Liver Cleanse: What It Is and How to (Really) Do Them

Katie Wells Avatar

Reading Time: 8 minutes

This post contains affiliate links.

Read my affiliate policy.

liver cleanse tea
Wellness Mama » Blog » Natural Remedies » Liver Cleanse: What It Is and How to (Really) Do Them

I’ve had a lot of questions over the years about how to do a liver cleanse. In today’s toxin-filled world, our liver & gallbladder can certainly take a beating. Here’s how to naturally support your liver and do a cleanse (although it’s probably not what you think!).

What Is a Liver Cleanse?

There are several natural remedies touted to help with gallbladder stones and liver cleansing. One of the more popular ones is a high fat drink with olive oil, lemon juice or grapefruit juice, and Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate).

The person doing the liver detox starts by eating apples or drinking apple juice for several days. They then move on to drinking Epsom salts in water, followed by large amounts of olive oil and citrus. The person then lies on their right side (some sources say left) and lets the laxatives do their work.

The idea behind this is to build up bile in the gallbladder and then quickly increase bile flow. This gallbladder flush is thought to release gallstones that cause gallbladder problems. But does it really work?

First, we have to look at how our liver and gallbladders function.

Liver and Gallbladder Anatomy 101

Our liver is responsible for helping our body with detoxification. To name a few things, the liver:

  • Regulates chemicals in the blood
  • Converts glucose into the storable form (glycogen)
  • Regulates amino acids in the blood, which are the building blocks of protein
  • Makes cholesterol
  • Is responsible for bile production
  • Stores iron
  • Oversees blood clotting
  • Processes hormones
  • Helps clear bilirubin from red blood cells

In all, the liver performs over 500 everyday functions we need to survive. It creates the bile that’s then transported and stored in the gallbladder. When we eat fats, the gallbladder releases some bile salts into our small intestine. This helps us digest fats and certain vitamins and eliminates waste products.

Gallbladder Health

Most of us don’t think about our gallbladder until it starts to cause problems. Certain people are at risk of getting gallstones, which can cause pain (including abdominal pain), nausea, and vomiting. Especially after eating. Women are 2 times as likely as men to get gallstones.

The good news is, over two-thirds of people with gallstones don’t have any negative symptoms. Other high-risk groups include pregnant women, diabetics, and people with rapid weight loss. The problem is when the gallstones migrate into and block the common bile duct. This tiny tube connects the liver, gallbladder, and small intestine. If gallstones block the duct to the pancreas, it can be deadly.

Conventional medicine’s only solution to these attacks is gallbladder removal surgery. It’s an important part of the digestive system, so I’d like to keep mine if possible!

Show Your Liver Some Love

With such important jobs to do, we want to support our liver and gallbladder. When it comes to liver cleanses though, opinions are divided. Some say our livers are meant to detox and they don’t need any interference from us. Other wellness experts promote harsh or drastic cleansing protocols to help things along.

The question is: do liver cleanses work and what’s the best way to do it?

Do Liver Cleanses Work?

Earlier in the article, I gave one common example of a liver cleanse. Other popular options include liver detoxing supplements and pills.

There’s some anecdotal evidence a gallbladder flush may reduce the number of gallstones. And because you’re fasting and taking high doses of laxatives, it does help clear out the digestive system. This can help relieve bloating, and constipation, and stimulate bowel movements.

Many people have seen other improvements in their gallbladder function or pain. Others didn’t see any difference and instead had side effects like nausea, vomitting, and diarrhea. In severe cases there are reports of serious gallbladder issues requiring surgery after such cleanses. Some people swear by them, but there isn’t much solid research behind them.

The idea likely originated from a 1999 opinion letter published in The Lancet medical journal. A chemical engineer details how his wife drank apple juice and olive oil. She later passed soft, brown “stones” in her stool the next day.

People who do this cleanse end up passing lots of green chunks in their stool. However, those green chunks probably aren’t gallstones.

A Different Way to Make Soap

Other researchers have done detailed examinations of the “gallstones” passed during a gallbladder cleanse. Real gallstones are made up of various materials. These include undissolved cholesterol, bilirubin, and cholesterol.

In studies, the “stones” passed during a liver cleanse didn’t have any of these materials. What they did have were fatty acids and potassium carboxylates. In other words, the olive oil and citrus juice combined in the body to make soap. While it makes for an impressive bowel movement, it may not do much for the liver.

The Best Way to Do a Liver Cleanse

While it isn’t flashy, the best way to support our liver and gallbladder is with consistent, healthy habits. Unfortunately, we do live in a toxin-filled world and our bodies can get bogged down with it all. That’s why I do things like detox baths and armpit detoxes.

Minimizing toxin exposure where possible and supporting our natural detox processes can go a long way. There are several ways to give our livers (and gallbladders) some extra love.

Feed Your Liver

Like most health issues, it all starts with the food we put in our bodies. Livers are one of the only organs that can regenerate themselves. If we give our body better building materials, we’ll have healthier organs.

Coffee is one surprising way to support liver health. It can help lower liver enzymes and improve inflammation. While I do enjoy sipping on a little coffee several times a week, it can be easy to overdo it. Green tea has less caffeine and also shows liver-boosting benefits.

Our livers also need amino acids so we can make proteins. Grass-fed meats, pasture-raised chicken, and grass-fed dairy (if tolerated) are all healthy protein sources. Sometimes we need a little extra amino acid boost, which is why I take this amino acid supplement.

Here are some more foods to help your liver:

  • Dark leafy greens and vitamin K-rich foods to help the liver with blood clotting
  • Glutathione production foods for detox. Cruciferous veggies, kale, watercress, and onions are all good examples.
  • Antioxidant-rich foods, like berries (cranberries, blueberries, etc.) to reduce inflammation
  • Fruits, vegetables, and the occasional healthy grains for fiber to stay regular.
  • Eat healthy fats that signal the body to release bile, preventing buildup in the gallbladder. If you have (or suspect) pancreatitis or a gallbladder blockage then fats can cause more problems during this period.

Coffee Enemas

I mentioned earlier how drinking coffee may have some liver benefits. It turns out that’s not the only way coffee can boost liver function! Coffee enemas trigger the liver to release bile and flush toxins. They then soften the stool so those toxins are easily pushed out. It can also help prevent toxins from accumulating and recirculating in the body.

Here’s more about coffee enemas and how to do them.

Herbs for Liver Cleansing

While there may not be a magic pill, there are plenty of herbs that help support the liver and gallbladder. These are often divided into a few different categories

  • Cholagogues – Helps the gallbladder contract to increase bile flow into the intestines
  • Cholerectic herbs – Stimulates the liver to increase bile production
  • Nutritive herbs – These are used in larger amounts in cooking and tea like food. They’re a nutrient-dense way to support bodily functions. Examples include nettle, dandelion, and red raspberry leaf.

A Word of Caution

Most medical advice is in agreement that if you have gallstones blocking ducts, herbal remedies may cause more harm than good. If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms you could have pancreatitis or a bile duct blockage:

  • Sudden abdominal pain
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Pain that travels up to the shoulder or chest
  • Pain in your right shoulder or between the shoulder blades

These aren’t all of the possible symptoms. If you suspect there’s a gallstone blockage check in with your doctor or local hospital. Gallstone pancreatitis is deadly if left untreated. Other complications can arise from serious gallstone problems.

With that said, if you have some gallbladder sludge or are at risk for stones and want to help move things along, here are some natural remedies. Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, so check with your healthcare practitioner before starting any new regimen.

Milk Thistle

Milk thistle has been used to help the liver for thousands of years. In Traditional Chinese Medicine it’s used to reduce liver inflammation, strengthen, and tone the organ. It’s used to help digest fats and flush toxins. It helps support bile flow to the gallbladder which helps with digestion, blood sugar regulation, and constipation.

This herb can also help protect the liver from damage caused by toxins. It’s traditionally paired with dandelion root, turmeric, and artichoke leaf for liver detox.

You can find milk thistle tincture or herb to use in tea. Many people use standardized capsules. These have a concentrated form of the active ingredient, silymarin. It should be used with caution by those on insulin and similar medications.


I use dandelion leaf in recipes like Bieler’s broth and iced lime and dandelion tea. While it’s often the bane of lawnmowers, this unassuming herb has some impressive benefits. As a bitter herb, it helps stimulate digestion, bile, and enzymes. Dandelion root is also a choleretic. It helps us better digest fats, and improve liver and gallbladder inflammation and congestion.

Drinking dandelion root tea is a great way to give the liver a boost. According to Germany’s Commission E, there are a few precautions. Dandelion shouldn’t be used for blocked bile ducts, a pus-filled gallbladder (rare), or when gallstones are stuck in the small bowel.

It’s a nutritive herb that herbalists consider generally safe for most people. You can read more about dandelion root and how to use it here.

Artichoke Leaf

Yes, the same leaves that are attached to those delicious artichoke hearts. Artichoke leaf has a long history of use for liver and gallbladder support. A 1994 study showed it increased bile flow. Animal and human studies demonstrate its ability to protect against liver damage. Because it stimulates bile, it also helps with digestion and constipation.

In rare cases, it can cause an allergic reaction, but it’s generally very safe. Artichoke leaf is not recommended for those with blocked bile ducts or liver disease. You can use it as a tincture, tea, or in capsules.

Oregon Grape Root

Yet another bitter herb. Oregon grape root helps stimulate liver function and increase bile flow. There’s also evidence it can help normalize liver enzymes and inflammation. Herbalist Michael Tierra recommends using it with dandelion and fennel for gallstones. However, it’s not recommended for a blocked gallbladder or hyperthyroid.

You can take Oregon grape root as a tea, tincture, or capsule. Since it’s at risk of becoming endangered, it’s best to use cultivated sources.

There are many other herbs that can help with the liver and gallstones. Some of these include yellow dock, barberry, helichrysum, and turmeric. Be sure to do your research and see which herbs are a good fit for your own situation.

liver cleanse tea

Liver Detox Tea Recipe

This simple recipe features digestive and liver supporting herbs.
Prep Time 3 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 18 minutes
Calories 23kcal
Author Katie Wells


1 serving



  • In a small saucepan with the lid on bring the water to a boil.
  • Add the herbs, cover, and let steep for 15 minutes.
  • Strain well and sweeten to taste with honey if desired.


Nutrition Facts
Liver Detox Tea Recipe
Amount Per Serving (1 serving)
Calories 23 Calories from Fat 1
% Daily Value*
Fat 0.1g0%
Saturated Fat 0.02g0%
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.01g
Monounsaturated Fat 0.01g
Sodium 12mg1%
Potassium 16mg0%
Carbohydrates 6g2%
Fiber 0.1g0%
Sugar 6g7%
Protein 0.1g0%
Vitamin C 0.2mg0%
Calcium 8mg1%
Iron 0.2mg1%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.


  • You can also use stevia if preferred. Try adding a splash of milk for a creamy version!
  • Drink up to 1-2 cups a day or as desired for liver, gallbladder, and digestive support. 

Who Can Drink Liver Detox Tea?

In general, this tea is considered safe for most people. Experts have mixed opinions, but I avoid internal detox during pregnancy. Breastfeeding moms may also want to exercise caution. If you have a gallbladder blockage or are on insulin, consult your doctor before use.

It won’t clear out gallstones in one fell swoop. This liver detox tea is designed for the longer game. Supporting the liver’s job and encouraging bile flow, it’s a gentle way to help the gallbladder and liver function their best!

Have you ever done a liver flush before? What do you use to support your liver? Leave a comment and let me know!

  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). Gallstone Pancreatitis.
  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). Liver: Anatomy and Functions.
  3. The Herbarium (n.d.). Monographs.
  4. Dekkers, R. (1999, December 18). Apple juice and the chemical-contact softening of gallstones. The Lancet, 354 (9196), P2171.
  5. Kunik, K. (2022, April 7). 10 Foods High in Sulfur, and Why They’re So Good for You. Livestrong.
  6. Cleveland Clinic. (2022, August 18). 8 Foods for Your Liver: Keep your liver happy with these foods. Health Essentials.
  7. Gaby, A. (2009). Nutritional Approaches to Prevention and Treatment of Gallstones. Alternative Medicine Review. 14(3).
  8. Sies, C. & Brooker, J. (2005, April 16). Could these be gallstones? The Lancet Correspondence. 365(9568), 1388.
  9. Bauer, B. (2022, March 5). Gallbladder cleanse: A ‘natural’ remedy for gallstones? Mayo Clinic.
Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


106 responses to “Liver Cleanse: What It Is and How to (Really) Do Them”

  1. Mary Avatar

    My gall bladder was removed several years back. Would this cleanse still be of benefit to me? Long term pain medication use and muscle relaxers for chronic pain (fibromyalgia, arthritis, meds prescribed) have left me with the same pain issues as well as NAFLD, and I can tell when my liver is acting up by the dull ache and perpetual nausea all food brings. I stay away from pharmaceuticals as much as possible and work with natural remedies. Still, my liver wants some help.

  2. Julia Avatar

    Your self-proclaimed facts are infact incorrect…yes, bike can be yellow bit bile can also be bright green or dark green or even brown…I know this for a true fact with 30 years experience in the medical field…so let’s not be too hasty in rudely dismissing other people’s suggestions

  3. Christine Avatar

    I asked my doctor about liver cleansing. She advised that a total body cleanse is better than cleansing a specific organ.

    I make my own herbal detox by using the following: goldenseal root powder, burdock root powder, red clover powder, yellow dock powder, beet powder, Bentonite clay and milk thistle. When I did cleansing just for the liver I used only milk thistle.

    For a total body cleansing I do a colon cleanse and blood/liver cleanse. I also add Bentonite Clay and Probiotics.

    During this time I keep off meats, sodas and anything with sugar. I love meats and sugary food. I find that when I do the cleansing and keep off meats and sodas my desire for them wane. It takes some amount of discipline though.

    1. Janet Avatar

      Taking some good probiotics will kill sugar and starch cravings. It’s amazing.

  4. Joy Avatar

    Stacey E… comments like yours are so disappointing (to put it mildly…) This hippy dippy stuff as you so flippantly called it, has made a significant improvement in my health, as well as many many other bloggers on this site. I don’t profess to know exactly how the “magic” happens, but after just one liver flush, I went from being in a lot of pain on my right side, including my back and collar bone, to being entirely free of the pain withing the space of 24 hours. Don’t knock something until you try it… one day, and I am sure it will come, when the doctor tells you you need to have your gall bladder removed, please do try our “hippy dippy” remedy for yourself, before you submit to the surgeon’s scalpel… and then come back and apologise for your narrow minded approach to what everyone else is saying has worked for them!

  5. Stacey E. Avatar

    woops, bile can come in a range from yellow to green. But I still stand by the other things.

  6. Nancy Avatar

    Why would you include “urine” in the list of approved fluids to drink?

  7. Samuel Avatar

    I always like to mention for the doubters, a friend of mine had a stone stuck in her bile duct, and the doctors wanted to operate. She almost died as a baby because of doctor ineptitude, so was more than a little dubious. I suggested a liver flush with magnesium and olive oil, and gave her the instructions. She passes a 2.8 cm stone, confirmed with imaging before and after. Naturally her doctor who had told her she would die without surgery, didn’t really care much how she did it. Gee, isn’t interesting how its almost like they have a monopoly and no real desire to innovate, or cut costs for you. Welcome to modern medicine.

  8. paula Avatar

    How did you do your cleanse??? Can you give me the recipe , please?
    Thanks in advance?

  9. Margie Avatar

    Sweet Joy, I’m really thankful for your support and encouragement. I’m going shopping tomorrow and looking forward to taking this first gigantic leap! ? I will be sure to update and bombard everyone with questions along the way. Hahaha ? A big huge hug and all the gratitude in my heart for the responses from you, lovely Joy, and the wonderful Jordan. Hope shines brighter each day!! It’s such a precious gift to meet people with selfless hearts. Love and happiness always. I liver you lovelies! <3 Margie

  10. Margie Avatar

    Thank you so much for the information. The doctors didn’t give me much information. Only said to lose weight and eat a low-fat diet at 1,200 calories a day. I lost 24 pounds, but he said I need to lose another 50 to qualify for the donors list. I just turned 37 and I certainly want to be around to see where this journey brings me in another 37 years! I’m going to check out the links you’ve provided me. Loads of love and appreciation. I liver you back! 😀 Hahaha.. I love it! <3 Margie

  11. Margie Avatar

    I was diagnosed with N.A.S.H. liver last year. The doctor gives me less than 8 years to live. I’m a single mother and my children are my world. I need to be okay for them. The doctors found that my liver was fatty a decade ago, but they didn’t know about fatty liver diseases then. My health has been a huge struggle for me the past decade. I’ve always battled with my weight. Now my oldest daughter has been diagnosed with the disease. She’s only 14! Now I wonder just how long I’ve had this disease. My liver has doubled in size at this point, trying to repair itself. They told me I will start going into liver failure in less than five years. I’m on my way to having cirrhosis of the liver and yet I’ve never been an alcoholic. I do not have hepatitis C. Please help me. I’m afraid and seeking ways to rid my liver of the fat. I want to live. I need to live! More importantly, I need to save my daughter as well. She is an intelligent and talented young lady. She has big dreams and so much potential. She’s beautiful and I love her. We both struggle with our weight and I question whether or not the clogged liver is slowing our progress? I’m desperate. Any suggestions would be appreciated beyond belief! May love and happiness fill your lives. <3 Margie

  12. Katie - Wellness Mama Avatar

    I’m not a doc, so I can’t offer any specific help, but personally, I would not combine a colonic and a flush, as that is a lot of the body to take on at once.

  13. Bev Avatar

    Thank you so much for the wonderful info, Jordan! I will do a search and try to locate the oxy-mag… Sounds like an excellent follow up. Probably great for diverticulitis! My dr. said he thought that’s what my symptoms were (diverticulitis) and that may be also, but my own body intuition and symptoms told me gallbladder and low and behold, many, many stones. With a history of ishemic colitis, I’m sure there is a lot of stuff going on in the gut! I previously had 18 inches of gangrene and was hospitalized for a week, thought I was near dying bevause I felt so bad… I do energy healing and with digestive rest and the help of a couple of other wonderful healers, we were able to completely heal the colitis. Drs. were dumbfounded! But this gallbladder thing struck me quick and I had no time for the full course of energy healing. It took two weeks of daily sessions for the colitis… I just could’nt wait that long. Thank you all again, so very much. Blessings, all!

  14. Joy Avatar

    Hi Bev, I can feel your elation coming through in your comment… it is palpable! I just had to write and tell you, well done for taking your health into your own hands, and taking the plunge with this cleanse… it is so liberating, and your well being after completing it is quite amazing… I hope your doctor takes your advice, and tries it for himself, because I have no doubt that he will pass on the message to his other patients!

    Yours in good health… Joy

  15. Cynthia Avatar

    What if you don’t have a gallbladder? is it still safe?

  16. Jess Avatar

    Thanks a lot for your comment Joy and putting my mind at rest! haha – Yes I was thinking of doing another cleanse in a month. It is amazing how I don’t have any brain fog anymore. particularly in the afternoon

  17. Tina Walker Avatar
    Tina Walker

    I agree completely Joy! Thank you for your posting. I too experienced all the same and now pain free.. oooh happy day.

4.37 from 11 votes (11 ratings without comment)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating