Perhaps it was the cookies. Perhaps it was the cheese. Perhaps it was the booze. I’m not one to judge, jeez…
Chances are even the healthiest of us were tempted by the wanton excesses of the holiday spreads this year. Gravies, martinis, sharp aged cheddars and gooey triple creams, sugar cookies and shortbreads. The shortbreads – oh, the meals that don’t end in shortbread will be lacking, for sure. And chances are those of us who may have over indulged in these delicious morsels of sheer delight, are now suffering a literal and figurative hangover as we start the new year.
Time for some detoxification. A sweet-tender-love-letter-to-the-liver kind of detoxification. A weepy, apologetic, Adele-style-begging-for-forgiveness from our liver type of detoxification.
Dear Liver, I am sorry for everything that I have done…
Many of us start out the New Year by making resolutions to lose weight, to eat healthier, to exercise more and those are, in fact, great ideas. Trouble is working up the energy to transfer those resolutions to reality when you are feeling bloated, miserable and bogged down. The weight of an overburdened liver hangs heavily on us like a wet wool coat. However, with a few dietary modifications and the use of some liver-loving herbs, we can shed this cloak of misery and actually start to feel better.
Here is a liver lesson, in an over simplified nutshell (because this is a blog and not an Anatomy & Physiology class). Our livers act as a filter and a gateway, absorbing nutrients and toxins alike from the digestive system, before they enter the blood stream. The liver renders nutrients available for use as needed, while sequestering toxins and waste until they can be disposed of. When our consumption of fats and sugars get out of hand, our livers can become over burdened and sluggish, making us feel heavy, slow and tired. When, and if, alcohol enters the picture, the liver’s disposal mechanism essentially short circuits, spilling toxins and waste into the blood stream. Kind of like putting out the trash and forgetting that you never paid the garbage bill – things are gonna get messy and fast.
Are you starting to understand why those 11 cookies and four glasses of champagne (beer, bourbon, whatever) are making you feel so crumby? Poor liver.
With a renewed focus on a diet abundant in fresh vegetables (you didn’t think I was going to recommend more shortbread, did you?), perhaps a gentle flush and or fast, and the thoughtful use of hepatic and alterative herbs we can gently detoxify the liver and get that ole jalopy back to peak performance. There are two phases of liver detoxification, during which wastes and toxins are identified, packaged and processed for elimination and there are several ways in which you can support this normal and necessary process. My recommendations are gentle and effective mean of liver detoxification, but it is always wise to consult your physician before making drastic changes to your diet, fasting for more than a few hours or adding herbal supplementation to avoid the risk of allergy or contraindication.
- Avoidance of high fat, processed, sugary or starchy foods: Perhaps obvious, but an essential step in liver detoxification is total avoidance of high fat, processed, sugary and starchy foods. These foods are like a massive dump. Sure there is some nutrient value there (somewhere in all that junk), but it takes a lot of extra work for our bodies to make use of it. Most of the time it just sits around, stinking up the liver.
- Drink lots of water: Again, perhaps a big “duh” – but the liver detoxification process is worthless without the enough water to make the bowel and urinary elimination routes effective. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
- Consuming a diet high in sulfur containing vegetable: Sulfur containing vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, onions and garlic facilitate both Phase I and Phase II of liver detoxification.
- Eat lightly: It is very important to eat lightly while embarking on a liver detoxification. Give the “ole girl” some elbow room so she can back to work, shuffling out the goods and discarding the wastes.
- Add fermented foods to your diet: Fermented foods and dairy such as yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, sauerkraut and lacto-fermented veggies and juices facilitate effective digestion and ease the burden on the liver.
- Consider a juice fast: Limiting two meals a day to vegetable smoothies can assist the liver detoxification process while offering a giant helping of vitamins and minerals (many of which are necessary for both Phase I and II of liver detoxification). Think kale, spinach, cucumbers, celery, carrot and beets, even avocados, as well as some of those sulfur containing veggies that I mentioned before. The main meal of the day should then consist of more veggies, light protein and complex carbohydrates.
- Hepatic and alterative herbs: Hepatic (liver supportive) and alterative (blood “cleansing”) herbs offer a tremendous boost to the liver detoxification process. I like to use an encapsulated blend of milk thistle and dandelion 2-3x daily and prepare a tea for daily consumption. My “Love Your Liver Detoxification Tea” contains:
- Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale): A perfect herb if there ever was one, dandelion protects the liver and pancreas, decreases lipid accumulation and fat deposits, eliminates retained water, relieves inflammation and settles the stomach. Need I say more?!
- Peppermint (Mentha x piperita): Pleasing in flavor and stimulating in nature, peppermint not only lends some personality to this tea, but the stimulant action of this herb can dramatically increase the effectiveness of the other herbs used.
- Red Clover (Trifolium pratense): Abundant in minerals such as iron, copper, phosphorous, magnesium, calcium and molybdenum, red clover is a nutrient powerhouse while also being an effective diuretic and alterative. Additionally, red clover, containing isoflavones, can act as a phytoestrogen, providing additional support for the female reproductive system.
- Burdock root (Articum lappa): Burdock roots is alterative, antioxidant, anti-diabetic, hepatoprotective, hypoglycemic and, tonic and stimulant. An all around winner of an herb that offers liver protecting, blood sugar reducing, and free radical scavenging actions. It even promotes good gut flora as it feeds the beneficial gut bacteria.
- Licorice Root (Glycyrrhiza glabra): Offering a gentle laxative action and sweet flavor, licorice assists the body in effective elimination.
A healthy detoxified liver can result in increased energy, stamina, mental focus, clearer skin and sometimes even a slimmer waist line. A careful, thoughtful protocol of liver detoxification will help to cure the holiday hangover and everything in between.
Note: These suggestions are intended for individuals of good health, free of contraindication, to support healthy liver function. If you are pregnant or nursing, on medication or in ill health you should consult your physician before trying any of these suggestions or embarking on new wellness protocols.
- 1 oz dandelion leaf
- 1 oz peppermint
- ½ oz red clover flowers
- ½ oz burdock root
- ¼ oz licorice root
- Combine all dry herbs and place in a well sealed jar or container, storing in a cool, dark and dry spot while not in use.
- To make your tea, place a heaping teaspoon of the dry herbal tea into a reusable muslin tea bag, or other tea strainer while bringing a kettle of water nearly to a boil. Pour over herbs and allow to steep for ten minutes, before removing bag or straining. Ideally this tea should be consumed without being sweetened.
Petersen, Dorene. Herbal Materia Medica. ACHS, 2015.