Debunking The Detox Debunkers
Perhaps you've seen the headlines.
- Scientists dismiss 'detox myth' (BBC News)
- Detox product claims are 'legalized lying,' scientists warn consumers (CBC News, Canada)
- Debunking the Detox Myth (Medical News Today)
- Scientists Debunk Detox Claims (Huffington Post)
You get the idea. So what breakthrough study warrants such dismissive language?
As it turns out, much less than you might imagine. A report by Voice of Young Science (VoYS), a group affiliated with the Sense About Science charitable trust, representing more than 300 post-graduate and post-doctorate science students, found that no two companies use the same definition of "detox" and their claims were largely "meaningless." As biologist Harriet Ball, one of the report's authors, said, "Detox is marketed as the idea that modern living fills us with invisible nasties that our bodies can't cope with unless we buy the latest jargon-filled remedy."
"Our investigation into detox products has convinced us that there is little or no proof that these products work, except to part people from their cash and downplay all the amazing ways in which our bodies can look after themselves."
In fact, in their press release and leaflet accompanying the report, VoyS stated that:
‘Detox' has no meaning outside of the clinical treatment for drug addiction or poisoning. Today young scientists and engineers are publishing a dossier on their hunt for the evidence behind detox claims made for products and diets, and beginning a campaign to alert the public.
The multi million pound detox industry sells products with little evidence to support their use. These products trade on claims about the body which are often wrong and can be dangerous. We at Voice of Young Science think it's time to challenge the detox myth and bring you the Anti-Detox Promise.
This is pretty shocking stuff -- especially considering that I just concluded my post holiday blood and liver detox. Talk about feeling silly. Was my detox meaningless? Did I truly part with my hard earned cash as VoYS claimed?
Fortunately, after digging a little deeper than the media stories -- actually just looking at the report from VoYS itself -- it was easy to see that there was nothing to the headlines. In fact, it was just a bunch of "young" scientists who know nothing about alternative health making some rather absurd conclusions and the media, as usual, running with the story without doing even the slightest critical evaluation. So, without further ado, let's take a look at the report in question and see what it has to offer.
Overview of the Detox Dossier
Called the "Detox Dossier", the report in question describes the findings of the investigation by the Voice of Young Science, a network of over 300 early career researchers. (Incidentally, if this is the best they can do, their later careers are likely to be rather undistinguished.) The scientists involved in the research include physiologists, biochemists, doctors, and pharmacists.
The Detox Dossier investigators found that:
- No two companies had the same definition for "detox." The word "detox" was used to promote a range of things from foot patches to hair straighteners, without consistent explanations of what the word means.
- In most cases, no evidence was presented to back up the "detox" claims on products.
- In most cases, producers and retailers who the young scientists got in touch with were forced to admit that they were using the word "detox" instead of mundane things like "cleaning" or "brushing."
- The prices ranged from about 2 pounds for a detox drink to over 36 pounds (around $52) for detox bath products.
- In essence, they concluded that your body has a fantastic detox system, called the liver and the kidneys, and that there is no need to spend money on expensive treatments and products. Eating healthy and getting plenty of sleep is a better investment.
Those are some strong claims. Let's examine each one in a bit more detail to see how valid they are.
No two companies had the same definition for "detox"
According to the report, "We all agreed that detox being used to sell everything from tea to hair straighteners was implausible and decided to dig deeper to find out what the product manufacturers meant by detox -- had they some evidence about detox or how our bodies work not available to the rest of us? Our list of products to investigate was extensive and expensive, so we whittled it down to 15 products that were sold in a range of places and fairly represented what was out there in the shops."
Okay , let me translate that for you.
- "We" means a group of people who have no understanding of detoxing or alternative health -- and felt no need to consult with anyone who did. A solid start for the investigation, I must say.
- They agreed amongst themselves that since the word detox was "being used to sell everything from tea to hair straighteners," it was "implausible." That's certainly amusing. When I go on the internet and look up the word doctor, I can see it used to describe everyone from neurosurgeons to people who charge absurd amounts of money to make the boobies of starlets and porno actresses bigger. I also find it used to describe so called experts in philosophy, art, and home economics -- not to mention rap stars. I think we can all agree amongst ourselves, then, that the use of the word "doctor" is likewise "implausible" and warrants digging deeper to find out what is meant by the word. Now we could go to the doctors themselves to ask for clarification, but that would be too obvious. Instead, let's go to the manufacturers of pharmaceutical drugs and medical equipment and see what they have to say.
- That's right, you read that correctly: instead of asking alternative health practitioners, these young scientists decided to "dig deeper" by contacting "product manufacturers." Out of curiosity, what products did these scientists use to "define" detoxing -- and thus the manufacturers they would query? Well, how about:
- Garnier Clean Detox Anti-Dullness Foaming Gel (a facial cleanser)
- MG Detox Shampoo Trevor Sorbie (a shampoo)
- Boots Detox Body Brush (a skin brush)
- Innocent Natural Detox Smoothie (an antioxidant fruit juice drink)
- Vitabiotics Detoxil 15 day support (a multivitamin pill with a couple of added herbs at "pixie dust" levels)
- V-Water Detox (spring water with added "pixie dust" vitamins and herbs)
- 4321 Shape Up and Detox (high caffeine tea to stimulate weight loss)
- Boots Detox 5 Day Plan (flavored water with "pixie dust" herbs, added mostly for their antioxidant value)
- Farmacia Spa Therapy Detox (a range of products from foot pads to bath additives)
- Crystal Spring Detox patches (foot pads)
- Fushi Holistic and Health Solutions Total Detox Patch (and yet another foot pad)
I have to admit, after looking through this list, I'm beginning to feel much better about my selection of Dr. Dre to define the term "doctor." Compared to the products listed above, Dr. Dre can at least lay claim to being a "doctor" of music. The simple fact is that in the entire list above only one of the products, the Boots Detox Body Brush, can lay any claim to having any association to what people in the alternative health community call detoxing. And at that, they chose a product sold under the brand name (Boots) of an English drug store chain. In other words, when they called for information on the product, they were talking to drug store purchasing agents -- not alternative health specialists who might actually know how skin brushing relates to detoxing. That's absurd.
In most cases, no evidence was presented to back up the "detox" claims on products
Okay, so our intrepid researchers found that the sales reps they spoke to could only spout marketing hype. As they so love to say in England, "That's brilliant!" Again, they dealt with not one legitimate detox product, nor one legitimate alternative health company or practitioner. The bias here is so blatant, it could only have been deliberate. The VoYS had to deliberately select products that they knew had nothing to do with mainstream detoxing, produced by companies that had no expertise in alternative health or detoxing, and supported by marketing reps who were totally ignorant in the subject.
In most cases manufacturers used the word "detox" instead of mundane things like "cleaning" or "brushing"
So they have a problem with manufacturers using obfuscation in describing their products? Well, let's be absolutely clear here. When it comes to obfuscation, these manufacturers are rank amateurs when compared to doctors and the medical community. Here are just a few examples of medical doublespeak.
- Negative Patient Care Outcome. It means the patient died. Death has also been referred to as "Immediate Permanent Incapacitation" -- no kidding.
- Compensated Edentia. Would you believe false teeth?
- Nutritional Avoidance Therapy. The medical term for dieting.
- Thermal Remediation Unit. An ice pack, or even a plain bag of ice cubes.
- Digital Fever Computer. That's what you and I would call a thermometer.
And our young researchers have a problem with the word "detox?" Can you spell h-y-p-o-c-r-i-s-y?
The prices ranged from about 2 pounds for a detox drink to over 36 pounds for detox bath products
So what they're saying is that the products were often expensive and yet had no proven results. I wonder if they've also looked at pharmaceutical drugs and medical procedures. Some of the excesses here are legendary, but for now, let's just look at one: angioplasties. Angioplasties, which have an average cost of $40,000 but can top one million dollars in some cases, have in fact, been proven to be almost useless as a treatment. That suddenly makes 36 pounds look like the ethical bargain of the century.
In essence, they concluded that there is no need to spend money on expensive treatments and products. Eating healthy meals and getting plenty of sleep is a better investment
So, the results they achieved using these products was less effective than merely eating healthy meals and getting a good night's sleep. And what were these results our researchers experienced on these products?
Oh, did I forget to mention, they didn't actually try any of them! They based their entire assessment on reading packaging and what they were told by marketing reps on the phone!! Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! What conclusions I could come to if I based my entire assessment of the medical field by merely reading labels and interviewing pharmaceutical marketing reps!
And the media condemned detoxing as a myth based on a report that didn't even test the products in question. For shame!
So what is detoxing?
Drug and alcohol detoxing aside, in the alternative health community, detoxing has a very specific meaning. It starts with the definition of the word toxin. A toxin is anything that causes stagnation, congestion, or disease or that impedes any of the normal functions of the body. Toxins can impact the body at the system level (the elimination system), the organ level (liver and kidneys), or even the cellular level. Removing the toxins and reestablishing optimal functioning of the body and its systems is essential to good health. And yes, VoYS was half correct. The body has systems that do this naturally. They are called the colon, the liver, the kidneys, the lymph, etc. The problem is that too often nowadays, we so overwhelm and overload these systems that they can no longer keep pace and remove all the toxins. At that point, they begin storing those toxins in your body -- along the walls of the colon, in the liver, in organ tissue throughout the body, and the cells themselves. And when that happens, your elimination organs need help. That help is what we call detoxing. The bottom line is that the road to natural health begins with cleansing and detoxification -- no matter what the disease or problem. There are 9 primary areas where we can assist the body in detoxing (and no, they do not include shampoos, water, foot pads, and antioxidants).
- Intestinal cleansing to clean out the elimination channels
- Heavy metal detoxing to remove toxic metals electrically bonded to organs and tissue in the body
- Kidney and pancreas flushing to remove accumulated stones, sludge, and infection in those organs
- Liver/gallbladder cleansing to remove accumulated toxins, fats, and cholesterol stored in the liver and flush stones from the gallbladder
- Blood cleansing using herbs such as burdock root and chaparral to cleanse the blood of impurities, bacteria, viruses, and aberrant cells
- Proteolytic enzymes to remove circulating immune complexes from the blood and body tissue
- Skin brushing, exercise, and the use of saunas and steam baths to optimize the lymph and encourage the body to eliminate toxins through the skin
- And fasting to promote detoxing at the cellular level (covered in detail in Chapter 6 of the new expanded version of Lessons from the Miracle Doctors.
Is there any proof that detoxing works or is necessary?
Actually, despite the impression you might get from VoYS, there is tons of support for the efficacy and value of detoxing. In fact, the medical community uses various methods for detoxing organs and systems in the body as standard medical practice. Although medical detox treatments mimic natural detox treatments (in much the same way that Bizarro mimics Superman), the medical community bypasses the issue by refusing to use the word detoxing -- but detoxing it is nonetheless. For example:
- Chelation therapy is standard medical treatment for lead toxicity
- Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (gotta love that medical obfuscation) uses sound waves to break up kidney stones and flush them from the body
- Colonic therapy is both recognized and used by the medical community at the same time others in the community roundly trash it
- Doctors regularly prescribe pharmaceutical statin lipotropics, while steadfastly denying the ability (or necessity) of herbal lipotropics to do the same
- Cholecystectomy, or gallbladder removal, is actually a form of detox -- used because doctors know of no better way to eliminate the complications of sludge and stones in the gallbladder
You get the idea. The medical community absolutely understands the principle and efficacy of detoxing. They just insist on using their own terminology and methodology, which allows them to trash more natural, more efficacious, and less harmful means of doing the same thing. And thus we have a true understanding of the rationale behind the Voice of Young Science Detox Dossier.
It probably should also be noted that Sense About Science, the parent organization of VoYS, previously published a study entitled "Making Sense of Chemical Stores" that proposed that the 100,000 plus chemicals released into the environment over the last 50 years are not only NOT harmful, but are our friends. Or to quote from that report:
"The chemical realities of the world, by contrast, are that everything is made of chemicals, that synthetic chemicals are often much safer for human health than so-called ‘natural' ones, and that unfounded anxiety about chemicals is encouraging people to buy into ideas and ‘remedies' that make little scientific or medical sense."
For more on detoxing, check out the Detox Center.