1 maturation. J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Dec 22;58(24):13013-9. View Abstract

[15]Oztürk N, Herekman-Demir T, et al. Choleretic activity of Gentiana lutea ssp. symphyandra in rats. Phytomedicine. 1998 Aug;5(4):283-8. View Abstract

[16]Valenzuela A, Aspillaga M, et al. Selectivity of silymarin on the increase of the GSH content in different tissues of the rat. Planta Med. 1989 Oct;55(5):420-2. View Abstract

[17]Rui YC. Advances in pharmacological studies of silymarin. Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz. 1991;86 Suppl 2:79-85. View Full Paper

[18]Shah R, Gulati V, et al. Pharmacological properties of guggulsterone, the major active components of gum guggul. Phytotherapy Research. 2012 Nov;26(11):1594-605. View Abstract

[19] Hişmioğullari AA, Bozdayi AMet al. Biliary lipid secretion. Turk J Gastroenterol. 2007 Jun;18(2):65-70. View Abstract

[20] Karaman A, Demirbilek S, et al. Protective effect of polyunsaturated phosphatidylcholine on liver damage induced by a biliary obstruction in rats. J Pediatr Surg. 2003 Sep;38(9):1341-7. View Abstract

[21] Stremmel W, Ehehalt R, et al. Mucosal protection by phosphatidylcholine. Dig Dis. 2012;30 Suppl 3:85-91. View Abstract

[22]Cook GC, Sherlock S. Results of a controlled clinical trial of glutathione in cases of hepatic cirrhosis. Gut, 1965, 6, 472 View Full Paper

[23]D’Ettorre G, Douek D. Microbial Translocation and Infectious Diseases: What Is the Link? International Journal of Microbiology Vol 2012, Article ID 356981. View Full Paper




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