Spring Cleaning: Liver Detox

With the increasing sunlight and (slightly) warmer temperatures of spring you may have noticed that your sleep, energy and even cravings have changed. In the spring season, more Qi or energy, floods through our liver system, naturally changing body functions.

In Chinese medicine, wood represents liver function: “Wood is forceful and determined as the wind, as supple as a spreading aspen stretching into a bright, cloudless sky.” Wood, or the liver system, has the power to instigate movement, to expand and grow rapidly. With the extra energy flooding the liver system, this season is a good time to re-balance and strengthen this important system.

The liver is also famous for it’s “filtering” functions; processing foods, hormones, medications etc. to keep vulnerable tissues from being exposed to potential toxins. The liver and gallbladder play important roles in digestion as well, particularly in elimination of waste. And this often becomes sluggish with the cold and slower pace of winter life.

Does MY liver need help?

Insomnia (especially difficulty sleeping between 1-3 am), acne, constipation/slower bowels, high cholesterol, gallstones, excess weight, slower thyroid, PMS (like breast tenderness and mood changes), changes in menstrual cycles, stress expressing itself in anger, headaches, shoulder tension – these are some of the typical symptoms I see when liver function is stressed.

HOW did my liver get this way?

Certain medications, processed foods, sugar, excess hormones (from the body, prescriptions and environmental sources), excess alcohol, all make the liver work extra hard. The liver uses antioxidants like glutathione, B vitamins, Vitamin C to process these substances so the byproducts can be eliminated safely. Therefore, excess intake of alcohol, Tylenol or cholesterol medication means more liver antioxidants are used up. When antioxidant levels become low, liver cells can get damaged/inflamed and liver function slows down.

Liver’s sidekick, the (mighty) gallbladder is also a crucial player. The liver makes about a liter (!) of bile per day from it’s filtering functions and the bile is stored in the gallbladder. The gallbladder contracts to release this bile into the intestines to help with fat digestion and to allow substances in the bile (like cholesterol) to leave the body (via the intestines). The absence of a gallbladder as well as chronic constipation can hinder this process.

How can I support my liver?

liver brussels sproutsThis, of course, depends on specifically which factors are most affecting your liver function. As you might have noticed from the description above, the liver is always “detoxing” for you, it’s often a matter of removing the obstacles in our lifestyle that may be slowing it down. Often after a long (and cold and dark) winter, excess sugar, dairy and caffeine have crept back into our daily routine. Reducing exposure to hormones from plastics or medications may also be an important factor.

There are many food options as well. Foods that stimulate bile production or secretion, like artichoke, burdock root and dandelion root are readily available. Cruciferous vegetables like brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli, cauliflower and radish sprouts contain a plant nutrient that helps to process hormones in the liver. Try including 1 cup of these vegetables as part of your daily spring menu.

Herbal supplements, like milk thistle can help heal damaged liver cells. While antioxidants like glutathione, CoQ10, B vitamins can be used to replenish natural antioxidant levels used up by some medications. I definitely suggest getting guidance with herbs and antioxidants as these will depend on your specific medical history.

Just as important is the effect of stress on the liver.

branch blossom apple tree and blue sky with sunIn Chinese medicine, the liver system monitors blood and energy flow, maintains evenness of emotions and flexibility (mental and physical). Therefore poor liver function means being more prone to anger, headaches, hormone issues like PMS, indigestion, and with time, even changes in vision. A tightness in the rib cage area as well as a sensation of something “stuck in the throat” also occurs. Activities that allow for deep breathing and gentle movement is best: tai chi, qi gong, yoga, hiking, biking, laughing, singing, dancing to music in the kitchen while cooking (No rules! Just let yourself move however you feel like moving in the moment.)

Many detox kits make it appear that there is only one way to do a liver detox or there are certain rules to follow. That is certainly not the case. For some, a spring detox is adding more cruciferous vegetables, using less plastic food containers and drinking less coffee. For another, it will be reducing sugar, considering a non-hormonal contraceptive, starting tai chi and INCLUDING a cup of coffee in the morning (to help with deep, relaxed breathing, releasing body tension and a small dose of coffee also stimulates bile). Someone else on cholesterol medication may consider adding more vegetable fiber and walking daily to ensure daily bowel movements while supplementing with CoQ10.

In nature, spring is the time of rebirth; and the human body is no exception. This is the best time to make sure old winter habits that we no longer need are cleared out to make room for sunlight, clarity and growth.

“When the Liver is healthy, judgement and decision making are sound, vision is clear, and action is resolute. Strengthening the Liver develops drive and adaptability, enhancing our capacity to cope with the vicissitudes of life.”

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