Natural Substances Promote Detox and Healthy Liver Function

People sometimes complain of feeling “off,” a sense of being not quite well, if not exactly sick. This is how it was for 51-year-old “Larry,” a business executive in Southern California. Larry had been divorced for several years and whenever his busy work schedule allowed it, he was enjoying the bachelor social life. But now he wasn’t feeling right — at his annual physical his doctor said his tests were fine and maybe he just needed to slow down. That didn’t satisfy Larry, who was sure something was amiss. He decided to schedule an appointment with naturopathic physician Mark Stengler, ND, since NDs can often identify illness that MDs overlook in their symptom/disease-focused paradigm.


Dr. Stengler says that when he met Larry, his patient’s main complaints were abdominal bloating, being chronically tired and having bad breath. These symptoms, which had gotten worse over the past year, not only worried Larry, they intruded on both his business and personal life. Dr. Stengler reviewed Larry’s most recent blood work from his MD and saw that he had mildly elevated liver enzymes. This, plus his symptoms, led Dr. Stengler to believe that moderately compromised liver function might be the root of his patient’s problems. He became even more convinced when Larry told him he was taking acetaminophen daily to soothe the arthritis in his knees and pain in his lower back. Larry also drank regularly… he reported having two to four drinks as often as four nights a week. Both acetaminophen and alcohol place strain on the liver.


Before starting Larry on treatment to strengthen his liver, Dr. Stengler did another blood test to confirm the elevated liver enzyme counts. Larry didn’t have liver disease per se, but the enzyme counts showed a liver that was overworked and in turn falling short on its tasks, including those related to cleansing the body. Dr. Stengler prescribed a liver strengthening regimen for Larry as follows:

  • A liver tonic formula containing such herbs as milk thistle, dandelion root, chicory, and Bupleurum.
  • A greens/fiber powdered formula with such ingredients as chlorella, spirulina, wheatgrass and barley grass.
  • A multivitamin.
  • Increased water intake, for detoxification. Dr. Stengler recommended Larry drink 48 to 60 ounces of filtered water per day.
  • No alcohol.
  • A once-weekly sauna using infrared waves (this type of sauna provides deeper heat) to bring on a sweat, flushing out drug metabolites and toxins through the skin.
  • A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts and fish.
  • Reducing or avoiding fast foods because they are associated with an elevation in liver enzymes.

In addition, Dr. Stengler instructed Larry to take collagen, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) and glucosamine sulfate, and to have weekly acupuncture treatments to replace the pain medications he had been taking for his arthritis.


Larry immediately noticed that the frequency of his bowel movements increased — from one every few days to two a day, a welcome change. He reported feeling tired for the first four days of his new regimen, which Dr. Stengler says is not unusual when someone first starts a program for liver health… the body must metabolize the substances being released and that’s extra work. Soon, though, Larry began to see his energy and digestion improve and in two weeks time he felt much better overall and had lost four pounds. By the end of the first month, his breath had freshened and blood work at six weeks showed that his liver enzymes had returned to normal. Larry could now change his regimen, stopping the liver support supplements but continuing with the greens formula for ongoing gentle detox, along with the water consumption and his much-improved diet. He could resume moderate drinking — a few drinks a week, including wine — and will continue to take the supplements for his arthritis.


Like Larry, many people suffer from suboptimal liver function, says Dr. Stengler. The liver is an immensely busy organ, with numerous responsibilities, including producing bile for digestion, metabolizing glucose from food and storing it as reserve fuel, processing all types of drugs and alcohol, synthesizing cholesterol for production of hormones, and regulating clotting. When the liver is not operating at its best it is often referred to as being sluggish — and a sluggish liver, even if enzymes are only mildly elevated, can’t function as well as it should.

Just some of the more frequent symptoms of a sluggish liver are lowered energy, poor digestion, moodiness, unhealthy skin, cold hands and feet, constipation, bloating, bad breath and food sensitivities. Many doctors tend to dismiss elevated liver enzymes as unimportant, preferring to take a watch and wait approach to see if matters worsen before taking action. But Dr. Stengler disagrees with that approach, strongly advising a proactive strategy to bring the liver to optimal functioning. He cautions, however, against the popular “liver flushes” you may hear about from friends or read about online or in magazines. Done over one to three days, these so-called cleanses feature limited and strange food and fluid combinations… some of them can actually make people sick. They can trigger higher than normal bile release, possibly causing gallstones to get lodged in bile ducts. Other possible problems include an overload of wastes in the body that it can’t eliminate and/or eliminating too much. Extreme cleansing can cause people to experience nausea, rashes, headaches and fatigue.

If your liver could talk, it might sound like the comedian Rodney Dangerfield, protesting “I don’t get no respect.” It’s true that most people focus their health management on avoiding heart disease, stroke and cancer — but would do well to direct some of that attention to keeping the liver well tuned, since it powers all other systems. Most people can achieve this by practicing good health measures as explained above.