By Kristin Muckerheide, AADP, CHHC
The liver is one of the most important organs in the body. It is one of the major organs of detoxification, filtering blood coming from the digestive tract and metabolizing and detoxifying toxic substances like alcohol, medications, and chemicals. The liver also makes proteins that are important for blood clotting and other vital functions.
Like a carefully orchestrated assembly line, the various parts and organs of the body work together to keep everything running smoothly and efficiently. So if your liver becomes overly congested with toxins, as often happens with our modern lifestyle, over time, it reduces your body’s ability to secrete the bile it needs to digest fats. This in turn leads to digestive issues and even malnutrition.
Once the liver starts to malfunction, cascading effects ensue in other parts of the body. If the liver’s bile secretion goes awry, the gallbladder is sure to suffer next. This is an increasingly common problem: Every year, 500,000 people in the U.S. alone have surgery to remove gallstones, which often result from compromised bile secretion.
This is just one of many examples demonstrating how the liver connects to other vital bodily functions. In short, it’s important to keep your liver strong to maintain overall health and wellbeing. And with spring upon us, there is no better time for a gentle liver cleanse.
After a winter of indulging in sweets, starches, animal products, baked goods and comfort foods (your body needed these to keep warm in the frigid winter weather), you may start to feel the desire to eat lighter, fresher, more raw foods and become more active. Many people naturally experience that all of a sudden, they actually want to work out and eat salads and green smoothies.
If this is your experience, it means that your body is simply following the natural rhythm of the seasons. It wants to purge and cleanse itself of all the fat buildup and toxins it accumulated throughout the winter, so that you will you have the energy to walk, run, bike and play in the nice spring weather.
Nature gives us the fresh green foods we need to help us detoxify and cleanse the body and liver in the spring: arugula, dandelion, asparagus, artichoke, peas, avocado, Bok Choy and fennel, just to name a few. It’s not a coincidence that much of the spring produce is green, indicating the presence of chlorophyll, a molecule that binds with toxins (like heavy metals) and carries them out of the body.
So take advantage of all the powerful produce the earth gives us in the spring to cleanse our bodies after the long winter. When we fight against the natural rhythm of the seasons, our bodies can easily fall out of balance—you may see this manifest as being unable to tolerate cold winter weather, suffering from allergies in the springtime or becoming inflamed and overheated in the summer.
When you’re eating cold smoothies and raw salads in the middle of winter or hot barbeque ribs in July, of course your body is confused! Instead, follow along with nature and what it provides us to keep in balance with the environment in which we live, wherever that may be.
A liver cleanse doesn’t have to make you miserable, involving fasting or drinking copious amounts of noxious liquids like lemon, maple syrup and cayenne pepper or orange juice mixed with lots of olive oil. You can get a long way simply by favoring foods and herbs that help revitalize and cleanse the liver. For a gentle, natural spring cleanse, emphasize these liver-supporting foods:
- Dandelion greens and root: Dandelion is a rich source of minerals and a variety of phytonutrients and super antioxidants, which support cleansing of the digestive tract and offer great liver support. It increases the production of bile from the liver and gall bladder, which aids digestion and keeps detox systems in balance. It also helps carry toxins out of the liver. For best results, regularly add dandelion leaves to your salad or sip dandelion tea throughout the day.
- Milk thistle: The active compounds in milk thistle, silymarin, appear to help the liver regenerate cells after damage has occurred. This is one of the best liver-strengthening herbs, but it is also strong, and can sometimes create a rash. Start with small doses and build up over time.
- Broccoli sprouts: Broccoli sprouts have 20-50 times MORE liver enzyme-stimulating activity than regular broccoli, which is already extremely healthy. A 2012 study found that eating broccoli sprouts may enhance detoxification of airborne pollutants and reduce their negative effects on the body (published in Carcinogenesis, Jan 2012). This follows a 2005 study published in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention that found that broccoli sprouts may help detoxify carcinogens and reduce the risk of liver cancer.
- Flaxseeds: Flaxseeds ensure that toxins are eliminated properly. They are a great source of fiber, which binds to toxins and flushes them from the intestinal tract. They are also a great source of omega 3 oils. For best results, consume 2 Tbsp of ground flaxseeds in water every morning.
- Lemons: Lemons stimulate the release of enzymes and helps convert toxins into a water-soluble form that can be easily excreted from the body. Drink warm lemon water (add ground flaxseeds for enhanced toxin removal) first thing in the morning, which is alkaline-forming and helps balance an overly acidic American diet.
- Garlic: No detox plan is complete without garlic. This powerful antiviral, antiseptic and antibiotic healer rids your body of these pathogenic microbes and can reduce endogenous (produced in the body) toxins. Garlic’s sulphuric compounds make it an essential detoxifier.
- Artichokes: Artichokes aren’t just tasty, they also stimulate bile production, which is essential to properly digest fats, and purify and protect the liver. Artichoke has a mild diuretic effect on the kidneys, ensuring proper removal of toxins once the liver breaks them down.
- Turmeric: This highly anti-inflammatory spice helps with liver and digestive disorders; it protects the liver from toxic substances and has been shown to promote bile secretion.
- Cruciferous veggies: Vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are a rich source of sulphur compounds, which enhance the liver’s detoxification pathways and help it break down and eliminate fat through the bile ducts.
- Allium veggies: This class of vegetables include onions, garlic, chives. These foods contain compounds that help the liver produce enzymes needed for toxin breakdown and elimination. They also provide antioxidants that quench free radicals produced during the detox process.
- Sesame seeds: These wonder seeds are not only rich in calcium and iron, they are also a liver-protective.
- Beetroot: The humble beet contains a wealth of nutrients, including vitamins B3, Bl and C, beta carotene, iron, magnesium, zinc, and calcium—which are all necessary for optimal detoxification and elimination and great for gallbladder and liver health.
- Apples: While ideal for a fall cleanse, apples are beneficial all year-round. The quercetin in the skin of red apples is also helpful for spring allergies due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
- Sea vegetables: Seaweeds contain powerful antioxidants that help alkalize the blood and strengthen digestion. The algin in seaweeds absorbs toxins from the digestive tract just as a water softener removes hardness from tap water. Sea veggies also offer the broadest range of minerals of any food, containing virtually all the minerals found in the ocean and that are needed in the human body.
- Chlorophyll-containing foods: These bind with toxins and remove them from the body. The foods highest in chlorophyll include spirulina, chlorella, wheatgrass and sea vegetables, but any naturally green food contains some amount of chlorophyll.
How to Put It All Together.
For best results, set off a 2–3 week period in which you drink plenty of water, green juice and/or herbal tea, eat lightly, cut back on heavy animal foods and emphasize the liver-supporting foods above. Mix and match according to what you like the best. Incorporate exercise and time outside in the fresh air and sun if possible. You can also try making a detoxifying juice to drink between meals once or twice a day.
Here’s an example of a tasty and powerful detoxifying juice: Use a combination of any of the following: beetroot, beet greens (the tops of the beetroots), apples, celery (including the leaves), parsley, lemon and a knob of fresh ginger.
Try cutting out dairy and gluten-containing foods and grains to clear your brain fog, boost your energy and give your gut a chance to heal. See how you feel without them as well as how you react when adding these foods back into your diet. For best results, add dairy and gluten back in one at a time, with 2–3 days in between to watch for any delayed reactions, which can take up to 72 hours to manifest.
Although more intense liver cleanses and detoxification regimens do exist, incorporating the foods mentioned above, always in moderation, gives the body a gentler, more natural cleanse that is safe for nearly everyone.
As Hippocrates once said, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” Nature supplies us with the most powerful medicine of all—minus the nasty side effects, costs and long-term effects of pills and procedures. No matter what your age or health condition, staying in tune with the earth’s patterns and consuming the medicinal foods each season provides is key to feeling your best and enjoying optimal health all life long.
Kristin Muckerheide is an AADP Board Certified Holistic Health Counselor and owner of the holistic health counseling practice Body + Soul Wellness, LLC. For questions and to learn more, www.mybodysoulwellness.com.
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