Spring Cleaning – Love your Liver (Part 1)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf there is one organ that I am most fascinated by in the body it is the liver. Not only is the liver the second largest organ after the skin, it has an incredible ability to stay alive and to regenerate. The liver has the ability to regenerate (grow back even after most of it has been destroyed). To say the least it is one resilient organ.

The liver is essential for burning fat and detoxifying everything from the pesticides you ingest to the second hand smoke you inhaled on the weekend. Many people don’t realise that the health of the liver hugely influences how fast or slow their metabolism will be. Cleaning up your liver will promote better balance of hormones as another one of it’s functions is to break down hormones (much of the hormone imbalance that women suffer is because our livers are so overburdened and can’t break down hormones it no longer requires). The liver is essentially the body’s filter for getting rid of anything the body doesn’t need anymore. But like any clogged filter, the liver can’t rid of waste or toxins if it is overburdened or just plain toxic. When the liver is stressed it stores the toxins it can’t break down or the toxins remain and accumulate in the body. You can see why our lifestyles and diets are a breeding ground for everything from hormonal imbalances to cancer.

What Damages Your Liver?

Unfortunately, with our modern lifestyles we are bombarded with harmful toxins. Some of the main toxins that stress or kill liver cells are: alcohol, cigarette smoke, pharmaceuticals, food additives, pesticides, over the counter medications, cosmetics (shampoo to makeup) and household repair and cleaning products.

Signs of a Burdened Liver

  • Tired/ Fatigue
  • Dark circles under eyes
  • Dark urine (I used to get this after I painted a room or rooms in the house)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting, Diarrhea
  • Allergies, Food Intolerances
  • Weight gain
  • Skin eruptions (acne, rashes, rosacea, jaundice etc). The skin is your secondary source of elimination. When the liver is unable to filter the toxins, they will come out in the skin. So if you have skin problems you likely have a liver that isn’t functioning at optimum level.
  • Anxiety and Depression
  • Low libido
  • Increased PMS
  • Blood sugar irregularity
  • Easily bruising
  • Bad breath

Isn’t Detoxing just the Latest Fad for Hipsters and Yuppies?

There is a lot of conflicting information on this topic right now. Some mainstream health practitioners say that any kind of detox is simply not necessary because the liver, colon, kidneys, gall bladder and other organs are designed to detoxify on their own. This is completely true. However, our toxic and modern lifestyle bombards our bodies with more toxins, chemicals and unnatural substances than our ancestors had ever encountered in an entire lifetime.  Combine that with our high fat, high sugar Standard American Diet and you can see how our livers and every other organ never gets a break. To say that our ancestors never detoxed is simply not true. While I am pretty certain my great grandmother didn’t drink lemon water in the morning and walk around saying she was on a ‘cleanse’, many of our ancestors did detox without realising it.

In the past, most people were forced to ‘fast’ as they often went through periods of mild to severe starvation when food shortages were low due to dwindling food supplies in the late winter and early spring. People also fasted for religious reasons whether that be a weekly or monthly fast or if it was related to a specific time of year or spiritual event. Many cultures encouraged fasting before a right of passage, important celebrations or holy days. The wisdom behind these religious practices made perfect sense. They believed the body and mind would be clearer and more open to communion with their Higher Power when they fasted. This makes perfect sense to anyone who has ever fasted and toughed it out past the initial sick and fatigued phase. The brain fog that lifts and that is replaced with a stable mood and clear mind during a fast can even be euphoric for some.

Intelligent Design

Even us modern Westerners fast without realising it every time we are sick. Whether we are eating nothing at all or only a little–our body is taking a break from digestion. Ever wonder why you are so tired after a big meal? Because digestion is one of the bodily functions that uses the most energy.  It makes perfect sense that when the body is sick our appetite shuts down. The body has two purposes when it does this. The first is to cleanse and the second is not to waste its energy on digestion and to spend its energy healing. Talk about divine intelligence.

How Should I Fast?

While I think spring or fall detoxes are great I do think it is an unfortunate misunderstanding when people think that one liver cleanse or one colon cleanse will clean up years of abuse. A cleanse will certainly help get things out and moving, but it is not a quick-fix miracle cure. It will cut cravings or clear up skin, but what you eat after the cleanse is just as important. Many people report feeling great after a cleanse, but it you return to eating pizza and drinking soft drinks on a daily basis your cleanse will have little to no long term effect. So don’t beat yourself up if you feel like you just can’t commit to a cleanse. The best kind of cleanse is the one in which you eat clean, healthy, wholesome food on a daily basis. If you think your liver is really toxic it often takes between 8-10 cleanses to truly bring it back to health.  This is why many health enthusiasts do cleanses several times a year (usually one for each season–except winter).

Who Should Avoid Doing a Cleanse?

Spring Cleaning - Love Your Liver
Spring Cleaning – Love Your Liver

A cleanse is not for everyone. I would not suggest doing what is known as the Master Cleanse or the various variations out there in which you are not eating at all and only drinking water and lemon for three days. This can be quite extreme for many of us who are so used to eating on a regular basis and who might be quite toxic. A master cleanse can cause some pretty severe detox symptoms like migraines, skin eruptions and nausea.

The liver cleanse that I describe below is much more gentle and still provides you with the nutrients that your require to help your liver and colon remove the toxins from the body. Do not do a cleanse or consult a Naturopathic Doctor first if you are suffering from an acute illness like an infection, have adrenal fatigue or insufficiency, have cancer, tumors in the liver or if you are pregnant or breast feeding (because toxins are excreted and passed to the fetus and into breast milk).

What to Expect?

Even a gentle cleanse will likely cause some side-effects. It is not uncommon to experience cold and flu like symptoms. This is a perfectly normal (but nasty) part of the toxins leaving your body.  The most common symptoms are:

  • Headaches – Common for a first time cleanse. Be sure to drink lots of water to flush out the toxins. Apply an ice pack to a headache. Get a massage.
  • Skin Eruptions – Acne, boils – Continue drinking water and take a hot Epsom salt bath for at least 20 minutes.
  • Frequent Urination
  • Bowel Disturbances – Frequent and/or lose bowel movements
  • Flatulence – The body is trying to get rid of toxins in any way it can
  • Bloating – This is very common during the first several days. I was once so bloated during a cleanse that someone asked me if I was pregnant!
  • Weakness/Lethargy – Rest up, be gentle with yourself
  • Bad Breath – Coated Tongue – A healthy tongue is pink with no cracks. You might be amazed and disgusted at how much gunk you will have on your tongue in the mornings. You can scrape your tongue with a tongue scraper that you can buy at the pharmacy.
  • Intense Cravings – Distract yourself, go for a short walk, do some yoga, drink lots of water.

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