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Do You Need A Liver Cleanse?
Episode 3512th April 2023 • Fork U with Dr. Terry Simpson • Terry Simpson
00:00:00 00:07:14

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Do You Need A Liver Cleanse?

Fatty liver disease is the most common reason for liver transplantation. Fatty liver disease replaced alcoholic liver disease a decade ago.

The rise of obesity has contributed to fatty liver disease, and fat, like alcohol, is deadly to your liver.

So can you clean out your liver?  Simple answer - no. But that doesn't stop the world from making dubious claims.

History of Liver Scams

The most famous was Carter's Little Liver pills. They promised to increase the flow of bile in the liver. This would rid the body of toxins.

Even when it was marketed in 1868, it was known as a "patent" medicine. Thus a medicine without merit was sold by quacks.

In 1959, the name was changed to "Carter's Little Pills." The FDA, in 1951, filed suit that the pills had nothing to do with the liver.

The phrase "Someone has more (fill in the blank) than Carter has pills" comes from this product.

The Master Cleanser

Stanley Burroughs, a lumber salesman, invented the "master" liver cleanse. The formula was tea or lemonade with cayenne pepper and maple syrup. There was no clinical data this ever worked. In spite of the lack of evidence, it continues to be recycled in the pseudoscience world.

Burroughs first published the book in 1946, "The Master Cleanse," and re-released it in 1976 under the title "The Master Cleanser".

Burroughs was convicted of manslaughter in California and fined for practicing medicine without a license.

This "juice" or "liver cleanse" or liver detoxification program keeps coming around with different ingredients. Some of the latest include olive oil.

Gallbladder Flush

The gallbladder flush is the same formula.  People will defecate small round balls of fecal material. Then they are told that these represent gallbladder stones, but they are not. Thus, the flush is useless.

The Liver's Job

All the blood from the stomach and small bowel is filtered through the liver. Hence, the liver can be considered a filter.

Once the food you eat is broken down and digested by the gut, those nutrients go to the liver.  Then the liver determines if you need to use the nutrients, store the nutrients, or get rid of the nutrients.

The liver gets the first pass at the medicines you take.  Many medicines require the liver to process them to be effective. Those drugs are called "pro-drugs." Aspirin, for example, is a drug whose active ingredient is salicylic acid.

Liver and Alcohol

The liver can also take harmful substances and render them harmless.  In spite of the liver's ability to deactivate harmful products, a person can overcome the liver's ability to detoxify substances. The classic case is alcohol.

Once alcohol is ingested, the liver begins to change it into acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is both toxic to the liver and responsible for most hangovers. Acetaldehyde is metabolized into harmless products.

If a person consumes more alcohol than the liver can metabolize, they will become intoxicated. In addition, they will develop both acute fatty liver and chronic fatty liver. A fatty liver can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure.

Milk Thistle and The Liver

Since there are multiple complex metabolic pathways in the liver, there is no one agent that will fix the liver.

Supplements touted to help the liver include:

Milk Thistle.  The active ingredient is silymarin. Silymarin has been extensively studied in alcoholic liver disease, fatty liver disease, hepatitis, Tylenol poisoning, and mushroom poisoning. It works as an anti-oxidant and has shown promise, particularly when used early.

Do Not Party and Detoxify

There has not been a clinical study showing that one can overcome the sins of a party with any preventive agent. The best preventative against damage to the liver is to avoid the process.