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

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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. Tara DeLisio Avatar
    Tara DeLisio

    The Amazing Liver and Gall Bladder Flush” is a book that goes into detail from one Dr’s perspective on the benefits and the process and the debate about this flush. I have flushed 8 times and feel better each time, my scan revealed a “packed gallbladder” and so I’ve been slowly doing this now for 8 months, instead of surgery.
    From all that I have read and other books on the topic this method has been around a lot longer than the 1990’s

  2. Anna Vollrath Avatar
    Anna Vollrath

    Can this be done in a French press or tea pot style? Or do you mean that it needs to be actively boiled for the 15minuted?

  3. Tom Avatar

    Can you tell me why you have changed the article about the liver gallbladder cleanse using epsom salts and olive oil?

    1. Jamie Larrison Avatar

      It was difficult to find credible evidence based sources for that protocol and there were reports of side effects ranging from nausea and vomiting to pancreatitis (which is deadly) and gallbladder failure. You can find a more detailed explanation in the article above. If someone wants to do that type of gallbladder cleanse there is a link to the original recipe and instructions.

  4. Emerald Avatar

    It is extremely disappointing you’ve removed the instructions for the gallbladder flush and caved to mainstream medicine here. Even if all it does it make soap, so many people have seen benefits. After my second daughter was born, I was having gallbladder attacks lasting all day that improved after doing the flush. In the first flush, I passed green “stones” whatever they are, with hard calcifications… that can’t be explained by soap. Since then, just had the green soap stones. I continued to experience benefits by these flushes until I had to stop because of a surprise pregnancy. Thank goodness I was able to do them when I did or that pregnancy would have been a huge struggle with the kind of gallbladder pain and issues I was having. You should leave the flush instructions up, provide the warnings you want, and let people decide for themselves.
    I have also done the herbal support and coffee enemas but they are not fixing my gallbladder pain. I have even taken a break from my weekly coffee enemas because the last one seemed to result in a stuck stone causing pancreas pain. Now that baby is 9 months old, I’m going to start flushes again and hopefully be able to continue this time until my gallbladder is in full health.

    1. Jamie Larrison Avatar

      The link to the gallbladder flush instructions are still available in the article for anyone who wants to use it. It was replaced with protocols that have time tested evidence of efficacy and safety, not because of pressure from mainstream medicine. Some people do like this type of flush, but there’s also more risk (and reports of) injury. In the end everyone has to do what they feel comfortable with based on the available evidence 🙂

  5. Sheerry Avatar

    I have a gallbladder stone, and It hurts like hell. I need medicine just to stop the pain, and I don’t have much appetite and constipation everytime this happens. If you have any suggestion or solutions for me to flush it out of my body, I’ll be very thankful.

  6. Ian Avatar

    Dear Katie,

    Thank you for your website and all the time and energy that you have invested in it. It is much appreciated.

    In regard to the above-mentioned cleanse, which seems close to Andreas Moritz’s protocol, I have used it systematically for a number of years. As someone that has gone through chemotherapy, I was concerned about the residual chemicals in my body and so I have actively practised various detoxification methods including the formula mentioned in the article. I’m also an experiential learner and so I tend to try things to verify what the so-called experts tell us from their lab results, which are often completely disconnected from the reality of the human body.

    So I share my experience regarding the Andreas Moritz protocol. I think it important to share it because it seems to contradict the soap-making hypothesis.

    I followed Moritz’s liver cleanse protocol for ten months and I stopped, as per the protocol, when no more stones were coming out. At the beginning of the cleanse, stones may not come out during the first couple of cleanses but through the continual repetition of the cleansing process for the months that follow. This was my experience. So the question it raises for me is if I’m repeating a protocol on a monthly basis and ingesting the same liquids, why would I only have ‘soap stones’ in the middle of the cleanse and not at the beginning and end?

    Furthermore, once the initial series of cleanses is completed, it is recommended to do a cleanse every six months. The last time I did it, I did it for three consecutive months without a single stone. If the stones were soap, then what I would expect to happen is that stones would come out each time you do the cleanse, which was not the case for me.

    I hope this is helpful for your readers.

    1. Angela McConnell Avatar
      Angela McConnell

      Thank you. I’ve experienced the same. I personally feel it must be more than just an olive oil ball. I don’t use lemon or juice…on the last day it’s only Epsom salt and oil. Last month no green balls… this month a bunch. Either way I feel great, less bloated and no pain.

  7. Holly Avatar

    Can anyone give us information on “ursidiol” used for dissolving bile/cholesterol stones

  8. Carla Avatar

    I wish I had tried all this before removing my gall bladder, but the doctor told me that if I refuse the appointment for the surgery, she can’t give me an other one unless the pain strucks again, and I asked her to give me some time to try a natural remedy to see if it works, but she basically scared the heck out of me by telling the risk that would put me in and that if there truly was a natural way to get rid of the stones without extreme pain or obstruction that could lead to inflammation of the canal and could cause serious problems and lead to a pancreatis… They would defenitly be proscribing it to patients… Plus my parents got mad at me for wanting to cancel the surgery and put a lot of pressure on me to do it…
    I felt really discouraged, it’s been 3 months now since the operation, and the only good side is I feel a bit more energitic, but my stomach is just so fragile, I can’t eat like I used to, my portions are a lot smaller, forgot the “all you can eat” restaurants (I won’t be able to get my money’s worth like I used to XD), if I eat slightly more than I should, my stomach hurts really bad, until I flush out, yes diarrhea style(srry for the details, but that’s how it is).
    Even when I eat a light meal, my stools are rarely normal and sometimes right after a meal I have to rush to the toilet like I have food poisoning…

    The doctor said it can take up to 3-4 months and even up to a year, before my digestive system gets back on track, I hope she’s right… Also my right side, exactly where the gall blader was, is sensitve, and hurts from time to time, doctor said it must be bcs of the muscle tissues that are still healing after incision, and it can take some time.

    I’m still very young, and not minding the scars so much, I just hope the fact that I removed an organ doesn’t affect the rest of my health, bcs all the talk about: “this organ isn’t actually important, you can live without it won’t affect you in the slight, you can eat everything you used to eat, it doesn’t change anything, it’s like the apendix, we don’t really need it” I mean I get that the body can adapt without it, but to what extent?

    Still I honestly believe every organ is necessary for the complete and perfect fonctionning of the human body or else it wouldn’t be there in the first place.
    None the less, I went and removed it anyways, bcs of pressure and literally everyone was telling me to do it.

    Plus on the internet you can’t find actual testimonies or real studies and facts of people who naturally removed their gall stones and had an ultrasound afterwards to prove it was all gone, if I had found any I would’ve taken a stronger stand and wouldn’t have gone under the knife. Now I’m missing an organ, and I’m a bit worried of the effect on my body on the long run, wish I had listened to my gut. Anyone else go through the surgery? Any feed back?

    Thank you, and sorry for the long text.

    1. Michelle Avatar


      I’m sorry you were feeling so pressured to get your gallbladder removed. I am feeling pressured to just have surgery too by my Mom who’s a registered nurse and my doctor… But as I’m researching my options I came across this article that explains what the gallbladder does and how and why gallstones form and what to do if you’ve had your gallbladder removed. I know you posted awhile ago, but I hope this information helps you…

      “What about a diet for those who have had their gall bladder removed? The conventional advice is to go on an extreme, lowfat diet. But your body still needs good fats, and still produces bile to digest them. Even without your gall bladder, you should still eat healthy animal fats and avoid processed vegetable oils.

      The gall bladder is a rhythmical organ and secrets bile at certain times of the day–ideally at meal times. When you have a gall bladder, you always have bile salts stored and so do not necessarily have to eat at set times of the day. For those who have had their gall bladder removed, it is important to eat meals in a rhythmical fashion–three meals per day at approximately the same time each day, and with no snacks in between. In order to enhance the sense of rhythm and supplement the supply of bile, I prescribe Cholacol, the Standard Process bile salts formulation, 1 tablet with each meal. Swedish bitters, 1/2 teaspoon mixed with a little water, taken just before each meal may also be helpful.

      In order to provide ample protection for your colon (from cancer), be sure to take cod liver oil and other foods rich in vitamin D. Avoid all processed and grilled meats and any foods containing carcinogenic substances that could supplement the irritating properties of bile secreted into the intestines.”


  9. Teresa Avatar

    if you are eating healthy including lots of cruciferous veg’s, healthy oils, garlic, etc, should a liver cleanse be necessary?

  10. Julie Avatar

    What if we have had our gall bladder removed? Should we still do a cleanse?

4.37 from 11 votes (11 ratings without comment)

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