In the cycle of traditional Chinese medicine, springtime is associated with the organ of the liver. And just as you might undertake spring cleaning in your home, this is a good time of year to consider a liver cleanse to remove stagnation that has built up from winter inactivity and holiday overindulgence.

The liver is involved in over 500 chemical reactions in the body, many of which have to do with digestion. It is also responsible for the detoxification of the pollutants, medications, and food additives that we come into contact with every day. If our toxic burden is too high, liver cells will be damaged and unable to perform their critical functions of metabolizing nutrients, regulating blood sugar, producing blood proteins, and storing vitamins and minerals.

To reduce damage to the liver, follow the guidelines below for a gentle detoxification protocol using easily attainable foods and supplements. It does not require buying a kit with laxative powders, refraining from eating, or consuming unusual combinations or quantities of food the way some popular cleanses do.

Avoid smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and eating animal protein for the duration of your cleanse, all of which increase the amount of ammonia the liver has to process and the kidneys have to excrete. Avoid processed food as well, since some preservatives added to convenience foods are linked to increased cancer risk.

Eat a plant-based whole foods diet, which is the basis of any healthy eating regimen. Especially helpful are vegetables from the cruciferous group including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, horseradish and turnips. Amino acids in these foods provide the liver with raw material for conjugation, a process of adding molecules to harmful chemicals to make them less toxic and more easily excretable.

Drink several glasses of green juice daily. Juicing concentrates nutrients, provides easily absorbed vegetable servings, and alkalinizes the body. Many disease-causing microbes thrive in an acidic environment and are kept in check if the pH is high. Good choices for juicing are spinach and beet greens. Both are high in potassium, which balances the overabundance of sodium consumed in the standard American diet. Also recommended is cilantro, an herb that can bind and eliminate heavy metals in a process called chelation. Add the juice of ½ green apple if plain green juice is unpalatable.

Protect your liver by taking milk thistle supplements. Milk thistle rejuvenates liver cells, acts as an antioxidant, and protects against poisoning by acetaminophen, the drug most responsible for liver failure in the United States. Milk thistle also prevents fibrosis—changes in liver architecture due to hepatitis or alcohol abuse.

Relax with a castor oil pack an hour each day. Saturate a cloth with oil, apply it to your abdomen, and place a heating pad or hot water bottle on top. Heat increases circulation to the area, bringing fresh oxygen and nutrients to the liver and carrying away waste products. Castor oil augments T cells in the immune system, giving your body extra disease-fighting power.

Follow these steps for a week any time you experience fatigue, abdominal complaints or anger for better flow of physical and emotional energy.

Jessica Needle is a naturopathic doctor who has guided hundreds of patients through the process of nutrition-based detoxification. She practices at Optimal Health Center in Palm Desert and can be reached at (760) 568.2598.

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