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Why You Should Spring Clean Your Liver (And How To Do It!)

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Spring is associated with the liver and the element of wood. So, forget ‘Spring cleaning’ your house, here’s why you should Spring clean your liver, and 5 ways to do it...

If you’ve been following my content, you will have heard me talk about the liver before, as it has a huge role to play in hormone (im)balance.

But what exactly is the link between the liver and hormones? 

Firstly, most hormone conditions that I see in my clients (such as PCOS, fibroids, and endometriosis) are caused by (or associated with) excess estrogen.  

One of the liver’s (many!) roles is to transform harmful or no-longer-needed substances in the body into a less harmful form that can be excreted. Those substances include hormones, like estrogen. It’s really important that the liver is able to do its job properly and transform estrogen into a version that can be safely excreted (I’ll explain why in a sec). 

The liver detoxes (or transforms) substances in 2 phases, both of which require certain nutrients and enzymes in order to function correctly. Problems occur when one, or both, of these phases are not working correctly.  

If, for example, phase 1 is working but phase 2 is not, substances (like estrogen) start to build up at the middle point between the two. And if this gets too blocked up and the liver is overburdened it will release these substances (which have only been half transformed) back into the body. This recycling of estrogen is a huge problem for our health, as the estrogen that is released back into the body is the harmful form of estrogen (16-alpha-hydroxyestrone), associated with estrogen dependent cancer. 

The liver also produces ‘sex hormone binding globulin’ (SHBG) - a protein that binds to hormones (such as estrogen and testosterone) and prevents too much of that hormone circulating in the body. 

So, what can we do to support the liver and make sure it’s able to do its job properly? 

#1 Not eating/ingesting things that burden the liver, as this is going to make it sluggish, and give it more work to do (it takes energy away from the important work of transforming hormones, etc.).  

Things that burden the liver include: 

  • Trans fat 

  • Caffeine 

  • Alcohol 

  • Refined sugar 

  • Chemicals 

In other words, staying away from processed (junk) food, refined carbs (such as pastries, donuts, cookies), preservatives, sweeteners, or anything else that you can’t pronounce! Also avoiding GM products, and trying to buy organic as much as possible. 

It’s not just about what we put in our mouths though. 

About 64% of what we put on our skin is absorbed into the body, and will also eventually get sent to the liver for detoxification. That’s why I recommend that, if you wouldn’t eat something, don’t put it on your skin!  

So, when it comes to makeup and skincare products/toiletries, become a label detective – if there are ingredients you can’t pronounce, or long lists of chemicals/preservatives, then put it back on the shelf. Especially avoid anything with ‘parfum/fragrance’ as companies are legally allowed to put anything in their products under the label of parfum/fragrance (as it’s deemed a ‘trade secret’ so they don’t need to disclose what it is). It tends to include phthalates (‘sticky’ chemicals that make scents last longer), which are a known class of endocrine (hormone) disruptors. If you’re not sure whether an ingredient or product is natural or safe, the Environmental Working Group has a database (‘Skindeep’) where you can search for the ingredient/product to see its safety score. It’s not foolproof but can be a useful starting point. Brands that are totally natural (which I use myself) are Dr Bronner's and 100% Pure.  


#2 We can support the liver by making sure we’re giving it the nutrients it needs to do its job properly. 

Phase 1 detoxification requires B vitamins, which we can get through good quality whole grains. I tend to recommend gluten-free whole grains as many people are gluten intolerant (or just feel better without gluten). Luckily, there are loads of super nutritious gluten-free whole grains to choose from, such as quinoa, brown rice, millet, amaranth, sorghum, etc. Aim for at least one portion of these a day (and variety throughout the week is best for gut health). 

Phase 2 requires certain amino acids, so that means making sure you’re having a good quality protein source. I don’t recommend animal protein because it’s inflammatory, and inflammation is one of the key drivers of most chronic diseases, as well as hormone imbalance. You can get all the protein you need from eating a variety of vegetables, as well as legumes (beans and pulses) including organic (or non-GM) tofu and tempeh, nuts and seeds. You should be aiming to have a portion of pulses every day (although you might need to start off slowly if you're not used to eating a lot of beans), plus protein with every meal. That might look like oatmeal with nut butter, berries and seeds for brekkie, tofu scramble for lunch, and a bean chili for dinner, for example. 

Phase 2 also requires magnesium, which can be found in (for example) almonds, spinach, pumpkin seeds, chocolate (preferably raw or dark!), avocado, black beans and cashews. 

Cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, etc.), as well as onion, leeks and garlic, are also extremely beneficial for the liver as they contain sulphur compounds, which help the liver work properly. 

Phytoestrogens (found in pulses and flaxseeds) help stimulate the liver to produce SHBG and therefore help in the removal of excess estrogen. 

Bitter herbs such as dandelion, and artichokes, also help stimulate bile production, which we need to break down fat, and help digestion. 

Milk thistle is also very well known for helping liver function (normally taken as a tincture or supplement, but please check with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplements). 


#3 In TCM, the liver is associated with anger.  

If you notice that you’re experiencing a lot more anger lately, it might be that the liver needs some extra love (using the steps above) but also, maybe that anger is justified – it just needs to be directed into a healthy and productive outlet. Working with a coach, therapist or counsellor to find ways to express and understand your anger could be an important step in supporting your liver. 


#4 Following a TCM approach, we can also bring harmony to the liver by stimulating the liver meridian (meridians are channels of energy that run through the body, which are connected to certain organs and health conditions according to TCM - this is the same theory behind acupuncture), which runs up the inside seams of the legs and up the front of the body to the nipples. We can stimulate meridians using pressure (in the form of acupuncture, acupressure, or yoga); for example, by practicing yin yoga poses that focus on the inside of the legs, such as deer pose or dragonfly.  

I will be offering a Yin Yoga class focussing on the liver meridian later in the year, so make sure you’re signed up to the newsletter and following me on Instagram, so you’ll be the first to know when this is released! 


#5 You could also try a liver cleanse.  

I don’t think cleanses are for everyone, as they can be quite restrictive, but, if used correctly, for a very short period, they might kick-start your health journey, or help if your liver needs extra support.

A liver cleanse would usually be 24 hours to 3 days (max), and would involve, for example, eating a large fruit salad for breakfast, a big green salad (lots of green leafy veg) for lunch, and a light broth/miso soup/vegetable soup for dinner, plus lots of water (or even lemon water for an extra kick!) throughout the day. This would then be followed by a period of eating very healthily (not jumping straight back into junk food!) and avoiding the liver burdens previously mentioned. If you feel that you’d like to try a liver cleanse I really recommend working with a qualified coach or healthcare practitioner in order to do so safely and effectively. This is something I have used with clients, so book in for a chat with me if you’re interested! 


When is the best time to support your liver? 

Given how important the liver is for good hormones, we should be looking to support the liver at all times, especially if you’re dealing with any hormonal issues or symptoms. In addition, it can be really powerful to support the liver in Spring, given their connection in TCM, and as an ‘internal Spring clean’ to set you up for a healthy year!  

But, whether or not you live in the Northern hemisphere (and experience Spring), you can take advantage of this connection at any time. 

As women, we have internal seasons (thanks to the menstrual cycle). Our follicular phase (just after our bleed has finished and before ovulation) is like our internal Spring, when our hormones are just beginning to rise. This is a great time to focus on supporting the liver (using the steps above), so that estrogen doesn’t get out of hand (although most women get their worst PMS symptoms during luteal phase (just before the period arrives), it’s better to address excess estrogen in advance so that it we’re setting ourselves up for a balanced luteal phase). 

If you’re totally turned on by the sciency stuff (like me!), check out my webinar where I go more in-depth on the phases of liver detoxification and also offer other tips and information on dealing with hormone imbalance. 

If you want some personalised support in doing a liver cleanse, or in dealing with symptoms of hormone imbalance, book in for a free consultation where we can get to the root cause of your issues, and create a personalised plan and road map to health tailored to you. 

Do you feel like your liver needs some love? Which of these tips resonates with you? Let me know in the comments!


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