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Liver Flush: The Hard Facts


Dear Dr. Blonz,
I have a question in regards to optimal functionality of the liver. I am a 40-year-old woman. I quit drinking and smoking a year and a half ago. I have gained 20 pounds. I was wondering whether a liver flush is a good thing for every person to do to rid the liver of the gallstones it accumulates over the years to return the liver to its optimal performance. -- B.W., via e-mail

Dear BW,
Gaining weight after you quit smoking is common. All things considered, the weight gain is less harmful than the smoking. The best way to keep a lid on the poundage is to pay more attention to your diet, slow down at the table and increase your activity gradually. Check with your physician if there are health issues that need to be considered. I am aware of a number of issues concerning what is popularly referred to as a "liver flush," and there is no solid basis to support this as a helpful procedure. As you know, I am not a medical doctor, nor am I a specialist in liver ailments or problems with the gallbladder, but I want to take you through my reasoning.

The gallbladder is a small gland in your midsection, close to the liver and the digestive track. The liver produces bile, a substance that works like a detergent to help emulsify the fats in the foods we eat, making them easier to digest. Bile gets stored in the gallbladder, and when fat is present in food, a squirt of bile leaves the gallbladder, passes down the common bile duct and mixes with the food as it leaves the stomach. Gallstones are hard, crystalline structures that vary in size from a grain of sand to the size of a golf ball. Most gallstones are made of hardened cholesterol, but some can be made of a pigment called bilirubin. Problems occur if stones clog things up in the liver or the gallbladder, or they block the common bile duct, which is also used by the pancreas. It is estimated that one in 10 Americans has gallstones, but most don't know because they never experience symptoms. A more in-depth explanation of gallstones, presented by the National Institutes of Health, is offered online.

The procedure known as the liver flush is promoted as a natural, painless way to rid the body of its gallstones. There are minor variations, but a flush usually involves a specialized fast or no-fat diet for a number of days, leading up to a day when you ingest Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate), followed by a hefty intake of olive oil together with some lemon juice before going to sleep. The next day, your stool is likely to contain a number of small, round opaque objects that are supposed to be gallstones that have been hanging around your liver and gallbladder causing all sorts of trouble. Amazing! Or is it? These opaque globules, it turns out, are not gallstones at all. They are a product of the liver-flush recipe itself.

An article in the April 16, 2005 issue of Lancet titled "Could these be gallstones?" followed a 40-year-old patient who did a liver flush and passed a bunch of stones the following day. After a microscopic examination of the stones, it was discovered that the "gallstones" were made up of congealed olive oil plus the other ingredients that had been administered the day before. The authors then made their own batch of stones by drying a mixture of the flush components. The concept of the flush as been around for a while, and it's still being promoted. A Google search of "liver flush" yielded 1.4 million hits. It's difficult to find a rationale for continued support.

Dr Blonz Do you have a question that involves nutrition, health and wellness? Dr. Ed Blonz holds an M.S. and Ph.D. in nutrition, and has more than 30 years of experience in the fields of nutrition, foods and health. He is the author of eight books and writes the nationally syndicated column, "On Nutrition," available through Universal Press Syndicate.

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Copyright Ed Blonz, Ph.D.