January is the perfect time to set new goals, so as this new year begins, why not make being healthy your number one priority? Liver detoxification is one of the first and most important areas I address when patients come to see me. The liver is the major player when it comes to eliminating toxic material our bodies are exposed to externally and internally, every day. And because a weakened cleansing system can result in fatigue, constipation, multiple food sensitivities, mood swings, and even chronic disease, cleansing the liver is of utmost importance to maintaining good health.

What exactly does "cleansing" or "detoxifying" your liver entail? Detoxifying involves changing your diet to give your liver and body a chance to rest, rejuvenate, and purify itself of toxins that have built up in your system over months and years. No matter how healthy your diet is, your liver is exposed daily to a wide variety of potentially harmful substances: heavy metals, pollutants, chemicals, radiation, and drugs, all contributing to the insidious buildup of toxins in the liver. Aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, penicillin, tetracycline, oral contraceptives, alcohol, and excessive doses of vitamin A also may challenge the liver.

Although it doesn't matter what time of year you detox the liver, after the holidays is optimal because many of us eat more than our typical share of sugar and liver-congesting foods. Some health care practitioners encourage a modified cleanse four times a year, but I find a three-week program twice a year is more realistic.

Easy detox tips

  • Give yourself a dry-brush massage to release dead cells from the uppermost layer of skin and help draw out stored toxins. Before showering, use a natural loofah sponge or dry body brush, working from your extremities toward your heart. Follow with a warm shower.
  • During the first week of detoxification, eat only liver-friendly foods to ease into the cleansing process. First, eliminate saturated, hydrogenated, or partially hydrogenated fats from the diet, which overburden the liver. Replace these fats with soluble-fiber whole foods, such as pears, oat bran, apples, and legumes, which support the liver by binding to toxins in the bile and thus hasten their excretion. Sulphur-rich foods (garlic, onions, and eggs), as well as glutathione-rich vegetables and fruits, also help support liver enzymes, while root vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, and parsnips, assist with the cleansing process. I also recommend that my patients eliminate red meat altogether and avoid alcohol, tobacco, wheat, corn, sugar, fried foods, potatoes, and eggplant.
  • Next is a more intense three- to five-day modified fast, consisting solely of diluted juices, soups, and broths. During this phase, the cleansing process kicks in. After that interval, you should adhere to a simple diet for ten or so days, reintroducing one food at a time into your system.
  • Throughout the entire cleanse, I recommend drinking filtered or distilled water, at least 8 ounces per hour while awake. Drinking a cup of hot water with half a lemon squeezed in first thing in the morning will also help to "tone" your body because lemon stimulates cleansing of both the gallbladder and liver.
  • To enhance your detox, practice deep breathing and exercise regularly. A combination of all these lifestyle choices will help you enjoy the new year and reap the rewards of greater health, energy, and vitality.

James Rouse, ND, is the creator of Optimum Wellness and The Fit Kitchen, seen weekly on NBC's KUSA television news.