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Do you really need to detox your liver?

Posted 19 January, 2022
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Liver detox diets and supplements are increasingly popular, especially in January when many people like to set goals to improving their health or fitness.

We are seeing more and more liver detox supplements advertised as the missing link for those experiencing dietary deficiencies and anyone eager to improve their health. In fact, in 2020, Complementary Medicines Australia reported that 75% of Australians had used at least one form of complementary medicine in the previous 12 months.1

But do they actually offer real health benefits?

While these advertisements do a great job of promising a new, healthier you, what they don’t tell you is that supplements shouldn’t overshadow the benefits of making long-term healthy lifestyle changes.

Scientific research shows there is little evidence detox diets and supplements actually remove toxins from your body. The benefits people claim they receive from ‘detoxing’ is usually the result of reducing fatty, sugary and processed foods and cutting down on alcohol.

Your liver and kidneys are your bodies natural toxin filters, and if they are looked after, they do an amazing job all on their own!

Committing to regular exercise, a balanced and nutritious diet, and responsible alcohol intake will have a greater impact on your overall health and liver function.

If you decide to start taking a liver detox supplement, it is important to understand exactly what it is and how it will interact with your body.

What do we mean by supplements?

The following are common categories and examples:

  • Vitamin, mineral or nutritional supplements (vitamin C, iron, calcium)
  • Herbal supplements (traditional Chinese medicine, milk thistle, ginseng)
  • Sport supplements (protein powder, creatine, amino acids)
liver detox

What do you need to consider when choosing supplements?

Many supplements are available over the counter, without consultation with a doctor or specialist. Here are some important questions to consider when deciding if supplements are right for you:

  • How can medicines and supplements interact with each other?
  • Do you know what each supplement actually contains?
  • What is the recommended dose?
  • How often, and for how long do you need to take the supplement?
  • Is this a necessary or potentially harmful addition for you?

Why is this important?

Supplements can contain a range of ingredients aimed at boosting nutrients missing from a person’s body; however, if taken inappropriately, they can actually damage the liver.2

Disclosure of exact ingredients is less strict for these supplements, increasing the unknown risk for consumers and their liver.2 Additionally, guidelines and regulations for these supplements to reach the market are more relaxed, meaning they are not required to go through the same review process for quality, safety and effectiveness, that prescription medicines go through.3,4

Briefly, if they do not have to tell you everything that goes into the supplement, how can you be sure that it is safe for you? Ask your doctor or specialist first!  

Everyone’s health situation is unique; asking your pharmacist, doctor, or specialist is the best way to know whether supplements are suitable for you.

Should I take supplements if I have hepatitis or liver disease?

Extra care and consideration need to be taken when you have an existing health condition, including hepatitis, liver disease or liver cancer. Hepatitis already affects the healthy function of your liver; therefore, be careful not to weaken it further.   

Hepatitis C treatment involves medication for 8-12 weeks and, poor drug interaction between supplements and medication can cause harm, interrupt the treatment or absorption of certain drugs.5 Individuals with hepatitis B may also require some drug treatment as well.

The following site provides an overview of some drug interactions between hepatitis B and C drugs as well as other common supplements, medication, or herbal ingredients: https://www.hep-druginteractions.org/checker.

Get a liver health check

If you are concerned about your liver health, why not ask your doctor for a liver health check!

References
  1. Complementary Medicines Australia. Industry Audit & Trends 2020. Mawson, ACT. Available from: https://www.cmaustralia.org.au/resources/CMA-industry-presentation-2020.pdf
  2. Navarro VJ, Khan I, Bjornsson E, Seeff LB, Serrano J, Hoofnagle JH. Liver Injury From Herbal and Dietary Supplements. J Hepatol. 2017 Jan;65(1). Available from: https://aasldpubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdfdirect/10.1002/hep.28813
  3. Burnett AJ, Livingstone KM, Woods JL, McNaughton SA. Dietary Supplement Use among Australian Adults: Findings from the 2011-2012 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey. Nutrients. 2017 Nov;9(11). Available from:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5707720/pdf/nutrients-09-01248.pdf
  4. Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Medicines and TGA Classifications. Australian Government: Department of Health. Available from: https://www.tga.gov.au/medicines-and-tga-classifications
  5. Hep Mag. Hepatitis C Treatment and Drug Interactions. 2019 Jul 10. Available from: https://www.hepmag.com/basics/hepatitis-c-basics/hepatitis-c-treatment-drug-interactions

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