Stress affects so many aspects of health including the liver. Involved in over 500 different processes in the body, any dysfunction in this area can be considered seriously bad news. When people come to see me with any kind of stress related condition, I always begin by considering the state of their liver. Whilst there are not necessarily essential oils for liver detoxification as such, using essential oils with hepatic and digestive properties such as eucalyptus, peppermint and carrot seed with acupressure can be very helpful to support healthy liver function. In addition, stress has a terrible effect on the liver, so using essential oils like camomile to calm the mind can be extremely helpful indeed.
Stress and The Liver
I finished my aromatherapy diploma in 1993, and in 1994 went on to do my Advanced Diploma which was fundamentally about understanding toxicity in the body. We looked at the effects of heavy metals in the body and pharmaceutical debris. The liver stands at the center of all of these things.
We were taught that when someone is stressed, eventually the adrenals will need to steal power from other places, and first it will steal from the liver and then from the adrenals.
I always felt this was a little far fetched and worried that I could not prove it scientifically. Now, not only can laboratories demonstrate it, they have been able to express just how dangerous that energy exchange is.
Our adrenal glands secrete cortisol when we are stressed. In its primary form, cortisol is an anti-inflammatory agent, however, if the body continues to produce it for prolonged periods of time, it kind of turns on its axis and begins to create an inflammatory response. This extends right across the body. If you remember, we spoke about this a few weeks ago in my article How Does Stress Affect The Body?
High levels of cortisol are connected to liver damage. When we are stressed, Natural Killer Cells expand in liver tissues. Psychological stress induces both inflammatory markers ( IL-6) and TNF-α, another agent that causes liver inflammation, suggesting a direct link between psychological stress and hepatic inflammation. (Swain, 2000)
So clearly this would be bad news, but just how important is the liver?
Importance of the Liver in Health
The liver is best considered to be the foreman of the body. Associated with over 500 vital functions it fundamentally manages “The Clean Up Crew”.
All blood leaving the stomach and intestines has to pass through it. As it does, the liver processes it, breaking down nutrients for the body to absorb and utilize.
It produces bile, the agent that breaks down fats during digestion. Bile then continues the liver’s work by carrying any waste products away and out of the body.
The liver makes cholesterol and manufactures proteins that enable bile to carry fats through the body.
It balances sugars in the body, converting surplus levels of glucose into glycogen so the body can store it for when it is needed. Later, if it is needed that glycogen changes back into glucose for energy.
The liver regulates levels of amino acids in the blood. These form the building blocks of proteins.
Protein digestion also creates a poisonous byproduct called ammonia. The liver processes ammonia, changing it into urea which can then harmlessly leave the body as part of the composition of urine.
The Liver as Part of The Circulatory System
The liver has a large function to play in the largely forgotten part of blood called plasma. This straw colored part of the blood carries platelets, red and white blood cells around the body. As it does so, it also supplies nutrients, hormones and proteins to the parts of the body that need them. Then, when the cells involved have finished their various processes, they dump waste into plasma to be moved and removed from the body
The majority of plasma proteins are synthesized by the liver.
It stores iron too, as it processes hemoglobin from the blood to make it then stockpiling it for use as needed. Importantly, the liver also regulates blood clotting.
Red blood cells also have a noxious by-product - bilirubin. The liver cleanses the system of this. If left unchecked, it can accumulate causing the skin and eyes to turn yellow.
So, after the liver breaks down harmful substances, by-products are excreted into blood or bile. Bile then carries them to the intestine and where they are processed and leave the body in the form of feces. The kidneys filter blood products which are then dispatched from the body in the form of urine.
By removing bacteria from our blood stream, we can also say that the liver also contributes to healthy immunity.
Evolution of The Liver
Importantly, the liver also processes pharmaceuticals and other poisonous substances.
One might consider how our food is now covered with fertilizers and pesticides, and we fill our bodies full of pharmaceutical drugs. As yet, our livers have not adequately evolved to know how to process this debris left behind from products that man only invented less than a century ago.
In short, for many people, our livers just can’t keep up yet.
Fatty Liver Disease: What Is It?
Fatty liver disease occurs when fat accumulates in your liver. It can be caused by too much alcohol consumption. However, drinking is not the only cause. The number of people suffering from Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) has increased in recent years. Affecting both adults and children it is now one of the most common forms of chronic liver disease in children and adolescents.This change is thought to be predominantly caused by changes in people’s diets, in particular how people’s bodies process carbohydrates and fats. Too much fat coming into liver cells overwhelming the machinery of the body and then affects how well the body can transport proteins.
Problems occur in the way the body then stores excess fat. For some, these are droplets that cause little to no problems. However, for some, these droplets change texture and shape, morphing into splinters, which, in turn cause inflammation in liver cells and scarring forms.
Symptoms & Risk Factors of Fatty Liver Disease
NAFLD refers to a group of conditions which can be understood in terms of different stages:
- Simple steatosis – this is the first stage of fat building up in the liver.
- Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) – fat accumulation begins to cause inflammation
- NASH with fibrosis – liver scarring now causes damage
- Cirrhosis – Irregular bumps, known as nodules, replace the smooth liver tissue hardening the liver. Cirrhosis is usually the result of long-term, continuous damage to the liver and can progress to end stage liver disease.
How to Cleanse & Detox the Liver with Essential Oils for Optimal Health
So to be clear, aromatherapy is not enough on its own. Not least because the liver can sometimes struggle to metabolize phenols, a group of chemical constituents in oils anyway. So that it is counter intuitive in and of itself.
Phenols are usually found in oils that feel hot, like cinnamon, oregano and clove, so whilst these are fantastic if you want to fight off a cold, in these protocols for liver detoxification, oils high in phenols would be best avoided.
Which Essential Oils Are Best for Liver Detoxification?
I have three sets of essential oils for liver detoxification that are used in different ways.
If this were me working on a client, I would want to see them once a week for six weeks. Then I would also give them a blend of oils to use three times a day themselves.
This gives you an idea of how slow progress might be.
During this time, I would use compresses, packs and massage during the appointments.
I would have my list of oils in front of me and simply mix them together in different ways
The first essential oils for liver detoxification, I would use are ones that have hepatic natures.
The main ones I like to use are eucalyptus, peppermint, rosemary, carrot seed, angelica seed, fennel, spearmint, camomile maroc and dill.
A keen eye might notice that most of those are also digestive oils, which just give it that extra bit of help doing its thing.
Next, I want to address the fatty liver issue itself. There are two oils that have quite a lot of research surrounding this. These are ginger (Liu, 2013 -Mouse trials) and Melissa (Jun, 2012 - Mouse trials). In addition, the chemical constituent, Beta caryophyllene, is also proven to have an anti-inflammatory nature on NAFLD, through its action on the CB2 receptor. No need to go into that in detail, because it is explained on our product listing for Copaiba essential oil. In addition to copiaba, I like to also use Black Pepper because it, too, has an abundance of beta caryophyllene.
Calming The Mind
My final essential oils for liver detoxification are ones that will calm the mind. Look back at that other list and you’ll notice that that’s the opposite theme. Aside from carrot and camomile, the rest are invigorating by various degrees.
But we want to calm the mind to try to switch that cortisol production down.
So, oils like lavender, geranium, clary sage, vetiver, valerian.
Although these are not essential oils for liver detoxification, they are fundamental if we want to slow the stress related action down.
We won’t talk about that specifically, but I would want the person to be using these in inhalers and baths just as a general means of getting them calm so we can switch off the cortisol cascade.
I like to use Borage and Castor Oil as my vehicles for essential oils for liver detoxification since both are taken from plants with hepatic dimensions.
How to Apply Essential oils for Liver Detoxification
I’ll be the first to admit, I get irritated by people asking me where they should put their oils. But actually, when it comes to essential oils for liver detoxification, guessing will get you nowhere.
Your liver is roughly triangular in shape, and fills almost the whole right side of the upper abdomen. Its lower border extends in front to just the level of the right rib cage. At the back it extends downwards to the top of the right kidney.
I often use castor oil packs, as well as massage as a means of getting the oils in.
If you can reach your back, great, otherwise massaging your oils over your torso works.
However, we can be cleverer than that.
Using Acupressure for Essential Oils for Liver Detoxification
I mentioned earlier that I give my clients a blend of oils to use daily. That is because there is a much more powerful way of manipulating the liver, than with aromatherapy. Using acupressure points.
Best practice is to use the liver and gallbladder meridians, that flow up and down the legs. (Pretty much where the seams of your trousers would go.)
The points zig zag back and forth, either side of the seamline. So rub your blend in, up and down the insides of your legs, below the knee.
Do it several times so you cover all points.
Listen with your fingers! If you find a spot that feels sensitive, that’s a blocked point. Spend time massaging that point to allow the energetic flow to get better.
Hot compresses open the pores. Cold compresses close them. Hot compresses open them up again, then the cold shuts them down again. Alternating the compresses creates a suction effect, drawing toxins out of organs and through the skin.
It’s a very ancient practice that no-one seems to talk about much. I have no idea why because I find it extremely effective.
You need two bowls of water: one hot, one cold.
You need two towels. I would recommend using two old ones because they absorb lots of body salts that can damage the fabric.
Rub your massage oil blend of essential oils for liver detoxification over the area, then put a warm compress over. I like to put a hot water bottle on to keep it warm.
After five minutes, replace it with a cold one. No need to add ice. The contrast is shocking enough.
Replace it with a warm one after 5 minutes.
Continue for at least 30 mins. I like to do one hour, if the client is willing.
Clearly, if you were doing it on yourself, you would place compresses on your front. If I were doing it on someone else, I would place the compresses on their back.
Liver tonic: Natural Recipes and Blends
With long term conditions, it is always best to keep swapping and changing up your oils. No need to use too many at one time, but vary the mixes as often as you can.
1 tbsp Borage Carrier Oil (Borago officinalis)
2 drops Spearmint Essential Oil (Mentha spicata)
1 drop Ginger Essential Oil (Zingiber officinale)
1 drop Black pepper Essential Oil (Piper nigrum)
Safety: Not suitable for use in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy
1 tbsp Borage Carrier Oil (Borago officinalis)
2 drops Rosemary essential oil (Salvia rosmarinus)
1 drop Copaiba (Copaiba langsdorffii)
1 drop Carrot seed (Daucus carota)
Safety: Not suitable for use in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy
Rosemary is best avoided for people who have high blood pressure, epilepsy or any psychosis issues
Potential Side Effects & Safety Concerns
According to Dr. Scott A Johnson in Evidence-Based Essential Oil Therapy The Ultimate Guide To The Therapeutic And Clinical Application Of Essential Oils
If a person has a compromised liver, liver damage, or liver failure, then there is
potential for essential oils to exacerbate this condition, particularly essential oils
that are known to be hepatotoxic in larger doses. Even smaller doses of
certain essential oils could potentially be harmful to a person with impaired liver
function. Caution is warranted for both oral and topical administration of
essential oils among those with liver disorders, particularly oral administration.
Keep your dilutions low. One or two drops in a tablespoon of oil. Little and often.
No others, really except to avoid using essential oils during those first 16 weeks of pregnancy.
Essential oils for liver detoxification are not enough to do the job on their own. Don’t forget to use inhalers and bath oils of relaxing oils to calm the stress elements down. Then mix your blends in a series of treatments, using castor oil packs, massage along the liver and gallbladder meridians and hot and cold compresses.