Every January, we cycle through the usual New Year’s resolutions tied to weight loss, exercise, and drugs, especially nicotine and alcohol. This year is no different; everything old is new again. My resolution is to begin a new January tradition of picking my favorite fad detox, cleanse, or diet and debunking it. This year, we’re tackling Dr. Josh Axe’s Detox Your Liver: A 6-Step Liver Cleanse.
First up—who is this, Dr. Josh Axe? He’s a chiropractic and naturopathic medicine doctor who writes nutrition books. He also runs the Ancient Nutrition website, selling all forms of supplements with dosage suggestions and recipes for their use. His form of hucksterism is no stranger to the writers at ACSH. If this is your first time reading my work, you should know that I have strong opinions about chiropractors, naturopaths, and nutrition scams. This person checks all three boxes.
What Does the Liver Do?
Like many detoxes or cleanses /cleanses, Dr. Axe starts by providing some “helpful” information about what the liver does and the causes of cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is, unfortunately, common enough that most people have at least some understanding of what it is and does to the body. According to Dr. Axe,
“There are a number of nonalcoholic factors that can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and liver damage including eating uncooked shellfish, some medications (including acetaminophen), chronic malnutrition, eating poisonous wild mushrooms and exposure to chemicals, and chronic hepatitis B.”
Citing “exposure to chemicals” is a scare tactic. Nowhere does Axe discuss what chemicals might be of concern. This category feels like a catch-all to me; chemicals are everywhere! The intention is for nearly everyone to identify with one or more of the risk factors. And while there are justifiable concerns about acetaminophen, there is no mention of what doses are concerning. Inspiring chemophobia is just one way Axe lays the groundwork for selling you a miracle cure.
Chronic infection with hepatitis B’s inclusion on this list is interesting, and I should preface with my background in epidemiology of infectious disease, specifically hepatitis C research. Most people in the United States are vaccinated against hepatitis B as children. While chronic infection with hepatitis B can result in cirrhosis, hepatitis B is not the main culprit. The main culprit is hepatitis C, which is noticeably absent from Dr. Axe’s list. This is a big red flag indicating that Axe has no expertise or experience in this area, as evidenced by the absence of any mention, let alone discussion of hepatitis C.
Signs of an Unhealthy Liver
Axe goes on to state
“If you have recently noticed any of the symptoms listed below, you could be suffering from impaired liver function. It is particularly important to consider these research symptoms if you identify with one or more of the risk factors mentioned above.”
The listed symptoms include bloating and gas, acid reflux and heartburn, constipation, inability to lose weight, high blood pressure, moodiness, anxiety, or depression, among others. But none of these are specific to the liver’s health, impairment, or disease. If he concluded the article here and recommended that people go to their physician for further evaluation, I would simply be annoyed at the exclusion of hepatitis C and his vagueness about chemicals. Alas, this is not where the article concludes. The whole point of his article is to sell something. He wants you to do his liver detox.
The 6 Steps to Cleanse Your Liver
- Remove toxic food from your diet
- Drink raw vegetable juice
- Load up on potassium-rich foods
- Do coffee enemas
- Take milk thistle, dandelion, and turmeric supplements
- Eat beef liver or take liver tablets
All warrant discussion, but some are more problematic than others.
Removing toxic foods from your diet – Axe recommends cutting out refined sugar, hydrogenated oils, nitrates, nitrites, and “convenience” foods such as lunch meat. He recommends buying organic. However, organic is not inherently better. It would be better to recommend people eat more produce. But that’s not what he is doing. He is “qualifying” his audience by aiming his recommendations at people of specific socioeconomic status – those living in places with access to fresh food and can afford more expensive food. Individuals with discretionary income for his actual sales pitch.
Drinking raw vegetable juice – Axe claims, “It can be nearly impossible to eat all of the raw vegetables you need to make your liver cleanse effective. However, by juicing a variety of raw vegetables, you can easily get the 4-5 servings of fresh, organic vegetables you need.” He then recommends a juice cleanse, specifically his orange carrot ginger juice. Remember what I said at the beginning of the article about using recipes and recommendations as a sales tactic? Here it is, but we’re just warming up!
Eating potassium-rich foods – the highlight here is his claim that eating bananas, rich in potassium, releases toxins and heavy metals from the body, which is apparently especially important during a liver cleanse. He offers no evidence for any of these claims. Citing generic toxins and heavy metals is another tactic to induce fear and inspire the conclusion that one needs to “detox” their liver.
Coffee enemas – now we really start to take off with outlandish claims. “Coffee enemas help with constipation, reduce fatigue, and aid in liver detoxification.” Again, where is the evidence? I think we can probably walk through most of this one. Enemas, all of which contain liquids, help people with constipation. A coffee enema is neither the exception to the rule nor special. Coffee enemas reduce fatigue because coffee has caffeine, which is absorbed through the walls of your intestine. Drinking caffeine, a far more pleasant activity, in my opinion, can achieve the same effect. His final claim is the generic “aids in liver detoxification.” He doesn’t specify how because it doesn’t.
Taking liver support supplements – in the last two steps lies the solution to all your fears and concerns. Axe recommends taking dandelion root, milk thistle, turmeric, and liver tablets. Wouldn’t you know it, you can buy many of those items on the Ancient Nutrition website! You can buy
- Organic turmeric supplements - $30 for 90 capsules (limited time only, then it goes back up to $40!).
- Grass-fed liver tablets- $30 for 180 capsules (limited time only, then it goes back up to $40!).
- Liver Cleanse capsules - $23 for 60 capsules (limited time only, then it goes back up to $30!).
- The Regenerative Organic Liver Cleanse - $30 for 90 capsules (limited time only, then it goes back up to $40!).
Still not satisfied, and you’d like even more options? No problem! You can purchase the Greens Alkalize and Detox 14-Day Bundle that includes milk thistle and is currently $108 (usually $140, what a steal!).
Dr. Axe’s entire article is an extended sales pitch for myriad products sold on his website, and that is often what detoxes and cleanses are. People pitch something that sounds like they want you to be healthy and happy when, in reality, it’s a wellness-washed sales pitch. Don’t be fooled by this or any other cleanse or detox. They are at best, misguided but well-intentioned misinformation and, at worst, a sales pitch created to make you think you need a “health” product that you don’t. Don’t fall for it, and have a happier year with more money in your wallet.