As 2019 approaches, so do New Year’s Resolutions, a time when many people consider starting a healthier lifestyle. A trend toward healthy living continues to grow. For example, the cold-pressed juice market was valued at $4.3 billion in 2017 as people are looking for convenient ways to achieve their health goals (1).
Cleanses and detox diets both strive to cleanse the body of various toxins, generally through restricting certain foods, fasting or supplementing juices and other drinks as a source for vitamins and minerals (2). While popular and in a large market, juice cleanses are not the only form of detox, as there are also supplements that claim to support natural body detoxification through boosting liver and kidney function, and those that focus on cleaning the digestive system (2).
As the largest internal organ in the human body, and the lone responsible for ridding it of toxins, the liver is a common target for many cleanse and detox supplements. The liver works by excreting bile, a byproduct that helps break down fats. Its functions include processing blood leaving the stomach and intestines, creating nutrients for the body, and breaking down and clearing toxins (3). Here are some of the most common liver detox supplements:
Some natural supplements have been well-researched showing signs of benefit to liver health. Silybum marianum or milk thistle, is one of these and is the most well-researched plant in the realm of liver disease and treatment (4). Milk Thistle is composed of three flavonolignans that together are known as silymarin: silybin, silydianin and silychristin.
Silymarin is found throughout the entire milk thistle plant but is most concentrated in the fruit and seeds (4). It has been found to act as an antioxidant by reducing free radical production and lipid peroxidation, has antifibrotic activity and may act as a toxin blockade (4). In animals, it has been shown to reduce liver injury caused by acetaminophen, carbon tetrachloride, radiation, iron overload, phenylhydrazine, alcohol, cold ischaemia and Amanita phalloides (4).
Another study showed milk thistle to be beneficial to liver health in specific instances. For example, one study found that in patients with alcohol cirrhosis, it was beneficial to recovery in certain doses (5). The 4-year survival rate of patients was 58 +/- 9% (S.E.) in silymarin-treated patients and 39 +/- 9% in the placebo group (5). The study was performed on 170 patients with cirrhosis, and 87 patients received a 140 mg dose of silymarin three times a day, while the other 83 patients received a placebo (5).
Another natural supplement is dandelion, which is an oriental herbal medicine, shown to affect choleretic, antirheumatic and diuretic properties (6). Dandelion is a plant, and its roots and leaves have been used in making medicine (6). More research is still needed to determine its effectiveness on people.
One study looked at the effects of dandelion roots and leaves given to rabbits fed with high-cholesterol diets (6). It found that diet-induced hypercholesterolemic atherosclerosis is associated with an increase in oxidative stress, and dandelion reduced the extent of atherosclerosis by reducing oxidative stress (6).
Schisandra is another plant and natural supplement that has been used to promote liver health. Its fruit can be used as food, but also to make medicine (7). It is an adaptogen that has been said to help the body deal with a variety of stressors. Some claim its properties can help improve liver functions and gastrointestinal problems, but more research is needed (7).
Activated charcoal is made of organic matter that has been exposed to high temperatures (8). It has been used in emergency rooms to treat overdoses or poisonings in the past and latches on to toxins due to its porous surface (8). Activated charcoal became popular for cosmetic purposes last year and is now available in pill form for consumption.
Many people know of vinegar for its cooking benefits, but a 2015 study showed it might also have health benefits, including possibly improving insulin stability in people with type 2 diabetes and slowing the digestion of carbohydrates (9). More research on the subject is still needed.
Lemon water can provide the body with vitamin C, potassium, magnesium and copper, which may help with nutrient absorption and subsequently cause less bloating. It can also act as a mild diuretic and stimulate the liver (10).
While there is not much evidence that shows detoxing to remove toxins is an effective way to “clean” the body, there are safe ways to go about detoxing if one chooses to do so. Detox diets can have various side effects. For example, limiting protein intake could cause increased fatigue. On the other hand, some people report feeling better after detoxing, possibly because a detox diet eliminates consumption of highly-processed foods. Professionals recommend talking to a doctor before starting a detox diet or cleanse and trying to implement healthier food choices overall into an everyday diet (11). WF
1. “United States $8.1 Bn Cold Pressed Juice Market, 2024,” https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/united-states-8-1-bn-cold-pressed-juice-market-2024—300633716.html
2. Waldbieser, Jill, “The Most Popular Types of Detoxes and Cleanses and What to Know Before Trying Them,” https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-and-nutrition/diet/detox-cleanses-most-popular-types-what-know/
3. Abenavoli, Capasso, Milic, Capasso, “Milk thistle in liver diseases: past, present, future,”
4. “Randomized controlled trial of silymarin treatment in patients with cirrhosis of the liver.” https://www.
5. “Hypolipidemic and Antioxidant Effects of Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) Root and Leaf on Cholesterol-Fed Rabbits,” https://www.ncbi.nlm.
6. “Dandelion,” https://www.webmd.com/
7. Ducharme, Jamie, “What Are Adaptogens and Why Are People Taking Them?” “http://time.com/
8. Kassel, Gabrielle, “What Are Activated Charcoal Pills—And Are They Actually Good For You?” https://www.womenshealthmag.com/health/a19994143/charcoal-pills/
9. Harrar, Sari, “Is Vinegar Good for You?” https://www.consumerreports.
10. Quick, Susie, “15 Cleansing Foods to Detox Your Body Naturally,” https://www.rd.com/health/wellness/cleansing-foods-to-detox-your-body-naturally/
11 Zeratsky, Katherine, “Do detox diets offer any health benefits?” https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthyeating/expert-answers/detox-diets/faq-20058040