The liver functions to process and eliminate metabolic wastes. It produces numerous substances that are essential to good health. It also metabolizes many medications and purifies the body from environmental toxins. Practitioners of alternative medicine believe that processes called the “liver cleanse” and “liver flush” or “liver-gallbladder flush” can help maintain liver and gall bladder health; however, dangers are inherent to both processes. The liver cleanse is different from the liver-gallbladder flush.
The liver cleanse is a process that involves drinking a mixture containing 2 chopped lemons or grapefruit blended with 2 and 1/2 cups of pure water and 2 tbsp. of virgin olive oil. This is done 3 times per week for 4 weeks, then quarterly. The liver-gallbladder flush is a more advanced and intensive process. It involves the use of 4 tbsp. Epsom salts, 1/2 cup of olive oil, and 2/3 to 3/4 cup of freshly squeezed pink grapefruit or lemon juice. Various combinations of these ingredients are taken at intervals over a 24 hour period. Liver cleanse and liver-gallbladder flush should not be done without medical supervision.
The danger of the liver cleanse and flush comes from the use of olive oil. The risk is obstruction. The 2 tbsp. of olive oil used for the liver cleanse and 1/2 cup of olive oil used for the liver flush are a powerful stimulus for contraction of the gall bladder. If stones are already present and are sufficiently large or calcified, obstruction can occur. Nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain are symptoms of obstruction. If this scenario occurs, surgery is a likely outcome.
Deborah Graefer, L.Ac. M.T.O.M. who is a Licensed Acupuncturist and has a Masters degree in Traditional Oriental Medicine, recommends that people who are known to have stones should not attempt the gallbladder or liver flush because of the risk of obstruction. The presence of abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting are absolute contraindications for liver cleanse and liver-gallbladder flush.
Epsom salt is magnesium sulfate or MgSO4. It is used in the liver flush because it is a powerful laxative, and is believed to soften gallstones. If obstruction occurs, nausea and vomiting coupled with frequent soft or loose stools can cause dehydration. Electrolyte and acid base imbalance may follow. Electrolyte imbalance such as low potassium or hypokalemia can cause serious cardiac arrhythmia. The presence of frequent loose or bloody stools are contraindications for the liver cleanse and liver-gallbladder flush.
Adverse Drug Interaction
Grapefruit juice can cause increases in plasma concentrations of calcium channel blockers. Calcium channel blockers are used to treat high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and arrhythmia. Examples of calcium channel blockers are nifedipine or Procardia or Norvasc or Adalat, verapamil or Calan, diltiazem or Cardiazem and others. The effect is a severely low blood pressure that can cause loss of consciousness.
- Rev. Dr. Waltz, ND, DD, CNC: The Herbal Encyclopedia; 2010
- TruthQuest 2: Liver-Gallbladder Flush; 2010
- Dr. Hulda Clark: Dr. Clark’s Liver Flush; 2006
- Deborah Graefer, L.Ac. M.T.O.M: Gallbladder and Liver Flush; 2007
- Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database 10th ed.; J. M. Jellin, and P. J. Gregory, (et al., eds); 2008