The liver is the body's natural detox organ, hard at work every day processing everything you eat and breathe. Most toxins are naturally processed and excreted, but over time, more and more of them build up. Your liver can't always handle what you throw at it, especially if you're into drinking, smoking, or other activities hard on the liver itself.
As toxins build up in your body, your liver may start to struggle to process it all. It might damage itself as it works, leading to lower function and a general feeling of malaise. Sooner or later, you need to take matters into your own hands.
There are a lot of ways you can naturally detox your body, from cleanses that reduce your toxin intake and allow your liver to catch up, to supplements that heal and bolster liver function.
The question is, how do you know when it's time?
A Sliding Scale
Your liver function isn't easy to quantify. It's not like a traffic light with a green for functioning, a yellow for "detox needed" and a red for "see a doctor". You have to be aware of your body and, more importantly, be aware of the signs of liver issues.
What we've listed below, these fifteen warning signs, are signs that your liver may need a detox. They're generally minor, or relatively minor, and aren't going to be in-your-face with their symptoms. You have to be in tune with your body to be able to identify when your liver is having issues.
In addition to monitoring these signs, we highly recommend that you visit a primary care physician on a regular basis. They can do more thorough monitoring, blood tests, and even imaging that can identify liver issues before they get too bad.
If any of your liver symptoms are extreme, or if you experience the symptoms of liver disease or liver failure, such as:
- Yellowing of skin and eyes.
- Abdominal pain or swelling.
- Swelling in legs and leg joints.
- Extremely dark urine.
- Frequent nausea or vomiting.
And so on, you should see a doctor immediately. At this point, at this level of damage, your liver isn't going to heal itself with a simple detox, you need more extreme assistance.
With that warning out of the way, here are the (more minor) symptoms that indicate you may want to initiate dietary or lifestyle changes and proceed with a liver detox.
1. Frequent Bloating
Many of the signs of liver stress are related to digestion, because digestion is the process through which most toxins tend to enter the body. Comparatively, breath ingestion is minor and will more likely affect the lungs before the liver.
You're likely familiar with the feeling of bloating, and the occasional bout of bloating – particularly after a meal that doesn't quite agree with you – is natural. Bloating becomes a liver concern when it's going on for more than a few hours. If you have chronic bloating, or bloating that lasts for more than a day or two, consider initiating a detox.
Again, digestion is the primary vector for the most noticeable forms of liver issues, at least at a low level. Constipation can be caused by a variety of factors, including diet. Again, though, it usually only lasts for a day or so normally. If it lasts for a longer time, you should consider addressing the causes and working to supplement your liver function.
Be sure to pay attention to your stool. If it's unusually pale, or if it's bloody, extremely dark, or has the consistency of coffee grounds, you should see a doctor. These are symptoms of liver failure, or other internal issues. Internal bleeding in the intestines, in particular, can be very dangerous and a sign of something seriously wrong.
3. Excessive Gas
Everyone passes gas. The typical average is roughly 10-20 times per day, though we don't necessarily expect you to keep count.
There are a lot of reasons why you might pass gas much more frequently. These can include eating or drinking foods that ferment in the gut and release gas, swallowing too much air while eating, or having a minor allergic reaction to some food you're eating. A lot of people are very minorly lactose intolerant, and their only symptom is increased gas while eating dairy, for example.
If you find yourself passing gas frequently enough it cause anxiety, social commentary, or other issues, it's time to look at a detox.
4. Dark Urine When Hydrated
Urine varies in color based on a bunch of different factors. It will be dark when you're dehydrated, and can be darker even when hydrated if you're exercising a lot.
If your urine is very dark despite drinking plenty of water, you should look into a detox and see if that helps clear up the issue.
If your urine is pink or red, that's a sign of bleeding in the kidneys or elsewhere in the urinary tract, and you should visit a doctor.
Some colors, such as blue, green, or bright orange, can occur as side effects of certain kinds of medications, dyes, and some medical conditions. Talk to your doctor about these, but they're not frequently cause for emergency concern.
5. High Cholesterol
A diet high in bad cholesterol can lead to high blood cholesterol, which is a potentially dangerous condition. High cholesterol leads to fat storage throughout the body, and this includes in the liver itself. This issue, when exacerbated, is called fatty liver disease. It reduces liver function and can have other side effects.
Of course, checking your cholesterol levels is something typically done by a doctor, so if you have high cholesterol, your doctor will be able to test for other liver issues and can recommend treatment, from lifestyle changes to detoxing to medications.
6. Mood Swings
One of the other primary functions of the liver is to help your body regulate hormones. When your liver function drops, your bodily hormones will fall to imbalance. Hormonal imbalances can have a variety of symptoms – several of which we'll discuss here – but the most prominent is typically mood swings.
Unfortunately, without either a partner to keep an eye on you or a lot of self-reflection, it can be difficult to notice mood swings as they happen. It might be a good idea to keep a sort of mood journal to track your moods from day to day. As an added bonus, this can also help you identify other swings in your moods, which might have other causes.
7. Irregular Periods
Those of you who get periods typically want them to be both regular and minimized as much as possible. When they are disrupted, you can experience spotting, off-schedule periods, and other complications.
Since periods are heavily regulated by bodily hormone cycles, when the liver is disrupted and it disrupts hormone regulation, periods can be affected. In fact, irregular periods can be one of the most easily noticed signs of liver damage. Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately – this is only a valid warning sign for about half the population.
8. More Frequent or Worse Allergies
Allergic reactions are typically your body's way of telling you something is wrong. Sometimes it's something legitimate, like eating a food that your body cannot cope with, and the allergic reaction may be severe. Other times they're more minor forms of irritation, which suck, but aren't life-threatening.
Your liver is a general mediator of bodily reactions, and when it isn't functioning properly, neither will your reactions. If you notice your allergies are flaring up at a time they normally wouldn't, or flaring up worse than normal, it's probably a good idea to detox that liver.
9. High Heavy Metal Levels
Your liver is usually hard at work removing heavy metals and other bodily toxins from your system. However, when your liver function is low or your toxin consumption is high, they build up more than they're removed. You can identify this using tests that look specifically for the presence of heavy metals. These may be blood tests, though there are also tri-factor tests that test blood, urine, and hair samples for heavy metal levels. These tend to be more accurate.
You don't always need a doctor to perform these tests. Some companies offer at-home kits you can use to send samples to a lab, which will identify if there are any toxins present in your system. Just watch out for the disreputable companies that tell you your levels are high so they can sell you their own forms of detox kits.
10. Poor Sleep
Poor sleep is a common symptom of a lot of different disruptions in the body. If it takes a long time to fall asleep, if you wake up frequently throughout the night, or if you wake up early and find yourself unable to fall back asleep, any number of things might be wrong.
In addition to trying out a liver detox, we recommend making some lifestyle adjustments to help boost your sleep. Change your bedding, and look into changing your mattress and pillow. Try to cut back or cut out caffeine and, if possible, processed sugars. Try to set and stick to a regular sleep schedule. Avoid using the phone or other electronic devices around bedtime or in bed. Finally, try to only use the bed for sleep (or sex), and not other activities, like reading, knitting, or other hobbies. The more you train your body to only use the bed and bedroom for sleep, the better off you'll be.
11. Frequent Headaches
Headaches are one of the most annoying issues you can have. They're irritating, painful, or even debilitating, and yet they have no physical or external symptoms. They're a side effect of just about every possible imbalance in the body, including liver issues. It's nearly impossible to diagnose why you're having headaches.
If you have headaches, especially if they're more common than they used to be, a detox may be in order. In addition to a detox, making healthy lifestyle changes can help reduce the triggers for your headaches, as well as reduce the stress and tension that lead to headaches.
12. Increased Skin Issues
Your skin is the largest organ in (or on) your body, and as such, it tends to show when something is wrong with your system. There can be a variety of different causes for skin issues, but liver function is one of them.
If you have acne flare-ups, unusually oily or dry skin, patchy dry spots on your skin, more frequent or worse topical allergic reactions, or other skin issues, look into that detox system you've been eyeballing.
Skin issues do tend to have some overlap with other bodily issues, with hormone imbalances and allergies in particular, but everything in your body is interrelated so it's generally a good idea to detox occasionally one way or another.
Heartburn is another digestive issue, though it's higher up in the digestive tract than the other digestive issues the liver impacts. Heartburn and acid reflux are worth mentioning specifically, though, because they can have more dangerous side effects than just the social impact of flatulence or the discomfort of constipation.
Specifically, chronic heartburn can lead to damage in the esophagus, which in turn can lead to esophageal cancer. If you have heartburn every day, or most days, rather than treating it with something simple like Tums or Pepto, you should probably consult with your doctor.
14. General Fatigue
A general sense of fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of liver issues, as well as other dysfunction within the body.
Much like mood swings, it can be tricky to self-diagnose, but after a few days or a week it's easier to notice that your energy levels have been lower than normal. When this is the case, it's time to get that detox going!
15. General Inflammation
Inflammation is another sign that something is wrong in the body, though it's always difficult to specify exactly what. Keep an eye out for signs of inflammation, and make sure to address the causes with a detox and other lifestyle changes.