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The Scam that is Detox!

It occurred to us the other day that there is a word being bandied about, that doesn’t make sense. How can a shampoo “detox” hair, especially since hair is dead matter anyway? How can a detox kit make anyone loose that last frustrating inch of fat that just will not go away? Something is very very wrong – indeed it’s true, the word “detox” has been hijacked!

In the world of medicine, detox has only one meaning – it refers to weaning addicts off drugs, alcohol or eliminating poisons that have been ingested/injected. In alternative medicine the word detox has been come to include pills, powders, supplements, kits, diets, magic drinks, colonic irrigation, and yes, even shampoos and body brushes. What is troubling is that, no two companies selling “detox” products use the same definition (as say – crazy thought here – outlined by the Oxford English Dictionary). Conventional detox can be life saving; in alternative medicine, detox is a scam.

Detox products refer to the large number of toxins anything from cigarette smoke, exhaust fumes and pesticides to caffeine, alcohol and medicinal drugs. They talk of how these accumulate in the body, and of the extra burden this places on our natural detoxification mechanisms. And they point the finger at this toxic overload as being behind a host of ills including constipation, bloating, flatulence, poor digestion, heartburn, diarrhoea, lack of energy and fatigue.

Claims on detox products include “improve the functioning of your digestive system”, “flush away potentially harmful toxins from your system” and generally give your body a “spring clean” and “improve your general health and wellbeing and leave you feeling revitalised”. But in 2005, report from the Voice of Young Science Network (VoYS), reviewed 15 products from bottled detox-water to face scrubs and concluded that:

“…at worst, some detox diets could have dangerous consequences and, at best, they were a waste of money”.

This report was the topic of a discussion between Dr Ben Goldacre and the managing director of Detox-in-a-Box on the Today programme on Radio BBC 4. When asked if we ever need to detoxify, Dr Goldacre responded with an emphatic “No”. He went on to explain:

“..it is a purification ritual, it’s symbolic. The idea that you can fix things in just a month of healthy eating…is…dangerous because it means that people will imagine they are doing something quite useful for their lives when actually they’re not.”

There’s a grain of wisdom in detox diets, according to Jackson-Blatner. It’s true that the average person doesn’t drink enough water or consume enough fruits and vegetables.

“The problem is most detox diets are so restrictive that they’re ineffective for long-term use. And any weight loss that occurs during the diet is likely to be temporary. When people think about losing weight, they think about losing fat,” she says. “But this is water lost and water gained.”

Detox dieters may report a variety of benefits, but none can be traced to the idea of detoxification. Fewer headaches can be traced to other lifestyle changes such as reduction in alcohol and caffeine intake. Clearer skin can result from improved hydration, and less bloating could be a result of eating less food. Some detox dieters report a boost in energy and even a sense of euphoria. But doctors say that the feeling — also commonly reported by people who are fasting — is actually a reaction to starvation. It likely evolved as a way to help a person evade threats and locate food. There’s something to be gained from avoiding large quantities of alcohol, smoke, junk food, or anything to excess, Moderation is best, but these regimens are anything but moderate.

The use of laxatives in detox diets also raises red flags among dietitians, as laxative abuse is commonly associated with eating disorders. The belief that laxatives are useful for weight control is a myth, the National Eating Disorders Association notes. In fact, laxative abuse can cause severe dehydration and heart or colon damage, the association says.

“Colonic irrigation, another fixture of some detox diets, carries the risk of bowel perforation or infection, both of which can cause death.”

Detox diets promise a quick fix, but are in fact just another scam. “You can change your life in 10 days — but not through the Master Cleanse. Instead, use those 10 days to make the transition to a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables — and then stick to that diet for good.” Says Peter Pressman, MD an internal medicine specialist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He adds that the science behind the detox theory is deeply flawed. The body already has multiple systems in place — including the liver, kidneys, and gastrointestinal tract — that do a perfectly good job of eliminating toxins from the body within hours of consumption.

In other words: If you are in eating foods which are bad, a branded pill or juice cannot save your liver from alcohol, your lungs from smoke or your face from make-up, pollutants in the air or over exposure to the sun.. If you eat naturally the body will take care of itself and if you do fill it with toxins there is no miracle cure to remove them that’s left to your over worked specialist detox organs.

All you can do is avoid those things known to be toxic such as alcohol, tea and coffee (in ecxess) and anything with caffeine in it. Real “evils” are the big bad tripple score “whites” white flour, sugar and yes … salt. Too much dairy, all processed and junk foods, all processed carbohydrates such as white bread and pasta are also on that list.

Instead of “detoxing” just try doing some of these: Eating raw vegetables, unsweetened fruit juices, brown rice, lean chicken and turkey, fish and drink plenty of water and you will be getting healthy foods that put a minimum of strain on your organs. Milk thistle to help liver function, soy BIO-K to boost probiotics in the gut.

In conclusion: Your body can detoxify itself but you can help with healthy living, thus aiding your organs to do what they were designed to do without the help of a pill. When it comes to detox products, in the words of Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst from their book Trick or Treatment; the only substance that is being removed from a patient is usually money”.

Related sites worth the read here and here.

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