Three herbs for liver cleansing

The long days of summer often mean enjoying more social activities, and with it increased consumption of the foods and beverages that may stray into the “bad” category.

Sometimes there’s often not a healthy choice in sight. It’s not uncommon to find yourself missing your alcohol free days, while having fun and meeting the summer’s social agenda.

Support your liver to manage these good times, and boost your energy, make your eyes sparkle and skin glow while you’re at it.

Although there maybe no sign of liver dysfunction and scant likelihood of negative liver function test results (maybe a slightly elevated GGT if you’re really hammering the bubbles), there’s still a good chance that your liver is functioning at a sub optimal level. After all, everyone’s exposed to toxins in some form or another. Whether in the air, water, soil and food that we consume, or the normal toxins generated from healthy physiological function, the liver is the key detoxification processing organ for them all.

If you experience symptoms such as headaches, poor skin, mood swings (particularly lots of anger), depression or PMS, it may be a good idea to support your liver with hydration, foods, nutrients and herbs. Seek out a good naturopath in your area to help you.

Your lovely liver

The liver is a grand organ. It performs over 500 different functions in the body and is the major organ of detoxification. Even a minor impairment of liver function can have profound effect, due to its importance in numerous important metabolic processes (such as detoxifying alcohol).

To detoxify a toxin the liver takes it through a two-step process. Firstly a group of enzymes, referred to as the p450 enzyme group, break the toxin into parts. Toxins broken down in this phase (not suprisingly called “Phase One Detoxification”) include alcohol, caffeine, insecticides, preservatives, over the counter and prescription drugs, hormones and aracidonic acid (the fat from animal products). The products of these broken down toxins can be more damaging than the original toxins, so it’s important that the second phase (yes, called “Phase Two Detoxification”) is keeping up. The liver’s second detoxification phase adds a compound to the byproduct of phase one, to render it harmless and excretable from the body.

It’s very important that both phases of the detoxification process are balanced within the liver. Some toxins, like those in alcohol and cigarettes, can increase the activity of the Phase One enzymes. This results in too many broken down toxins for the Phase Two detoxification systems to deal with efficiently. This can result in damage to the liver, and also feeling pretty yucky because of the build up in the whole system. If Phase One enzymes are under functioning there can be potential damage from the original toxin. If Phase Two is not optimal, then there can be damage from the broken down toxin.

Disordered detoxification may increase the deposit of metabolic toxins into the body cells, increase free radical production (thus more damage) and reduce energy production.

There are many excellent approaches to take to support the liver. Many foods contain proteins, vitamins, fatty acids and compound that are required by the detoxification pathways.

Foods to support your liver

Everything you digest moves through the liver. Some foods contain compounds that support and enhance the livers function. Here are some to include regularly in your diet.

  • legumes
  • eggs
  • garlic
  • onions
  • a variety of raw seeds and nuts
  • sardines
  • yoghurt
  • fish
  • avocados
  • cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, kale etc)
  • kelp and other seaweeds
  • dark leafy greens
  • wheat germ
  • wholegrains

Top Three Herbs for your Liver

Herbal medicine can affect the detoxification pathways of the liver positively. Here are three favourites, that are easy to come by.

St Mary’s thistle

This seed is also known as milk thistle, because the white pigmentation in its leaves look as though someone spilt milk over them. Other folk lore suggests that a drop of Mother Mary’s milk touched this plant and imbued it with healing powers. St Mary’s thistle has been used for over 2000 years throughout the Mediterranean, for ailments of the liver and gall bladder and also for some lung disorders and cancers.

The whole plant can be eaten, but it’s the seed that is the part used for effecting the liver. The active constituents have been identified as a group of compounds called silymarin. There are also oils, flavonoids and plant sterols that contribute to its activity. Herbalists and Naturopaths recognise that all the constituents in a plant work synergistically, influencing each other to create an effect, rather than relying on a single constituent alone. Due to the variation in the quality of herbs however, it is advisable to use St Mary’s thistle that has been standardised. Speak to your local herbalist or naturopath to get the best quality herb available.

St Mary’s thistle is wonderful for liver detoxification because it’s balancing for both phases of detoxification. It helps the liver to deal with fats better, reducing the inflammatory action of “bad” fats. It also acts as an antioxidant to protect the liver from toxic harm, and is suggested to be more powerful in it’s antioxidant action than many nutrients. It provides glutathione, which is the major detoxifying protein in the body. St Mary’s thistle seed also helps to restore the liver, which of course is one of the organs that can regenerate itself easily.

Turmeric root

Whilst trending through out social media for the last few years, turmeric has been used in cooking for centuries throughout Asia, China and India, as both a flavouring and colouring agent. It’s rich yellow hue, which gives colours curry, is due to the pigment curcumin. Curcumin is the active consituent in Turmeric that has received the most research. Other important constituents in turmeric include essential oils, vitamins and minerals.

It has many healing effects throughout the body, including acting as an antiinflammatory and anti cancer agent, an immune booster and a stimulator of wound healing. As a liver supporter, it enhances the second phase of detoxification because it supports internally produced antioxidants, like glutathione. This antioxidant action has been shown to be ten times more potent than the action of vitamin C.


Dand-e-lion grows throughout the world. Often ‘like magic’ appearing where ever it is needed. It’s bright yellow flower has surely been reflected under many chins the world wide, and it’s seedy puff ball the recipient of many a child’s wishes.

The leaves can be used as bitter green in salads, but it’s the root that acts upon the liver. Traditionally it’s understood to clear or decongest the liver, which translates into modern parlance as increasing bile flow and enhancing digestion. There is little clinical trail evidence to support the medicinal actions of this weed, so much of its use relies on traditional and studies undertaken in test-tubes and animals.

The quality of the dandelion root varies enormously and is entirely dependant on the constituents of the soil it is grown in. When the root is roasted it’s been suggested that it’s beneficial liver effects are diminished. However, if drunk instead of coffee, the mere act of being a substitute is beneficial!

Look after your liver, and reap the rewards.


This is one element of Sparkle Detox Course – a step-by-step, effective and safe, body tissue cleansing process designed by Naturopath Sally Mathrick. If you haven’t already, join Sparkle Detox. You’ll have life-time access to wholistic, doable, ‘delicious-with-benefits’ practices to keep your precious body-mind healthy, fresh and vital. JOIN NOW

Copyright Sally Mathrick – please cite if using this information
Written Oct 2009 and originally published in Wellbeing Australia issue #125