Episode 35

Do You Need A Liver Cleanse?

Published on: 12th April, 2023

Do You Need A Liver Cleanse?

Fatty liver disease is the most common reason for liver transplantation. Fatty liver disease replaced alcoholic liver disease a decade ago.

The rise of obesity has contributed to fatty liver disease, and fat, like alcohol, is deadly to your liver.

So can you clean out your liver?  Simple answer - no. But that doesn't stop the world from making dubious claims.

History of Liver Scams

The most famous was Carter's Little Liver pills. They promised to increase the flow of bile in the liver. This would rid the body of toxins.

Even when it was marketed in 1868, it was known as a "patent" medicine. Thus a medicine without merit was sold by quacks.

In 1959, the name was changed to "Carter's Little Pills." The FDA, in 1951, filed suit that the pills had nothing to do with the liver.

The phrase "Someone has more (fill in the blank) than Carter has pills" comes from this product.

The Master Cleanser

Stanley Burroughs, a lumber salesman, invented the "master" liver cleanse. The formula was tea or lemonade with cayenne pepper and maple syrup. There was no clinical data this ever worked. In spite of the lack of evidence, it continues to be recycled in the pseudoscience world.

Burroughs first published the book in 1946, "The Master Cleanse," and re-released it in 1976 under the title "The Master Cleanser".

Burroughs was convicted of manslaughter in California and fined for practicing medicine without a license.

This "juice" or "liver cleanse" or liver detoxification program keeps coming around with different ingredients. Some of the latest include olive oil.

Gallbladder Flush

The gallbladder flush is the same formula.  People will defecate small round balls of fecal material. Then they are told that these represent gallbladder stones, but they are not. Thus, the flush is useless.

The Liver's Job

All the blood from the stomach and small bowel is filtered through the liver. Hence, the liver can be considered a filter.

Once the food you eat is broken down and digested by the gut, those nutrients go to the liver.  Then the liver determines if you need to use the nutrients, store the nutrients, or get rid of the nutrients.

The liver gets the first pass at the medicines you take.  Many medicines require the liver to process them to be effective. Those drugs are called "pro-drugs." Aspirin, for example, is a drug whose active ingredient is salicylic acid.

Liver and Alcohol

The liver can also take harmful substances and render them harmless.  In spite of the liver's ability to deactivate harmful products, a person can overcome the liver's ability to detoxify substances. The classic case is alcohol.

Once alcohol is ingested, the liver begins to change it into acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is both toxic to the liver and responsible for most hangovers. Acetaldehyde is metabolized into harmless products.

If a person consumes more alcohol than the liver can metabolize, they will become intoxicated. In addition, they will develop both acute fatty liver and chronic fatty liver. A fatty liver can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure.

Milk Thistle and The Liver

Since there are multiple complex metabolic pathways in the liver, there is no one agent that will fix the liver.

Supplements touted to help the liver include:

Milk Thistle.  The active ingredient is silymarin. Silymarin has been extensively studied in alcoholic liver disease, fatty liver disease, hepatitis, Tylenol poisoning, and mushroom poisoning. It works as an anti-oxidant and has shown promise, particularly when used early.

Do Not Party and Detoxify

There has not been a clinical study showing that one can overcome the sins of a party with any preventive agent. The best preventative against damage to the liver is to avoid the process.

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About the Podcast

Fork U with Dr. Terry Simpson
Learn more about what you put in your mouth.
Fork U(niversity)
Not everything you put in your mouth is good for you.

There’s a lot of medical information thrown around out there. How are you to know what information you can trust, and what’s just plain old quackery? You can’t rely on your own “google fu”. You can’t count on quality medical advice from Facebook. You need a doctor in your corner.

On each episode of Your Doctor’s Orders, Dr. Terry Simpson will cut through the clutter and noise that always seems to follow the latest medical news. He has the unique perspective of a surgeon who has spent years doing molecular virology research and as a skeptic with academic credentials. He’ll help you develop the critical thinking skills so you can recognize evidence-based medicine, busting myths along the way.

The most common medical myths are often disguised as seemingly harmless “food as medicine”. By offering their own brand of medicine via foods, These hucksters are trying to practice medicine without a license. And though they’ll claim “nutrition is not taught in medical schools”, it turns out that’s a myth too. In fact, there’s an entire medical subspecialty called Culinary Medicine, and Dr. Simpson is certified as a Culinary Medicine Specialist.

Where today's nutritional advice is the realm of hucksters, Dr. Simpson is taking it back to the realm of science.

About your host

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Terry Simpson

Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate, graduate, and medical degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. Until he found he liked people more than petri dishes. Dr. Simpson, a weight loss surgeon is an advocate of culinary medicine, he believes teaching people to improve their health through their food and in their kitchen. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcolm Baldrige award for healthcare in 2018 and 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska and in 2013 Dr Simpson won the National Indian Health Board Area Impact Award. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.”