The “liver flush” has gained a reputation of being a cure for gallstones or liver disease. They are not only wrong, but they could be causing themselves and those who they advise to do the liver flush great harm.
“Liver flush” proponents suggest that gallstones and liver toxins can be dissolved through the use of olive oil and lemon juice or grapefruit juice. There are other variations, which include the use of apple juice and Epsom salts. The amount of olive oil consumed is typically substantially larger than one would consume at a sitting.
There has never been a controlled scientific study to this author’s (and many others’) knowledge that has shown that the “liver flush” actually removes any gallstones or detoxifies the liver.
What Evidence Do They Present?
The evidence “liver flush” proponents provide for the success of the remedy is that many times small and sometimes larger globules will appear in the stool a few hours or even a day after the remedy has been taken. Some look to be the size of a quarter or more – much larger than could be residing within the gallbladder ducts. Are these gallstones?
In a word, no.
Large gallstones can grow to about centimeter maximum. Normally they are a few millimeters in diameter.
What comes out of the feces after a “liver flush” are simply globules of saponified oil, complexed with the acidified juice and minerals. They are formed within the intestines, as the intestinal tract attempts to process this unusual mix of nutrients.
This was illustrated in a case report published in the British Medical Association’s Journal, Lancet (Sies and Brooker 2005). The clinicians performed a chemical analysis of some “stones” found in the feces of a woman who had followed a “liver flush” protocol and was experiencing abdominal pain. The clinicians found the “stones” contained 75% fatty acids (i.e. olive oil). The olive oil had been saponified into carboxylated oleic acids, and combined with the potassium in the lemon juiced, formed potassium carboxylates. This composite has also commonly been referred to as “soap stones.”
Is the Liver Flush Safe?
Once again, no. Consuming this much olive oil at a single sitting can produce gallbladder contraction, as the gallbladder works to emulsify the fat. This contraction can shut off the normal expulsion of bile through the bile ducts. This process is called choleresis. Should the gall bladder contract, the ducts will constrict, and if there are stones in the ducts, the bile flow can completely be shut off. This has been known to be fatal.
Other problems can result from such a large intake of acidified juice together with this amount of oil, depending upon the rest of the diet. This can include changes in cholesterol levels, indigestion, intestinal cramping and other problems.
Lemons, Grapefruits and Olive Oil are Still Very Healthy Foods, as Part of a Healthy Diet
This does not mean that the moderate consumption of olive oil, grapefruit and/or lemon juice it not healthy as part of a good diet. Olive oil in particular is a healthy oil for the liver in moderation. In a study from the University of Granada (Yago, et al. 2005), 18 human volunteers consumed either sunflower oil or olive oil as part of their diet for thirty days prior to surgery for their gallstones removal. All of the patients continued to suffer from gallstones, and after the surgical removal of the gallstones, the two groups’s gallstones were compared. The surgically-extracted stones from the olive oil group had less supersaturation than the stones from the sunflower oil group. Other than this, there was little difference between the two groups.
Note that the stones did not dissolve from the olive oil group. They still had to be surgically removed. But it appeared that the olive oil did not encourage the supersaturation process as much as did the sunflower oil.
Lemons and grapefruits are also healthy for the body. They both contain a number of nutrients such as vitamin C, B vitamins, iron and a host of minerals including potassium as mentioned. They also stimulate detoxification, and helps balance pH levels in the body. Lemon diluted in water is particularly healthy.
Grapefruit, however, should be used with caution by anyone who is taking medication. The flavone naringin and two other flavones, can block a P450 liver enzyme in the stomach called CYP3A4. This can dramatically increase the effects of certain drugs.
For anyone with symptoms of gallstones or liver issues, a health professional should be consulted immediately. A doctor can easily and non-invasively test for the existence of stones using ultrasound. This will also provide an estimate of the size of the stones and whether they are life-threatening. This will also allow you and your health professional to design a treatment plan based upon your general health and the size and type of stones. Consulting with a nutritionist or alternative health professional adjunctively may also provide nutritional strategies that can prevent and deter further stone formation.
Yago MD, González V, Serrano P, Calpena R, Martínez MA, Martínez-Victoria E, Mañas M. Effect of the type of dietary fat on biliary lipid composition and bile lithogenicity in humans with cholesterol gallstone disease. Nutrition. 2005 Mar;21(3):339-47.
Sies CW, Brooker J. Could these be gallstones? Lancet. 2005 Apr 16-22;365(9468):1388.