Have you ever heard of a “liver flush” or “gallstone cleanse”? Considering doing it? This article found you at the right time!
Today, we will look into what actually causes gallstones and why cleanses or flushes ultimately fail to deliver on what is promised.
Some interesting facts:
- An estimated 20 million people in the United States have gallstones or a history of surgery to remove them. (1)
- There are annually ½ a million gallbladder removals (2)
- Annually only around 1 to 2% suffer from any serious symptoms and complications, which includes pancreatitis and obstruction of the bile duct (3)
- The ‘gallbladder business’ is worth billions of dollars a year in the US alone (4)
- Annually around 800,000 people are hospitalised for gallbladder disease (2)
What actually are gallstones?
The gallbladder is a small organ involved in the secretion of bile so as to aid the digestion of fats.
When you eat any fat in your meal, it is the job of the gallbladder to release the bile, which will then not only break down fat with the bile salts, but also dissolve any excess cholesterol.
It is believed that what are actually termed ‘cholesterol gallstones’ can be formed in several different ways:
- When the gallbladder fails to empty its store of bile regularly.
- There is more cholesterol in the bile than it can dissolve.
- Too much bilirubin is present in the bile which causes crystals of cholesterol to form.
- When there are too few bile salts to break down all the fat.
Who is at risk of getting gallstones?
There are several factors that can predict the risk of having gallstones, including:
- People who are obese and as such have greater amounts of cholesterol secreted in their bile.
- A high fat/high cholesterol diet such as the typical western diet which typically causes more cholesterol to be secreted into the bile.
How do you know if you have gallstones?
Even if you have stones in your gallbladder, most often they will not cause you any problems, it is only when they pass into what is called the common bile duct or ducts to the pancreas and block the flow of bile into the intestine that the symptoms most often associated with gallstones can occur, which can include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Jaundice (yellow eyes and skin)
- Indigestion after consuming a meal high in fat
- Pain under the right shoulder or the right shoulder blade
- Severe pain occurring in the upper abdomen that comes on suddenly and can be anything from half an hour to many hours in duration.
Confirmation of gallstones being the cause of the problem is normally done with the use of an abdominal ultrasound test.
Liver Flush/Gallbladder Cleanse
Many alternative health practitioners will tell those looking to rid themselves of gallstones that they will need certain ingredients to facilitate a cleanse, and typically include the following items:
- Half a cup of olive oil
- Some lemon juice
- Epsom salts
The lemon juice is supposed to aid the release of the stones (and no doubt make it all taste somewhere near drinkable), while the Epsom salts are supposed to allow the opening up of the bile ducts.
Finally, the olive oil is meant to stimulate the gallbladder and bile ducts to contract and expel any stored gallstones.
The fact that this procedure is very unpleasant for your body and can easily make you want to vomit should be warning enough.
Your body is simply trying to defend itself from what it senses as something abhorrent and so anti-health. The addition of the lemon juice is just a way to try and trick the body into thinking that whatever it is drinking is in no way harmful, which of course is exactly what it is.
There is no scientific evidence at all that backs up any of the supposed effects that these ingredients are claimed to have of ridding a person of their gallstones.
Many people claim that doing a ‘flush’ or ‘cleanse’ definitely helps them and there can be many factors involved with regards to why the person feels a benefit from having done one.
- They are benefiting from the placebo effect. As the saying goes ‘seeing is believing’. So, if the person sees what they believe to be gallstones eliminated from their body, then this alone can bring about a sense of achievement and feel good factor. Even more so if they have paid good money for it at a clinic.
- The inevitable stimulating effect that the procedure will have on the persons body will in effect give them an ‘energy kick’ or ‘high’ in the short term as the body goes into overdrive as it tries to deal with the toxic load of the oil and epsom salts. This ‘energy kick’ or ‘high’ will have to be paid for later on as the persons body recoups the energy it used dealing with these toxins. It is well known that people can become addicted to these unhealthy practices due to this stimulating effect alone and the ‘high’ they experience from it.
- The laxative effect of the oil can convince many people who suffer from elimination/digestion issues that it is beneficial for their bodies,but unfortunately they do not understand that it is the body’s way of dealing with an emergency (dealing with the toxic load of the ingredients of the flush or cleanse) that this very situation arises, so it can never be called healthy or health promoting in any sense.
The Evidence Against Liver Flush Or Gallstone Cleanse
A 40 year old woman was suffering from recurrent severe right hypochondrial pain after consuming fatty foods and after investigation by an outpatient clinic was found to have multiple gallstones in her bladder.
On the advice of her herbalist she implemented a ‘liver cleanse’ regime consisting of apple and vegetable juice until 6pm but no food, followed by the consumption of 600ml of olive oil and 300 ml of lemon juice over several hours.
The end result was the elimination of multiple semisolid green ‘stones’. These ‘stones’ were then sent to a clinic for examination.
Analysis of the woman’s green ‘stones’ showed that they contained no calcium, bilirubin or indeed cholesterol , which is what real gallstones would have been expected to contain (5).
The green ‘stones’ were simply the result of the action of gastric lipases on the olive oil (drunk during the ‘liver flush’), with eventual saponification into what essentially are called ‘soap stones’.
The liver flush had failed to remove any of the gallstones the woman was suffering from.
Personal experience with the liver flush
I did my liver flush many years ago before I discovered the raw food diet. It is a horrid experience and just thinking about it makes me want to vomit.
Drinking ½ cup of olive oil just before going to bed, feeling nauseous all night long, having a restless sleep with nightmares, waking up from feeling totally sick, feeling as if my liver was under a hammer all night long – was it worth it?
No! Furthermore, what I thought were gallstones were nothing more than the oil that I had drunk.
Compare this experience to being on the most detoxifying vegan diet of raw fruits and veggies, the function of my liver and my digestive system has now been restored and all I had to do was to bring the right food into my body and give it my best care.
Harming the body by consuming non-foods, such as epsom salts and oils (as is the case in gallbladder cleanses and liver flushes) can never be a way to create true health. We wrote an article about the negative effects of oils here.
The fact, that there is no evidence to back up claims of gallstone elimination, along with the procedure being of an abhorrent and unnatural nature should be all the reasons anyone needs to avoid these kinds of so called “health” practices.
Eating a low fat, raw vegan diet is the most natural and best way to detox and allows your own body to heal itself naturally.
What are your personal thoughts and experiences with liver flushes? Please post your comments below!
2) Tseng M. Dietary intake and gallbladder disease: a review. Public Health Nutr. 1999 Jun;2(2): 161-72.
3) Friedman GD. Natural history of asymptomatic and symptomatic gallstones.
Am J Surg. 1993 Apr;165(4):399-404.
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