What you should know before starting a liver cleanse

Liver cleanses are a popular way to detox your body. "In a healthy body, the process of detoxification runs smoothly," Dr. Mark Hyman, functional medicine doctor and New York Times best-selling author, explained for mindbodygreen. "When you become toxic, the mechanism for detoxification in the liver gets sluggish, and certain toxins can remain active longer than we want or than our systems can handle. This makes us sick and impedes normal metabolism. It also causes fluid retention, bloat, and puffiness." Ultimately, a liver detox claims to work to reverse or undo this. But there are certain things you should be aware of before starting a liver cleanse.

You liver detoxes itself naturally

"Our body is able to cleanse or detox itself by using normal bodily functions," registered dietitian Rachael Harley told Insider. "When we breathe, when we go to the bathroom, when our liver is functioning — the body does all the cleansing and detoxifying itself. There's no need to follow a certain diet plan to do that." In other words, you don't actually need to do a liver cleanse to detox as your liver does this naturally. Elizabeth Goacher, PA-C, MHS, a physician assistant at Duke University, agrees, pointing out that liver cleanses could actually cause harm as they aren't regulated by the FDA. "The rule is, if it goes in your mouth, your liver is going to see it," Goacher told Refinery29. "That means — because liver cleanses aren't regulated by any safety organization in standards or purity — it's entirely possible [to ingest] something that's damaging."

Liver cleanses won't undo damage

"Liver cleanses have not been proven to treat existing liver damage," hepatologist Dr. Tinsay Woreta wrote in article about liver-detox myths, which was published by Johns Hopkins University (via Insider). In other words, there's no evidence that indicates liver cleanses can undo or fix liver damage or problems. Worse still, they may actually starve your body of other important nutrients that it needs. "Most of the detoxes I've seen are very inadequate in fat and protein and carbohydrates as well," Harley explained. "[They're] just inadequate in calories." As a result, if you are doing a cleanse you may experience side effects such as headaches, change in mood, and bowel discomfort.