Is a Liver Cleanse Truly Necessary? Insights from Experts

Is a Liver Cleanse Truly Necessary? Insights from Experts
  • The liver naturally cleanses itself by breaking down toxins that enter the body.
  • To best support liver health, people can focus on healthy habits like regular exercise and limited alcohol consumption.
  • Experts recommend people eat a diet rich in foods that are known to support liver health, like fish high in omega-3s, cruciferous vegetables, and healthy seeds.

Do you need to cleanse your liver?

TikTok is full of creators claiming to cleanse their livers with a variety of homemade concoctions, including ingredients like apple cider vinegar, lemon, cayenne pepper, sea salt, and more.

Another side of social media touts supplements and herbs, like milk thistle, turmeric, and coenzyme Q10, for the same purpose.

A majority of these liver cleanses are not backed by adequate scientific research, and the people claiming their success are not healthcare professionals.

“Unfortunately, herbal products/supplements are not regulated by the FDA in the US, and have not been rigorously tested in clinical trials,” Cindy Sing Law, MD, a hepatologist at Northwell Lenox Hill Hospital. 

She explained that supplements labeled “natural” are not necessarily safe. 

“There have been an increasing number of products marketed as ‘liver cleanses,’ and they can be potentially harmful if they contain ingredients that can cause drug-induced liver injury,” Law said.  

Some of these “cleanses” may also interact negatively with other medications, Kristin Kirkpatrick, RD, a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic Department of Wellness and Preventive Medicine and president of KAK Nutrition Consulting.

Ultimately, what may be intended as a simple, holistic health venture could do more harm than good.

“The risk is dependent on the product and since there are so many variations of these products on the market, their risk will vary,” Kirkpatrick said. “Additionally, many ingredients found in some of these products could be purchased at your local grocery store and utilized more naturally in your dietary pattern. For example, adding turmeric to meals, or lemon to water.”

Here’s how to prioritize liver health in safe, sustainable ways, according to experts.

The Liver Naturally Cleanses Itself

This liver is one of the largest organs in the body. When it is functioning properly, the liver takes everything that is put into the body and converts nutrients it can use into substances, then it
gives cells those substances when they are needed.

The liver also:

  • Manages blood clotting
  • Makes bile to digest fat
  • Stores sugar for energy
  • Makes protein for blood plasma
  • Assists with digestion 

The liver also disposes of toxic substances that enter the body so they are not harmful to the body.

“One of the liver’s functions in the body is the metabolism of drugs and detoxification of substances in the blood; therefore, it does not require cleansing,” said Law.

Rather than focusing on liver cleanses, Kirkpatrick said people should focus on caring for the liver so it performs as it should.

“The liver (alongside the kidneys) does everything you need to filter and rid the body of toxins and needs no additional assistance, just better care taken of it,” she said.

Avoiding Liver Disease and Liver Failure

4.5 million U.S. adults have been diagnosed with liver disease, according to the American Liver Foundation. If left untreated, liver disease can lead to liver failure and liver cancer.

Some risk factors for liver disease include the following:

  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Tattoos or body piercings
  • Family history of liver disease

Cirrhosis is a long-term liver disease that involves scarring of the liver. This condition affects how the liver functions. Causes of cirrhosis include:

  • Hepatitis and other viruses
  • Long-term alcohol abuse
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)

Arjmand Mufti, MD, medical director of liver transplantation and living liver transplantation at UTSouthwestern Medical Center, noted that NAFLD is now called metabolic dysfunction-associated steatotic liver disease (MASLD).

“The prevalence of MASLD in adults is thought to be between 25%–30% in the general population and is the most common cause of chronic liver disease,” Mufti told.

In Law’s experience, excessive alcohol consumption is an incredibly common risk factor for liver disease. She noted that during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an increase in alcohol use worldwide.

“With increased alcohol consumption, we have seen an increase in the prevalence of alcohol-related liver disease (ALD) and hospitalizations/liver transplants for ALD,” she said. “The rates of hospitalizations for ALD rose in particular among women and people under the age of 45.”

How to Prioritize Liver Health

To best prioritize liver health, Mufti recommends patients make a few necessary lifestyle changes that positively impact overall well-being.

“These include reducing alcohol use to within safe limits and avoiding binge drinking of alcohol,” he said. “If patients are diabetic, we advocate for good diabetic control and close monitoring in pre-diabetic patients, weight loss if patients are overweight, and treating high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels.”

He also noted the importance of regular exercise for cardiovascular health and overall wellness.

Kirkpatrick’s book, Regenerative Health: Discover Your Metabolic Type and Renew Your Liver for Life, recommends the following tips for prioritizing liver health: 

  • Follow a dietary pattern high in nutrient density, such as the Mediterranean diet
  • Prioritize foods associated with reduced liver inflammation, such as cruciferous vegetables, fatty fish, nuts and seeds, and herbs and spices like turmeric
  • Limit ultra-processed foods
  • Limit foods high in added sugars
  • Limit carbohydrates stripped of fiber
  • Manage stress
  • Be physically active
  • Get adequate sleep
  • Drink lots of water

The American Liver Foundation suggests the following tips for selecting food while grocery shopping:

  • Choose raw vegetables and fruits that don’t have added salt, sugars, or sauces
  • Pick poultry and fish that have skin prepared in a healthy way
  • Lean toward fish with omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, trout, and herring     
  • Buy fat-free or low-fat dairy products
  • Avoid foods with hydrogenated vegetable oils, saturated fat, and trans fat
  • Limit added sugar intake
  • Select foods low in sodium


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