Cleansing and detoxing have been in fashion for centuries, both for health reasons and for spiritual or religious ones. They have also been touted as a shortcut to losing weight, though this is rarely sustainable once you go back to your regular pattern of eating.
Whatever your reason for trying a detox or a cleanse, the truth is that you cannot force your body's own natural detoxing systems to go any faster. That's just not the way bodies work. While it is certainly possible to support your immune system and your liver, gallbladder, kidneys and lungs with a well-planned and nutritious fast, drinking Epsom salts, olive oil and grapefruit will not forcibly cleanse your liver or any other organ — and may actually cause more problems than you were hoping to solve.
At best, you may experience diarrhea while doing an Epsom salt, olive oil and grapefruit cleanse; at worst, your body won't get all the good nutrition it needs for overall health. The bottom line is that this type of cleanse won't speed up your body's natural detoxing powers, and you're better off eating a balanced, healthy diet to support natural detoxification.
Facts About Your Liver
Your liver, located in the upper-right part of your abdomen, is an absolute powerhouse when it comes to detoxing your body. Weighing about 3 pounds and shaped somewhat like a soft-edged cone, your liver performs as many as 500 different functions. Broken down into the simplest terms, your liver's most important job is to take toxins and convert them into harmless substances that can either be used by your body or excreted from it.
To do this, your body sends both oxygenated blood and blood that contains vital nutrients to your liver, which stores about a pint of it at all times. Your liver uses this blood to convert glucose into glycogen and store it for later, filter out bacteria, produce proteins and cholesterol that help your body build amino acids, and carry fats through your bloodstream. It also neutralizes toxins by converting them into harmless substances.
Once toxins are rendered harmless, they are incorporated into your bile or your blood, explains Jenifer Lehrer, M.D., of the University of Rochester Medical Center. Bile is sent to your intestines, where the byproducts of the toxins are excreted through feces. Blood is sent to your kidneys, where it is filtered and the byproducts of the toxins are excreted through your urine.
Normally, and unless you have some sort of liver disease or your liver is compromised by injury, it functions with quiet efficiency. Where trouble comes is when you flood your system with so many toxins that your liver can't keep up, such as drinking too much alcohol in too short a time.
Your body converts alcohol into acetaldehyde, which is toxic, and then into carbon dioxide and water, which are not. If you drink more than one alcoholic beverage per hour, your liver cannot make that second change and has no choice but to store the acetaldehyde.
Alcohol is also a diuretic, which means you can become dehydrated if you drink too much of it too fast. This is part of where the pain of a hangover comes from. Overwhelming your liver with toxins and then trying to force them out with a cleanse does not work. The same goes for a gallbladder flush and Epsom salt.
The best way to support your liver, gallbladder and kidneys is to stay hydrated; eat a well-balanced, plant-based diet; don't smoke; and drink alcohol in moderation.
Read more: 9 Scary Side Effects of Social Drinking
Liver or Gallbladder Cleanse With Epsom Salt Myths
One of the biggest myths is that you can forcibly detox or cleanse any of your organs.
Your natural detoxing system can be supported, but it cannot be sped up. According to the health experts at Whitman College, your liver sends bile to your gallbladder, which secretes it into your intestines. Once there, the bile acts as an emulsifier to help process fats, much the same way that whipping olive oil and vinegar together works. You can whip a salad dressing slow or fast, but adding Epsom salt and grapefruit juice won't make the olive oil and vinegar emulsify any faster on their own.
This is also true inside your body. Drinking Epsom salts, olive oil and grapefruit juice will not magically help your liver neutralize toxins any faster than usual, and it will not help your gallbladder secrete bile any faster. It also will not help the bile emulsify fat any faster. Drinking plenty of water can help you flush out the neutralized toxins more efficiently, but nothing you eat or drink can make your liver work any faster than it already does.
Facts About Epsom Salts, Olive Oil and Grapefruit
Epsom salts, which are a natural combination of magnesium and sulfate, are known for their soothing and curative effects on sore muscles and problem skin when sprinkled into bathwater. But drinking Epsom salts to detox liver poisons will not forcibly cleanse your liver, your gallbladder or anything else if you ingest it. What it will do is act like a laxative, caution the health experts at Medical News Today.
Olive oil is packed with essential fatty acids. These help lower the levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) in your bloodstream and raise the levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDLs). This is beneficial because LDLs, which are known as bad cholesterol, are like little pillows of fat that can clog up your arteries. This can lead to high blood pressure, which increases your risk of heart attack, stroke and certain types of cancer.
The more HDLs you have, the better, because they vacuum up the LDLs, keeping your arteries clear and your blood flowing smoothly. This allows your red blood cells to more effectively carry oxygen, water and nutrients to every part of your body, not only making you feel better but making your skin, hair and nails look better.
You do not have to do an olive oil cleanse to reap the benefits of the oil's polyphenols and other helpful substances. Cooking with olive oil, using it in salad dressing, drizzling it over fresh vegetables or even adding a tablespoon to your morning smoothie gives you all of its benefits without the unpleasant side effects of drinking too much of it.
Grapefruits are very high in vitamin C, which is a powerful antioxidant that scours your cells of the free radicals that occur through exposure to environmental pollutants and as a byproduct of metabolic functions. Vitamin C supports your immune system, but it will not speed up your body's natural rate of detoxing.
The fiber in a whole grapefruit can help keep you full, slow down the absorption of sugar and aid healthy elimination, but it cannot magically carry toxins out of your body or force your liver to work any faster.
Read more: Magnesium and the Liver
Dangers of Extreme Detoxes and Cleanses
Any type of diet, detox or cleanse that calls for you to drastically limit what you can eat and drink is likely to pose some sort of health risk. Aside from the headaches, nausea and irritability that come with extreme hunger, you may also be placing your health in danger in any number of ways.
Some of these dangers include:
- Upset stomach
- Interference with medicines
Grapefruit juice is very acidic and can upset your stomach. It can also interfere with certain medications. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration explains that grapefruit or grapefruit juice interferes with medicine in one of two ways: It can either block the enzyme that helps you metabolize your medication, resulting in too much of it in your bloodstream, or it can block the cells that transport the medication into your bloodstream, resulting in too little.
Medications that can appear in your bloodstream in too-high doses because of grapefruit or grapefruit juice include those prescribed for high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Drugs that can be blocked from entering your bloodstream include antibiotics and medicines designed to treat allergies and glaucoma.
Olive oil has laxative effects — so if you combine it with Epsom salts, you could be courting disaster. When diarrhea is severe enough, it can lead to dehydration. Mild dehydration is unpleasant, and can cause irritability, difficulty concentrating and dry, itchy skin. Severe dehydration can have lasting effects and can even be fatal.
In addition, if you are drinking nothing but Epsom salts, olive oil and grapefruit juice, you are not getting enough calories or enough nutrients to help keep your body functioning. This can lead to headaches, brain fog and the kind of extreme hunger that leads to dashing through a drive-thru or grabbing a bag of chips or box of doughnuts.
Read more: The Side Effects of a Detox Cleanse
How to Do a Healthy Cleanse
If you're looking to do a liver cleanse, Epsom salts are not the answer. The best way to detox your body is to stop putting sugary, starchy, salty, fatty and artificial foods into it. If you need to jump-start a healthier way of eating, according to Tufts University, take a day or so to drink smoothies.
A blended drink made with fresh or frozen fruit, vegetables and some type of protein is a far healthier option than juicing, because blending a smoothie retains the fiber in whole fruits. Fiber helps keep you feeling full and is also necessary for effective elimination.
Make sure you stay hydrated. Aim for about 92 ounces of total liquids per day for a woman and 124 ounces for man. There is no magic formula for exactly how much liquid each person should take in, though, say the health experts at Mayo Clinic, so pay attention to how you feel and drink whenever you are thirsty. Do not take in fewer than 1,200 calories for women and 1,500 calories for men, so that you can keep your energy levels, hunger and mood under control.
Taking a day or two off from a diet high in sugar, salt and saturated fats is a good way to give your body a rest, but the best way to maintain your health and support your body's natural detoxing system is to eat a plant-based diet built around colorful vegetables, fresh fruit, lean proteins, healthy fats and lots of water.
Read more: How to Clean Your Liver a Healthy Way
- Tufts University: Do You Really Need to "Detox"?
- Whitman College: Gallbladder
- University of Rochester Medical Center: The Liver: Anatomy and Functions
- Medical News Today: What Are the Benefits of an Epsom Salt Detox?
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Grapefruit Juice and Some Drugs Don't Mix
- Mayo Clinic: Water: How Much Should You Drink Every Day?
Emmy-award nominated screenwriter Brynne Chandler is a single mother of three who divides her time between professional research and varied cooking, fitness and home & gardening enterprises. A running enthusiast who regularly participates in San Francisco's Bay to Breakers run, Chandler works as an independent caterer, preparing healthy, nutritious meals for Phoenix area residents.