askST: Is a liver and gall bladder detox plan beneficial or harmful?

Reader Praise Tan wrote to askST about an article she read advocating a liver and gall bladder detox plan: "It involves drinking ½ a cup of olive oil and lemon juice after 'eating clean' the whole day."

She asked what doctors think of this plan: "Would this be beneficial or harmful to the body?"

Mind & Body editor Ng Wan Ching checked with an expert for the answer.

Advocates of detoxing or cleansing the liver and gall bladder hail it as a way to flush the liver, get rid of gallstones and aid digestion.

The process usually involves taking very little food on the day of the detox, followed by the detox which is made up of olive oil and a juice with or without Epsom salts (a naturally occurring pure mineral compound of magnesium and sulfate).

Dr Ling Khoon Lin, consultant gastroenterologist at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, explained that this process could have different effects depending on the person doing it.

"If one does not have gallstones, then the oily meal may merely cause diarrhoea and abdominal discomfort," he said.

"If one truly has gall bladder stones, this is a potentially dangerous way to get rid of gallstones.

"An oily meal will cause the gall bladder to contract. Stones in the gall bladder may remain in the gall bladder, in which case it might only cause nausea and pain.

"However, if the stones are actually pushed out of the gall bladder, they may lodge in the bile duct - the tube which connects the liver and gall bladder with the intestines - causing nausea, pain and predisposing one to infection."

He advised anyone wishing to improve their digestive health to consult a doctor for a proper way of doing it and emphasised that if one is suffering from gallstones, one should ask a doctor for the most appropriate method of treatment.