Whether you’re trying to drop unwanted pounds or flush out unwelcome toxins, you need a healthy liver to make it happen. Here’s how to keep this overachieving organ in optimal shape.
NOTE: For an updated version of this article, see “Fast Track Liver Detox.”
After more than two decades working as a nutritionist specializing in weight loss and detoxification, I am still completely in awe of the liver. As far as I’m concerned, this amazing organ, nestled away in the right side of the abdomen, has more than earned its name, which derives from an Old English word for “life.”
Your liver is your largest internal organ, and it’s responsible for an astonishing variety of life-sustaining and health-promoting tasks — including those that make healthy weight loss and weight management possible. Integral to countless metabolic processes, the liver supports the digestive system, controls blood sugar and regulates fat storage. It stores and mobilizes energy, and produces more proteins than any other organ in the body. It also regulates your blood flow and, if you’re a woman, keeps your menstrual cycles running smoothly.
One of your liver’s most important functions, though — and the one most crucial to your weight loss — is chemically breaking down everything that enters your body, from the healthiest bite of organic food to the poisonous pesticides that linger on your salad; from the purest filtered water to a glass of wine or a cup of coffee; from your daily vitamin and mineral supplements to your doctor-prescribed blood-pressure medication.
It’s your liver’s job to distinguish between the nutrients you need to absorb and the dangerous or unnecessary substances that must be filtered out of your bloodstream. But when the liver is clogged and overwhelmed with toxins, it can’t do a very effective job of processing nutrients and fats. So if you’re concerned with managing your weight, remember this important point: The more toxic your body becomes, the more difficulty you’ll have losing weight and keeping it off.
Ironically, many of the low-carb diets that people adopt to lose excess weight only make matters worse. By encouraging us to eat a lot of meat (much of which is laden with toxins), and discouraging us from eating enough fiber-rich, water-dense fruits and vegetables, such diets can slow elimination. By loading us up with so many proteins that our stomachs can’t produce enough acid to digest them all, such diets can inhibit proper digestion, overloading our liver and intestines with a stream of nasty, internally produced poisons such as indican, ammonia, cadaverine and histide.
Fortunately, the liver, in its infinite wisdom, produces bile, a crucial substance for detoxifying our bodies. Bile lubricates our intestines and works with fiber to prevent constipation. Bile is also where the liver dumps all the drugs, heavy metals, xenoestrogens, excess sex hormones from the Pill and hormone replacement therapy, medications, pesticides, industrial chemicals, and other toxins, so they can eventually be eliminated from the body.
One of bile’s other main duties is to help our bodies break down the fats we need and to assimilate fat-soluble vitamins. Without bile, we couldn’t convert beta-carotene into vitamin A, nor could we use calcium. But when our bile becomes overly congested with the toxins it’s trying to filter out, it simply can’t function properly. It becomes thick, viscous and highly inefficient in breaking down fats. The result: You are more likely to gain weight and to have greater difficulty losing it.
Cleansing the liver helps it produce better, more efficient bile. That helps your body flush toxins and break down fat more effectively. It also makes more energy-giving nutrients available to your body and reduces strain on your digestive and immune systems. Your elimination improves, and your colon is relieved of unnecessary burdens. The net effect: You look and feel better, and it becomes far easier for you to achieve and maintain your ideal weight.
The Fast Track: A Three-Stage Process
Ready to give your liver a healthy boost — and give your entire system a thorough spring-cleaning? I developed a Fast Track Detox program for just that purpose. It is a proven, highly effective detox and weight-loss system that offers a simple, safe and effective way to drop excess pounds, to clear out toxic gunk and to improve your health and vitality.
Described in detail in my book, The Fast Track One-Day Detox Diet (Morgan Road Books, 2005), this program is, in reality, less a diet than a multipart program for healthy living. It has been carefully tested in a clinical setting.
Although the fasting part of the detox plan is just a single day (making it very safe), the complete process calls for both a seven-day preparation and a three-day follow-up phase designed to properly prepare your system for the liver-cleansing juice fast and then help extend and compound your healthy results.
This three-part detox process can dramatically improve the state of your liver and colon and help clear tissue throughout your body — all while eliminating bloating, improving your energy and assisting you in dropping unwanted weight. It can also help you appreciate the advantages of improved nutrition and encourage you to adjust your normal diet for the better.
Best of all, unlike water fasting and long-term juice fasting, this program is safe and gentle enough for you to employ any time you are feeling loaded down, sluggish and needing more vitality. I personally do Fast Track Detox fasts three or four times a year, usually around the fall and spring equinoxes, and whenever I feel myself to be on overload — physically, mentally or spiritually.
The Fast Track Detox program is simple to work into your normal life. Here’s how: You spend a full week on the Seven-Day Prequel, eating the Liver-Loving Foods that your body’s major detox organ so desperately needs. You’ll also load up on Colon-Caring Foods to help your colon purge the toxins and waste from your body. Next, you’ll spend one day following a special juice fast designed to flush impurities and stored wastes from your system. Then, after the fast is over, you’ll seal in the results with a Three-Day Sequel that includes additional liver and colon support along with special natural-food sources of probiotics — fermented foods that support the friendly bacteria your system needs to synthesize vitamins and promote immune function.
Many people experience significant and immediate weight loss on this program, but the net benefits for energy and long-term health are every bit as dramatic. So, whether you are looking to slim down or just lighten your toxic load, give the Fast Track Detox a try. You’ll be amazed at what your liver can accomplish with just a little help.
Fasting releases toxins that were previously lodged in your fat cells and shuttles them into your bloodstream for filtration and transport through your body’s elimination channels. But without prior liver and colon support to help these toxins clear your system, the poisons may simply get relocated within the body, settling into any number of sensitive organs and making you feel tired, anxious, headachy and more fatigued than when you started. So if you want to avoid feeling unnecessarily lousy, and if you want to maximize weight loss, follow this simple, six-step program for seven days before you embark on the one-day, liver-flushing juice fast:
1. Each day, for seven days, choose at least one serving from each group of the following Liver-Loving Foods:
- Crucifers, such as cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, broccoli sprouts
- Green leafy vegetables and herbs, like parsley, kale, watercress, chard, cilantro, beet greens, escarole, dandelion greens and mustard greens
- Citrus, like oranges, lemons and limes (avoid grapefruit and grapefruit juice, which contain a compound called naringen that can interfere with the liver-cleansing process)
- Sulfur-rich foods, like garlic, onions, eggs and daikon radish
- Liver healers, such as artichoke, asparagus, beets, celery, dandelion-root tea, whey and nutritional yeast flakes
2. Each day, choose at least two of the following Colon-Caring foods: powdered psyllium husks, milled or ground flaxseeds, carrots, apple, pear or berries.
3. Each day, drink half your body weight in ounces of filtered or purified water.
4. Each day, make sure you have at least two servings (the size of the palm of your hand) of protein in the form of lean beef, lamb, skinless chicken, turkey or fish, or, if you’re a vegan or vegetarian, at least 2 tablespoons a day of a high-quality blue-green algae or a spirulina source (available in natural-foods and health stores).
5. Each day, make sure you have 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil in the form of olive oil, flaxseed oil or a “woman’s oil” (a flaxseed oil-black-currant oil blend).
(For specific serving sizes and more detailed guidance on choosing Liver-Loving Foods, see The Fast Track Detox Diet.)
6. Avoid the following “detox detractors”:
- Excess dietary fats, especially trans fats
- Any form of sugar, including honey and maple syrup
- Artificial sweeteners
- Refined carbohydrates, including white rice and products made from white flour
- Gluten, found in wheat, rye, barley and all their related products, such as packaged cereals, macaroni and cheese, pizza dough, pasta, tortillas, pancake/waffle mixes and cookies, as well as in many “low-carb” products, vegetable proteins, some soy sauces and distilled vinegars
- Soy protein isolates, found in many protein energy bars and processed soy foods
- Alcohol, over-the-counter drugs and caffeine
One-Day Detox Juice Fast
While I do not advocate water fasts, or even long-term juice fasts, decades of professional clinical experience and research have convinced me that healthy, short-term juice fasting — the kind supported by adequate nutritional preparation for the liver and sufficient fiber for the colon — is probably the best-kept secret around for good health, long-term weight loss and an overall feeling of well-being.
By reducing the amount of work your digestive system has to do, you free up a great deal of energy for healing and regeneration. And while you will be limiting your caloric intake for one day, it is not an extended enough period to suppress your metabolism or set off a starvation response. In fact, every ingredient of the One-Day Detox Diet has been specially chosen to stave off hunger; balance your blood sugar; rev up your metabolism; and keep you feeling fit, energized and trim throughout your fasting day.
Here’s the basic protocol you should follow for your One-Day Juice Detox, and some idea of what you might experience during the detox process (keep in mind that the effects and results will vary from person to person).
Before you conduct your one-day fast, make sure you have completed the Seven-Day Prequel. Then, follow this four-step program:
Prepare the Miracle Juice (for complete recipe and preparation instructions, see The Fast Track Detox Diet):
- Cranberry Water — unsweetened cranberry juice or unsweetened cranberry juice concentrate diluted with filtered water (be sure to use 100 percent pure, unsweetened cranberry juice that has no sugar, corn syrup or other juices added)
- Ground ginger
- Freshly squeezed orange juice
- Freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Stevia (a sweet-tasting herb that is widely available at natural-food stores) to taste
1. Bring Cranberry Water to a light boil; reduce the heat to low.
2. Place cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg into a tea ball; add to the Cranberry Water. (For a tangier juice, add the spices directly to the liquid.)
3. Simmer 15 to 20 minutes; cool to room temperature.
4. Stir in the orange and lemon juices. Add stevia at this time, if desired.
Alternate drinking 1 cup (8 ounces) of filtered water and 1 cup (8 ounces) of Miracle Juice during the day. Drink at least 72 ounces of filtered water throughout the day, in addition to the Miracle Juice. Make sure you drink at least a cup of liquid — either the Miracle Juice or water — every hour. Begin the protocol when you wake up in the morning. You don’t have to begin at a specific time, but be sure to have all eight glasses of Miracle Juice in addition to the 72 ounces of water by day’s end.
Upon rising and at the end of the day, take one serving of a colon-caring supplement, chosen from among the following:
- Powdered psyllium husks (1 to 2 teaspoons mixed in 8 ounces of water or Miracle Juice)
- Ground or milled flaxseeds (2 to 3 tablespoons mixed in 10 to 12 ounces of water or 8 ounces Miracle Juice)
Engage in only light exercise — either a 20-minute walk or 10 minutes on a rebounder or elliptical machine.
The Three-Day Sequel
Fasting without follow-up support means that toxins released into your bloodstream during the fast may remain in your system, making you feel tired, anxious, headachy and fatigued. Skipping the Three-Day Sequel also sets you up to regain lost weight. So support your body’s natural detox process and seal in the results of your One-Day Juice Fast by following these simple steps:
1. Each day, choose at least one of the following probiotic food sources to restore “friendly bacteria”:
- Sauerkraut (1/2 cup). You can either make your own or buy an organic, raw variety. Most store-bought sauerkraut is processed with heat, which kills the naturally occurring enzymes and microflora, so check the label carefully.
- Yogurt. Nonfat, low-fat or whole-milk yogurt are all fine, but look for plain yogurt whose label reads “live, active cultures.”
2. Before each meal, take one or more tablets of hydrochloric acid in a formula that contains at least 500 to 540 milligrams of betaine hydrochloride with at least 100 to 150 milligrams of pepsin, and at least 50 milligrams of ox bile extract (such formulas are widely available at most health and nutrition stores and at many natural groceries).
3. Follow steps 1 through 6 of the Seven-Day Prequel.
Where to Go From Here
Once you’ve completed the Fast Track Detox as outlined above, I suggest that you ease back into normal eating by choosing nutritious, low-fat cooked foods that are easy to digest.
In The Fast Track Detox Diet, I supply a variety of simple recipes for liver-loving, colon-caring and sequel-friendly foods. I also cover background and advice on detoxing, in-depth nutritional and health information, plus suggestions for taking the Fast Track Detox program to the next level.
Ultimately, you may decide to incorporate regular detoxes into your ongoing health and fitness regimen. But, particularly if you have never done a detox before, the important thing is to take stock of how you feel before, during and after this first detox experience.
Pay attention to the positive, dramatic impact that supporting your body’s natural detoxification systems can have on your overall health and well-being. Follow these basic detox suggestions and I trust that you will feel lighter, happier and more excited about your body’s healthy potential than you have in years.
This article was adapted from Ann Louise Gittleman’s most recent book, The Fast Track One-Day Detox Diet (Morgan Road Books, 2005).