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What the Liver? What You Don’t Know Might Kill You

Have you ever had a long weekend and felt like you needed a “detox”. Maybe you had too many glasses of wine at that wedding. Maybe you ate a lot of croissants on that summer vacation to France. Or maybe you just feel a little sluggish, and the fantastic promise of many products in the market that will “clean out your liver” and “detox” you is very tempting. This article should make you reconsider. Based on a true story.

My abs were shredded, but turns out so was my liver.

My scary liver story

It was the summer of 2014. I was training for a fitness competition, and riding high on the amazing results I was getting in the gym. I went for my annual physical and did not think anything of it. Until the next day when I got the call from the doctor, who sounded terrified. That’s never good.

“Your liver enzyme results are way over normal (this is called the ALT). It’s borderline liver failure. You need to go to the ER.” 

I felt blindsided as I sat in the Georgetown Hospital emergency room. My diet was pristine. I was drinking a lot of water. I was working out every day.. I hadn’t had a drink in two years. This must be a mistake.

It wasn’t. Some innocent supplements I had been taking to enhance my results had almost caused me to go into acute liver failure. As in life-threating.

And you don’t have to be a fitness influencer or an alcoholic to be at high risk of really screwing up one of your body’s most vital organs Read on to find out why.

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The Liver’s Role in Detoxification

The liver is a vital organ responsible for detoxifying harmful substances that enter our bodies. It processes toxins, drugs, and metabolic waste, transforming them into less harmful compounds that can be eliminated through urine or bile.

Basically your liver is like a “traffic cop” for all the bad guys that pass through your body – sugar, alcohol, indigestible 

Live Detox Products 

Liver detox pills and teas often promise quick fixes for various health concerns, including fatigue, weight loss, and improved digestion. 

These products typically contain a mix of herbs, vitamins, and minerals that are marketed as enhancing the liver’s detoxification processes. However, there is a lack of scientific evidence to support the efficacy of these products.

Some detox products may contain herbs and compounds that can interact with medications or cause adverse effects. The liver itself can be sensitive to high doses of certain substances, putting undue strain on the organ and potentially causing harm. In fact, there is a high profile example of the wife of a US congressman dying suddenly of this very cause. The autopsy revealed the supplement contained white mulberry leaf, which is a popular ingredient used in appetite control and liver detoxification supplements.

The liver has its own intricate detoxification system, and introducing excessive amounts of external detox products may overwhelm this system. This could lead to an unintended decrease in the liver’s natural ability to detoxify, causing more harm than good.

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Photo by Leohoho

Fat Burning/weight loss  Supplements (including green tea extract)

A really popular brand of weight loss supplement, Hydroxycut, has been found to induce acute liver toxicity. While not traditionally thought of as “diet pills”, fat burning supplements sold in stores like GNC can seem like an attractive way to rev up your metabolism and burn extra fat, especially if you have recently taken up weight training or another way to build more muscle.

A common ingredient that all of these supplements have is green tea extract. This sounds pretty harmless, right? But according to a Harvard study, green tea extract has been linked with liver damage so severe as to require transplant or lead to death. These side effects disproportionately affect women, according to the research. 

Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen 

If you are training for a race or just generally upping your workout game, it can be very tempting to take over the counter painkillers like they are M&M’s. When taken for too many days in a row, or over the recommended dose, these pain relievers can be toxic to the liver.

This is something to be especially aware of if you have cold or related sickness and you are taking multiple medications – Tylenol for fever and cough syrup for other symptoms, for example. This could result in overdose as a result of excess multiple doses of acetaminophen. 

Energy Drinks 

Now, in moderation, energy drinks don’t seem to be all that bad. But again, excess is what can lead to overwhelming your liver – as shown in this study. So think again before mainlining those Sugar Free Redbulls.


Ingesting too much sugar causes the excess energy to be shuttled to the liver, which makes a substance called fructose, to make fat. Besides unwanted weight gain, this excess fructose produced by the liver can cause a fatty buildup that can lead to liver disease. Some studies even show that sugar can be as damaging to the liver as alcohol, even if you’re not overweight. It’s one more reason to limit foods with added sugars, such as soda, pastries, and candy.


Alcohol – and not as much as you think 

Liver damage is not just for the stereotypical alcoholic lying in a gutter with a brown paper bag. It is easier to drink more than you think, and it takes a lot less over time to damage your liver. Many glasses can hold a lot more than one standard serving, which is 5 ounces of wine (that’s a little more than half a cup), 12 ounces of regular beer, or 1.5 ounces of liquor. If you drink, be sure to keep it moderate — that’s one drink a day for women and up to 2 per day for men.

So how can you get a healthy liver? 

The good news is, the liver is actually one of the most forgiving organs. It can regenerate. Rather than relying on unproven liver detox products, focus on practices that support your liver’s natural functions:

Balanced Diet: Consume a variety of nutrient-rich foods that support overall health, including liver health. Foods rich in antioxidants, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, can aid the body’s detoxification processes.

Hydration: Drinking plenty of water helps flush out toxins through urine and supports overall bodily functions.

Regular Exercise: Physical activity enhances blood circulation and supports the body’s natural detoxification mechanisms.

Moderation: Limit alcohol consumption and avoid overloading your system with excessive amounts of medication or supplements.

The Bottom Liver

While the idea of quick-fix liver detox pills and teas might be appealing, the scientific community urges caution due to the potential harm these products can cause. The body possesses a highly efficient natural detoxification system that works continuously to eliminate waste and harmful substances. Instead of relying on unproven products, focus on maintaining a balanced lifestyle that includes a nutritious diet, regular exercise, and proper hydration to promote optimal liver health and overall well-being. If you’re concerned about your liver health, it’s always best to consult with a qualified healthcare professional.

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