Signs of Liver Congestion & How to Cleanse the Liver

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH


7 Signs of Liver Congestion

A health professional looking at a medical image of a patient’s liver while the patient has his hand over his abdomen and looks worried about how to cleanse the liver and possible liver problems.The liver performs over 500 physiological functions for your body, making it the leading organ in achieving overall optimal health. Over time, exposure to toxins and chemicals in the food and environment can congest your liver, causing the body’s immune and stress response systems to become less effective. When the liver is congested, damage can occur. Such damage may be considered “clinical”, where laboratory test values are abnormal, or “subclinical”, where test results are within range, but symptoms of liver dysfunction are evident. It is therefore important to pay attention to the liver congestion signals and take steps to learn how to cleanse the liver as soon as you are aware of the symptoms to prevent further damage.

If you are experiencing any of these common signs, you may be experiencing liver congestion:

  • Disrupted sleep or exhaustion – you commonly have trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep, and you are always tired during the day. A congested liver produces metabolites that can keep your body from falling, and staying, asleep as it circulates to the brain, triggering unwanted inflammation.
  • Acne or eczema – As the liver’s ability to clear toxins is diminished from congestion, the body will push these toxins out through the skin.
  • Unexpected outbursts of emotion – The liver is known in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) as the organ responsible for the release of emotions such as anger, anxiety, and frustration. Excessive outburst could lead to a body that is known as “heaty”, with an increase in propensity towards sickness.
  • Lack of focus – acid from a volatile liver is known to travel through the body to the brain, creating brain fog.
  • Sudden allergies to foods or environment – The liver may suddenly see familiar foods or cleaning products as toxic when it could handle them before.
  • Decrease in absorption of nutrients – Nutrients, not only toxins, are filtered by the liver. When it is congested, the nutrients cannot be properly filtered for their appropriate use.
  • Hormone imbalance – The liver synthesizes and secretes important hormones, including, but not limited to, Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1), Angiotensinogen, Thrombopoietin, Hepcidin and Betatrophin. When the liver is congested, it throws off the secretion of these hormones leading to an imbalance in the endocrine system. Also, it’s important in the breakdown of steroid hormones like progesterone and estrogen. Excessive liver congestion can reduce the clearing capability of the liver to eliminate steroid hormones, resulting in toxic overload internally. This is one reason why many in advanced stages of Adrenal Gland Disorders, with concurrent liver congestion, do not tolerate such hormones as well as the general population.

As an integral part of the body’s Neuroendometabolic (NEM) Stress Response, the liver must be fully functioning to help the rest of your organs combat stress. Though we see the adrenal glands as the primary organ responsible for fighting stress with the production of cortisol and other hormones, the adrenals are only responsible for a fraction of the overall stress we endure, namely intermittent and mild stress. The adrenals are purely a NeuroEndocrine response. The liver is part of the detoxification system and a major part of the metabolic pathways. When we look into the way the body responds to stress using multiple organs, systems, pathways, and chemical reactions, we see a bigger picture into the full NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response. This picture reveals how stress should be evaluated and treated holistically as a whole body approach. All of the organs must work together on a functional level to fight stress when it first appears. When the other organs are not fully functioning, undue stress is placed on the adrenal glands, lessening their ability to produce and secrete stress-fighting hormones, leading to Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome. By knowing the symptoms, you can cleanse and repair liver congestion and get back to a healthy stress response, aiding in AFS recovery.

How the Liver Reacts and Responds to Stress

  • Blood flow is reduced to the liver when the body intercepts fear and anxiety, triggering liver damage – Without adequate blood flow the liver cannot filter toxins and process nutrients. This causes congestion.
  • Liver transplant recipients with high stress levels have been known to reject a new liver – the body tells the liver it is too stressed to sustain it.
  • Stress triggers elevations of ALT levels (an enzyme correlated with liver damage) – stress can literally kill your liver.
  • Natural “killer” cells expand in the liver during periods of stress, contributing to liver cell death – these cells can be repaired and regrown if therapy is administered properly and as soon as possible.
  • Stress causes inflammation in the liver, leading to liver damage – inflammation is an autoimmune response that is reduced by hormones secreted by the adrenal glands. Relieving stress and repairing the organs for detoxification is vital to AFS recovery.
Check out this easy to understand infographic about the common signs of liver congestion

How to Cleanse the Liver

The most important thing you can do to have a healthy, well-functioning liver, that is ready to join your body in the NEM Stress Response, is to prevent liver congestion in the first place. Some rather simple ways to prevent liver congestion are:

  • A young woman refusing alcohol and nicotene, one step in how to cleanse the liver.Avoid alcohol, which is taxing on the liver to process
  • Avoid coffee, sodas, and other caffeinated foods and beverages
  • Avoid large amounts of sugar, particularly in a short amount of time
  • Avoid toxins and pesticides in foods by consuming organic produce as much as possible
  • Eat whole grains, such as oatmeal and barley
  • Avoid environmental toxins as much as possible
  • Increase cardiac health with regular exercise to increase blood flow to the liver
  • Drink plenty of water every day, especially before and after meals
  • Keep your other organs in good overall health

Once you have determined liver congestion, you can make some simple dietary and lifestyle changes to balance the function of the liver and repair damage:

  • Increase water intake – particularly in the morning to flush out toxins processed overnight
  • Replace at least 2 meals per week with vegetable juices
  • Add herbal supplements aimed at liver function:
    • Milk Thistle contains the active ingredient Silymarin, which protects the liver by strengthening liver cells that prevent absorption of toxins. Milk Thistle repairs the liver by stimulating protein synthesis to generate new cell growth. As an antioxidant, Silymarin can reverse the effects of liver damage caused by drugs such as acetaminophen and chemotherapy. The fermented form, such as Fermented Liver Rebuilder, is best.
    • Black Seed Oil contains the active ingredient thymoquinone, a powerful antioxidant that protects the liver from toxins and strengthens the immune system to promote optimum health. It is well known for its anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties
    • Glutathione is one of the body’s most powerful antioxidant. It can be made in the body by combining amino acids, and can also be obtained from natural food sources such as squash, peppers, asparagus, onions, and carrots. Make sure not to cook these food sources as the heat can denature the glutathione, rendering it ineffective. The lipsomal form of delivery is best, such as Liponano (add register mark) Glutathione.

Closeup of clock face with number replaced by text “time to heal”, representing the proper way of how to cleanse the liver takes timeRealize that you cannot cleanse the liver overnight. You should expect to actively research how to cleanse the liver and apply a purely holistic approach to liver congestion over a period of 1 – 3 months. It is very important to understand that your liver needs time to clear itself. If you feel the symptoms of additional fatigue, brain fog, or intolerance toward dietary supplementation, that might be a clue you have a congested liver. If your liver is congested, it is important not to overwhelm it with unnecessary toxins and metabolites. It is important to eat a clean diet with quality ingredients and take proper supplementation to decongest the liver. Decongesting the liver and body too quickly can even lead to a recontaminating/toxifying reaction. This is very unhealthy for the body as toxins get absorbed back into cells. In advanced stages of adrenal fatigue, this tends to be more common as low energy levels result in a even more sluggish liver. If you have a congested liver, make sure you talk to a provider who understands how to push on the brake pedal rather than only add more oil to the fire with more supplements. In time, you can clear your liver congestion and protect it from future congestion by following the above guidelines, allowing your liver to once again play a very vital role in combatting stress and AFS recovery.

© Copyright 2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

How to cleanse the liver

DrLam.com
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Hey Dr. Lam!

I really wanna say thanks for your interest to help me :-).

I did as you told me, I stopped taking fruits. I just take an apple a day and that's it, compared to before, when I used to start eating fruits from morning till noon! You know what? Till now, believe it or not it has helped! True! But I will keep contact with you, especially when my next period is due.

I really appreciate the fact that you can answer my call…




8 Comments

  • rose says:

    Can you have a congested liver even if your blood test liver enzymes are normal?

    • Dr.Lam says:

      Yes. In fact, that is usually the case. Liver enzymes rising by lab is a late indicator.

      Dr. Lam

  • Melody Parker says:

    What is liver congestion? Is it a liver with thick bile sludge? Or is it a liver full of toxins?
    What recommendations do you have for someone with liver congestion but severe constipation? I am considering colon irrigation at this stage.

    • Dr.Lam says:

      Depends on the degree of congestion, most people do not have sludge or even abnormal liver studies when the degree of congestion is mild.

      Dr.Lam

  • Barbara Young says:

    I just started seeing a holistic doctor. He said I have congested liver and I’m taking his prescribed supplements. Just like you said, it will take months to cleanse. What vegetables would be good to juice for the liver each day?

    • Dorine Lam RDN says:

      Carrots, beets and greens are good base. In addition, alternate with kale, cabbage, parsley, ginger, tumeric, mint.

      Dorine Lam, RDN, MS, MPH
      Registered Dietitian and Senior Holistic Nutritionist

  • Frank Rossi says:

    Question: how long does one take these if they are low in DHEA/Pregnenolone.
    do these hormones cumulate and therefore keep raising your existing levels or do the act in a more supportive role and therefore ok to keep supplementing. Older (over 70) patients are normally low in PG/DHEA it would seem ok to take a low dose of 10 each and hopefully this will also help to resole the nasal congesting in time due to the increase in cortisol.
    THANK YOU

    • Dr.Lam says:

      Low dhea/pregnenolone has many reasons. First you have to identify the root cause. for example, in AFS, pregnenolone is often low due to a shunting process, and thus no replacement is needed. Excessive pregnenolone is most commonly due to external supplement intake that has to be ruled out. In general poplulation of 70 years that is in good health, the gradual decline in hormonal output can be supplemented, but not always necessary. Hormones serves specific function that has to be carefully evaluated.

      Dr Lam