Is DIY detox a scam?
You’ve had a bit too much wine over the holidays, perhaps a few too many sugary snacks. Like many of us you will probably hit the gym with fervor in January, lay off the booze and eat a few more carrots, maybe even some kale.
Some of us, however, will fall prey to products that purport to detoxify your body. They will claim to “flush” toxins from your kidneys, liver or colon, leaving you with a “flatter stomach” and “less stress”. Often purportedly sourced from whatever “all natural” miracle food is the flavour of the day, they will “reprogram your metabolism”, “heal your mind” and “promote weight loss”. But there’s a simple way to spot whether or not the detox product you are buying is a scam.
They are all scams.
“Let’s be clear,” says Edward Ernst, emeritus professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University, “there are two types of detox: one is respectable and the other isn’t.”
Ernst says a medical detox of those who have suffered an acute drug overdose or ingested a dangerous level of poison is the former.
“The other,” he says, “is the word being hijacked by entrepreneurs, quacks and charlatans to sell a bogus treatment that allegedly detoxifies your body of toxins you’re supposed to have accumulated.”
But what about treatments -and if you look on the web you find literally thousands- that claim to heighten the function of organs?
“The healthy body has kidneys, a liver, skin, even lungs that are detoxifying as we speak,” says Ernst. “There is no known way – certainly not through detox treatments – to make something that works perfectly well in a healthy body work better.”
Detox. Flush. Cleanse. They’ve become mainstream terms. Even the venerable Dr. Oz has a plan for you.
Scott Gavura, a writer for Science Based Medicine, says those selling detox, flush or cleanse plans don’t know science. Or, more precisely, they are preying on those who have an acute lack of scientific knowledge about the human body for their own financial gain. He says people buying these products don’t have a basic understanding of how their organs function.
“Advocates for detox typically describe the liver and kidney as acting like filters, where toxins are physically captured and retained,” says Gavura. “It’s argued that these organs to be cleaned out periodically, like you’d rinse out a sponge, or change the air filter in your car. But the reality is the kidney and liver don’t work this way. The liver performs a series of chemical reactions to convert toxic substances into ones that can be eliminated in bile, or the kidneys.”
Gavura says products that claim to support the function of the liver, which will no doubt rise in popularity after the ball drops on Times Square later this week, are particularly heinous.
“The liver is self-cleansing – toxins don’t accumulate in it, and unless you have documented liver disease, it generally functions without any problem. The kidney excretes waste products into the urine – otherwise the substance stays in the blood. To argue that either organ need a “cleanse” is to demonstrate a profound ignorance of human physiology, metabolism, and toxicology,” says Gavura.
So what can you do to improve your health in the new year? Eat more nutritious food, but not because you think that overhyped acai berries or milk thistle might be better at detoxifying you, says Dr. George Dresser, a toxicologist, pharmacologist and an internal medicine specialist at London Health Sciences Centre in Ontario.
“There is no evidence that I can see that there are specific foods that are better at detoxifying than others,” says Dresser. “I think that the value of food is its nutrient value. And I think that we should all be consuming good-quality food. But in terms of one food being able to detoxify or enhance elimination of noxious substances in your body, I don’t think there’s any evidence for that.”
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