CAN YOUR BREAKFAST CLEANSE YOUR LIVER?
Remember the lemon detox diet – that tear-jerking lemon, cayenne pepper and sugar water concoction? Or those liver cleansing diet books? No matter how often you gently and persistently point out that detoxing your body is what the liver and kidneys do (it’s their job), the notion that you need a special pill, potion or diet to detox and cleanse has entered the seriously sticky misinformation realm. And stuck.
We recently came across a liver cleansing muesli developed by a naturopath and thought we’d check it out.
The ingredients – oats, sunflower seeds, almonds, barley bran, psyllium, barley bran, linseeds, and pepitas – are nutritious, high-fibre foods good for bowel health. There’s also an “added botanical for digestive support”, which we assume is the “0.5% slippery elm” – a herbal remedy from the bark of the slippery elm tree.
Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra Muhl.) was an important medicinal plant for Native Americans who used it in a decoction as a laxative and to aid delivery in childbirth. We’re not herbalists, so to find out more, we checked professional texts including Herbs and Natural Supplements – an evidence based guide by Lesley Braun and Marc Cohen (Elsevier). Slippery elm has traditionally been used to treat wounds and skin irritations, sore throats, coughs and gastrointestinal conditions they say. The bark contains mucilages capable of trapping water and forming a gel thought to have soothing properties. However, scientific research is lacking and the therapeutic effectiveness of slippery elm has not been investigated under clinical conditions in people, so reported beneficial effects are anecdotal, or from in-vitro and animal studies. “Safety data is lacking, so slippery elm is not recommended during pregnancy and lactation and in children and adolescents under 18” says Sarah Edwards et al in Phytopharmacy: An Evidence-Based Guide to Herbal Medicinal Products.
What about dosage? The amount of slippery elm is 0.5% of the total, which works out at 0.25g (or 250mg) per 50g serve – a bit like a drop in the therapeutic ocean when you read that the typical dose of slippery elm recommended by herbal manufacturers is 1 teaspoon three times daily (15g).
While the grains and seeds in this muesli product deliver the good gut benefits of dietary fibre, there’s no evidence its small amount of slippery elm will soothe your gut, let alone cleanse your liver. The bigger product picture here is the manufacturer’s health claims (“slippery elm powder contains a gel-like substance that acts as a protective layer for the digestive tract … you can’t taste it in the muesli, but they’re in there working for your liver!”) and such claims are strictly regulated in many countries. Under consumer law it is not permitted to make false or misleading claims about a product and a case could be made this product does not deliver on its liver-cleansing promise.
How to look after your liver To keep your liver in tip top condition, eat plenty of plant foods such as wholegrains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds; exercise regularly; maintain a healthy weight and drink water. Limit alcohol, caffeine and fatty processed foods.
The un-plugged truth
- You don’t need to buy detox products or follow detox diets. Liver cleansing is a fallacy.
- Muesli can be a healthy breakfast choice (depending on the brand).
- To care of your liver, drink less alcohol, exercise regularly, enjoy a healthy plant-based diet, maintain a healthy body weight and drink plenty of water.
Thanks to Rachel Ananin AKA TheSeasonalDietitian.com for her assistance with this article.
Nicole Senior is an Accredited Nutritionist, author, consultant, cook, food enthusiast and mother who strives to make sense of nutrition science and delights in making healthy food delicious.
Want more on detoxing? Dr Nick Fuller recently took a look at liver detox or liver cleanse products in GI News where he dealt with the question: can the liver be “cleansed”?