Does it feel like your liver needs a break? In this case, you might consider doing an olive oil cleanse. Perhaps you're also thinking about adding Epsom salt to make it more effective. While it's true that some foods promote liver health, detox programs and cleanses are mostly hype, however.
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What Does Your Liver Do?
Liver cleanses have emerged as a safe, natural way to flush out toxins. Proponents say that detoxifying and cleansing this vital organ can lead to better digestion, increased energy and weight loss. Some even claim that regular cleanses may protect against cancer and add years to your life. Unfortunately, there is little evidence to support their use.
The "science" behind liver cleanses is pretty simple. This organ works 24/7, performing over 500 vital functions. It breaks down dietary nutrients, produces bile and cholesterol, converts glucose into glycogen and removes toxins from the bloodstream. It also processes alcohol, drugs and harmful substances.
Your liver stores important vitamins and minerals. On top of that, it produces enzymes and proteins, eliminates waste products and supports immune function. Problems arise when this organ stops working the way it should. Certain factors, such as smoking, drinking and exposure to chemicals, can damage your liver — and your overall health.
In fact, liver disease is responsible for more than two million deaths each year, according to a January 2019 report published in the Journal of Hepatology. About 3.5 percent of all deaths worldwide are due to cirrhosis and liver cancer, two of the most common hepatic disorders.
Liver health depends largely on your lifestyle. Heavy drinking, for example, is a major risk factor for liver disease, warns the Mayo Clinic. A diet rich in sugar and fructose can lead to hepatic fat accumulation, or nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, according to a review featured in the BMJ Open Heart in October 2017.
Cleanses and detox diets are touted as methods that improve liver function. These practices, though, are controversial and lack scientific proof. Sometimes, they can do more harm than good.
Epsom salt, for example, is commonly used for liver detox, constipation, joint pain and muscle aches. What many people don't know is that it carries potential side effects ranging from low blood pressure and abnormal heartbeat to dizziness, as the Mayo Clinic notes.
Read more: Epsom Salts and Weight Loss
Is Liver Detox Necessary?
The olive oil and Epsom salt liver cleanse and other similar practices claim to regenerate this vital organ. They're promoted as a natural way to maintain good liver health and flush out toxins. Researchers, though, have a different opinion regarding their safety and effectiveness.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, detox and cleansing programs lack scientific support. These practices are unlikely to rid your body of toxins or boost your health and well-being. Furthermore, detox programs that involve the use of laxatives, such as Epsom salts, may affect your electrolyte balance and cause dehydration.
The experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine state that some herbs and food ingredients may protect the liver. However, most studies have been conducted on animals, so it's hard to say how the results apply to humans. Additionally, liver cleanses won't counteract the damage caused by heavy drinking or binge eating.
Read more: The Top 10 Cleansing Foods
In fact, your liver has the ability to regenerate itself, as noted in a July 2017 review published in Frontiers for Young Minds. The cells in this organ can change and divide until it starts working properly again — unless you have severe liver damage. In this case, your only option is to get a liver transplant.
All in all, liver detox isn't necessary. There are safer ways to eliminate toxins and keep this organ functioning optimally.
Simple things, such as limiting alcohol, losing a few pounds and kicking your sugar habit, can make all the difference, says Johns Hopkins Medicine. For example, a balanced diet combined with regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
Why an Olive Oil Cleanse?
Alternative health practitioners often recommend olive oil for liver detox and gallbladder cleanses. Some say that mixing it with Epsom salt and other natural ingredients, like grapefruit or lemon juice, enhances its benefits. This combo is supposed to detoxify your liver and help you eliminate gallstones. Most recipes require the following ingredients:
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 2 to 3 cups of pure water
- 2 lemons or grapefruits, chopped or squeezed
- 4 tablespoons of Epsom salt
You will also find recipes that call for up to half a cup of olive oil. Some also recommend adding turmeric or apple juice to the mix. Others involve the use of enemas and colon cleansing formulas.
There are no set rules on how and when to drink this mixture. Anecdotal evidence says that it's best to consume it on an empty stomach or every few hours throughout the day. Some sources recommended fasting on the days when you do the cleanse.
What Does the Science Say?
Unfortunately, none of the above ingredients can "detoxify" the liver. Take extra virgin olive oil, for example.
This Mediterranean diet staple is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids that support liver health, according to a January 2018 review published in Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders.
As the scientists note, olive oil may help prevent and alleviate liver damage through several mechanisms. It may increase the cellular antioxidant response, decrease inflammation, reduce oxidative stress and regulate different signaling pathways that influence liver function. However, they say nothing about liver cleanses.
Another research paper, which appeared in the journal Expert Review of Gastroenterology & Hepatology in August 2019, suggests that olive oil, when used as part of a Mediterranean-style diet, may slow the progression of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and protect against metabolic disorders. This dietary pattern emphasizes the consumption of whole foods, especially fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fish and seafood.
Furthermore, ingesting 20 grams of olive oil (about 1 1/3 tablespoons) per day for three months may reduce the severity of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and decrease body fat mass, according to a clinical trial published in the journal Nutrition in January 2019.
Subjects consumed olive oil as part of a low-calorie diet and exercised for 30 to 40 minutes per day. Their daily meals included healthy foods, such as dairy and low-fat fats. The study was small, though, so further research is needed to confirm its results.
These findings indicate that olive oil may help improve liver function and protect against hepatic disorders. However, most studies involved the consumption of olive oil as part of a healthy diet plan. Additionally, they used small amounts of this ingredient, not half a cup.
Is It Safe?
Extra virgin olive oil is generally safe and unlikely to cause adverse effects. Be aware of its high-calorie content, though. A single tablespoon boasts 120 calories. Despite its potential health benefits, olive oil may lead to weight gain when consumed in excess.
If your olive oil cleanse includes Epsom salt, you may experience side effects. As mentioned earlier, Epsom salt, or magnesium sulfate, is commonly used as a natural laxative. It may cause diarrhea, sleepiness, irregular heartbeat, dizziness and other side effects, according to the Mayo Clinic. This product may not be safe for those with colitis, perforated bowel, kidney disease or diabetes. High doses can be fatal.
Epsom salt stimulates bowel movements. Its effects kick in within 30 minutes to six hours after consumption. However, pooping more often doesn't mean you'll get rid of toxins.
Remember, there are better ways to maintain liver health. Limit or eliminate junk food and sugary treats from your diet, avoid potentially dangerous chemicals and stay hydrated.
Avoid unnecessary supplements and medications. If you have overweight or obesity, get active and reduce your calorie intake to reach a healthy weight. These lifestyle changes will help preserve liver function so that you can feel your best.
Is This an Emergency?
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Liver: Anatomy and Functions"
- Journal of Hepatology: "Burden of Liver Diseases in the World"
- Mayo Clinic: "Liver Disease"
- BMJ Open Heart: "Added Fructose as a Principal Driver of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: A Public Health Crisis"
- Mayo Clinic: "Magnesium Sulfate (Oral Route, Topical Application Route, Route Not Applicable)"
- NCCIH: "Detoxes and Cleanses"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Detoxing Your Liver: Fact Versus Fiction"
- Frontiers for Young Minds: "Why Is the Liver So Amazing?"
- Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders: "Liver Protective Effects of Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Interaction Between Its Chemical Composition and the Cell-Signaling Pathways Involved in Protection"
- Journal Expert Review of Gastroenterology & Hepatology: "Olive Oil Antioxidants and Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease"
- USDA: "Extra Virgin Olive Oil"
- Nutrition: "Olive Oil Lessened Fatty Liver Severity Independent of Cardiometabolic Correction in Patients With Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: A Randomized Clinical Trial"
- University of Michigan Health System: "Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom Salt)"