Why Liver Detoxes May Not Be The Answer
The term detox is casually thrown into the health and medical sphere these days. In the causal sense, detoxification means getting rid of toxic or harmful substances. The liver is the organ commonly associated with the general definition of detoxification. In fact, a Google search of "hep C and detox" produces 1,710,000 results! Numerous websites that sell products that claim to assist with liver detoxification also claim to cure people of hep C. What really is detoxification, and can taking an external supplement actually cleanse the body of hep C?
What is detoxification?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, detoxification is the “care provided to a dependent person during the period of reduction or stoppage of a dependence-producing substance with the aim of withdrawing the substance safely and effectively."1 The medical use of detoxification refers to the removal of an addictive external substance, such as opioids and alcohol.
In everyday terms, the term detox is used loosely. For example, a skincare product can claim to “detox” your skin from toxic pollutants; a cleanse can claim to detox your liver from toxins and promote weight loss. The real question is: Do these products work, and furthermore, do we even need an external aide to help our body get rid of toxins?
The role of the liver
The human body has a very sophisticated detoxification system - the liver! The liver has many functions:2
- Converting ammonia to urea, which is then removed in the urine. This is an example of getting rid of a toxic metabolite.
- Producing bile, which helps with digestion and removing waste
- Metabolizes, or breaks down, drugs and harmful products
Overall, the liver’s main function is to break down toxic substances, either those that are externally consumed or those produced by our own bodies. These remnants are then excreted through urine and feces.
Popularity of detoxes
92% of naturopathic doctors use detoxification regimens to treat patients for various ailments, including liver disease, weight loss, cancer, and autoimmune disease.3
Furthermore, people who try these cleanses seem to have a positive experience, with 83% of people rating their results as ‘good’ or ‘great’.3 It is important to note that these subjective measures have not been translated into objective measures of health improvement in clinical trials.
Liver cleanses use herbal products that claim to help your liver with the process of detoxification. The problem is, we don’t have any studies to validate these claims, and even more worrying, these products are usually unregulated.3 This means that we don’t know exactly what they contain.
In addition, some of these products contain laxatives as the main ingredient. There is no evidence that the removal of large amounts of stool detoxifies your body.4
What can you do?
While we have no evidence that detox regimens help eliminate hep C or reduce the progression of liver disease, we do have much more evidence for the role of lifestyle interventions. Positive lifestyle measures include reducing alcohol intake, weight loss if recommended by a doctor, and eating a nutritious diet.
Have you tried a liver cleanse or detox protocol? Share your experiences below!
What dietary changes have you made to better manage hep C symptoms? (Select all that apply)