Detoxification is on the tip of everyone’s tongue this time of year—and for good cause: The holidays abound with parties, which for most means a glut of alcohol, processed foods, scant exercise and sweets. Come the new year, and the three most popular resolutions in the U.S.—eating better, exercising more, and losing weight—seem like a no-brainer, if not inescapable (our bodies have more wisdom than we give them credit).
Enter the widespread appeal of detoxes. Touting benefits that range from a slimmer waistline to improved digestion, detoxes, as WebMD plainly puts it, “promise to flush toxins out of your system.” And the organ most closely associated with the process? The liver—our body’s biggest internal organ (and gland, to be accurate).
Located on the right hand side of the belly and weighing in at roughly three pounds, the liver is as mighty as its size suggests.
“Evolution or God or whoever you choose to believe in wouldn’t leave you with a such a big organ if it wasn’t doing something important,” says gastroenterology and hepatology professor at Weill Cornell Medicine’s Center for Liver Disease and Transplantation in New York City, Dr. Robert S. Brown. And “those important tasks are plentiful,” Prevention confirms, “including helping in digestion and blood clotting, eliminating bacteria and viruses, building protein, and storing sugar and fat.”
But liver detoxes needn’t be as radical as current trends demand. As Reader’s Digest reports, “…your body has its own detoxification systems in place and is quite capable of purging toxins by itself.”
“The liver filters the blood coming from the intestines before passing it through the rest of the body,” Dr. Adrienne Youdim—an expert in weight loss, nutrition and preventive medicine—goes on to say. “The liver, kidneys, gastrointestinal system, lungs, and even the skin are all involved in detoxing and cleansing the body of unwanted waste or substances.”
Rather than a detox that might leave you hungry and exhausted, a sounder decision is to embark on dietary and lifestyle changes that can support your liver’s essential functions. Beyond the obvious—exercising regularly, quitting smoking, reducing stress and paying careful attention to your medications—here are 6 simple, savvy ways to bolster liver health—no extreme New Year’s resolution required:
1. Become a teetotaler (or cut back on alcohol consumption)
Liver disease and alcoholism are commonly thought of as bedfellows, and while it’s true that it isn’t only over-imbibing that can take a toll on your liver, alcohol does have an impact on your liver’s ability to function optimally. Alcohol “can damage liver cells and lead to the swelling and scarring that becomes cirrhosis, which can be deadly,” WebMD writes. According to guidelines published by the National Institutes of Health, women should have no more than one drink per day; men, two. You can also try drinking mocktails as an alternative.
2. Befriend the organic aisle
Just in case you needed another reason to go green: Studies from Nature report that liver function is compromised due to the consumption of chemically-sprayed crops. In other words, buy organic when possible—it’s well, well worth the extra money. (This is your health we’re talking about!)
3. Rethink what you stuff into your sandwiches
Processed meats—deli turkey, sausages, hot dogs, salami, bologna (to name just a few)—often contain nitrates, which, according to the NIH, tax the liver and its ability to operate as it should. A better bet for sandwiches—or the ballpark? Roasted, free-range, organic chicken; tuna; grilled Portobello and healthful, naturally low-fat cheeses like Swiss, mozzarella and Manchego. Or make some avo toast: As The Huffington Post says, “Adding more avocados to your diet can help your body produce a type of antioxidant called glutathione, which is needed for our livers to filter out harmful materials.”
4. Skip the salt
We all know the benefits of following a low-sodium diet—now add liver health to the list. Shape reports that “salt can contribute to fluid retention and further strain the liver.” Eating a pile of greens—or even a plate of eggs—without some sort of seasoning sounds like the epitome of bland to some; if you’re in that camp, consider enhancing your meals with herbs and spices like rosemary, turmeric and garlic.
5. Banish headaches naturally
Acetaminophen—a painkiller found in over-the-counter meds like Tylenol—is notorious for the havoc it can potentially wreak on your liver. Rather than routinely popping a pill every time you get an ache or pain, consider driving out your agonies naturally. Consider getting a massage, or drink chamomile tea or kava tea, both of which can be relaxing and calming to a tense nervous system. You can also cut back on caffeine—and increase your consumption of water—both of which might solve one of the most common culprits of that ache in your brain: Dehydration.
6. Make a beeline for the beets
Eating salads brimming with colorful organic veggies is one of the most delectable ways to support liver health and enhance your overall well-being—especially if the base of your salad is made up of dark leafy greens and the top of it includes shaved, cubed or whole beets. Rich in antioxidants and pectin—a fiber that may aid in digestion and the elimination of toxins—beets not only bolster stamina and organically encourage optimal blood pressure levels, they may also help cleanse your liver. Interested in making the most of their naturally sweet flavor? Try this recipe for a Berry Beet Smoothie Bowl.