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Detox Diets & Cleanses: Murky Claims That Need A Scrubbing

Posted by Jerry De Luca on Monday, April 13, 2015


Advocates of “cleanses” claim their wondrous diets and products makes users feel healthier and happier. The human body is in dire need of a complete “detox” and the indispensable cleansing industry is there help us wash away those harmful toxins. Endless books gush out monthly with titles like The 14-Day Detox Diet to The 5-Day Kidney Detox to The Fast Track One-Day Detox Diet. Pop star Katy Perry told all who would listen that she went on a 3 month cleanse for her cover photo of the July 2013 Vogue because she “just wanted to be glowing for that cover.” Is there any truth, any scientific backing for the boastful claims made by the diet-detox and cleansing industry?  

The science is conclusive that the amazing human body does a great job cleansing toxins on its own, thank you very much! Our skin, as well as our colon, liver, and kidneys do a meticulous and methodical job without emptying out our wallet. Any reputable doctor or student of human anatomy and physiology will tell you the simple fact: “Toxins don’t build up waiting to be cleansed by supplements and special foods.”

Public health and health law researcher Timothy Caulfield asks the questions cleansing advocates have a hard time answering:

“Even the idea that we have toxins floating around our bodies is sketchy. Beyond fuzzy references to our dirty environment, the evils of pesticides and pharmaceuticals (for some reasons supplements are okay), rarely do the advocates of cleanses explain what is meant by ‘toxins’. It is one of those nebulous pseudoscientific terms rolled out by people deliberately avoiding the specificity required for a science-based analysis …. It is vague enough to mean just about anything while retaining the ring of scientific legitimacy. Every common health complaint – low energy, fatigue, amorphous pain, insomnia, anxiety, general malaise, etc. – can be attributed to the existence of toxins. But what, exactly, do detoxification experts mean? Do they mean the natural poisons that reside in the environment? Do they mean only human-made chemicals? If so, which ones and why? Do they mean junk food? Do they mean all of the above? If so, how are their magical treatments designed to address such vastly different compounds and conditions?”

Timothy Caulfield, Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong about Everything? When Celebrity Culture and Science Clash, Viking Press, 2015

Mayo Clinic
“So why do so many people claim to feel better after detoxification? It may be due in part to the fact that a detox diet eliminates highly processed foods that have solid fats and added sugar. Simply avoiding these high-calorie low-nutrition foods for a few days may be part of why people feel better.”

The Aqua Detox Scam
“The above claims are nonsensical. Most of the listed conditions do not have a toxic basis. Positive and negative ions cannot "resonate" throughout the body in response to any such device. And the skin has no ability to excrete toxins. Real detoxification of foreign substances takes place in the liver, which modifies their chemical structure so they can be excreted by the kidneys which filter them from the blood into the urine.”    http://www.devicewatch.org/reports/aquadetox.shtml

Detox Diets for Teens
“There are lots of claims about what a detox diet can do, from preventing and curing disease to giving people more energy or focus. Of course, eating a diet lower in fat and higher in fiber can help many people feel healthier. But people who support detox diets claim that this is because of the elimination of toxins. There's no scientific proof that these diets help rid the body of toxins faster or that the elimination of toxins will make you a healthier, more energetic person.”

--Detox diets are not recommended for teens
--Detox diets aren't for people with health conditions
--Detox diets can be addicting
--Detox supplements can have side effects
--Detox diets don't help people lose fat

No proof detoxing diets work
"There are thousands of testimonials that describe experience of less bloating (actually the result of eating less food), clearer skin (improved hydration) and decreased headaches (reduced alcohol and caffeine)  ……. The suggestion that elimination of noxious agents is enhanced because of this regimen is categorically unsubstantiated and runs counter to our understanding about human physiology and biochemistry ……. All food is made up of chemicals, and all our body does with food is a chemical reaction. The body is set up to deal with the chemicals it doesn't want, and excrete them."

Detox Diet Dangers
“That's what has nutrition experts sounding the alarm over possible risks from lengthy or repeated fasts. Vitamin deficiencies, muscle breakdown and blood-sugar problems — not to mention frequent liquid bowel movements — are some of the seriously unpleasant drawbacks to these plans, which are skimpy on solid foods and often call for laxatives. ‘Long-term fasts lead to muscle breakdown and a shortage of many needed nutrients,’ says Lona Sandon, a Dallas dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Depriving the body of the vitamins and minerals we get from food can ‘actually weaken the body’s ability to fight infections and inflammation,’ she says.”  http://www.nbcnews.com/id/18595886/ 

Boots Detox Body Brush 
“Ritualistic body brushing helps expel toxins through the skin …. The Boots Detox Body Brush is reviewed by a young chemist, Tom Wells.  It turns out (there’s a surprise) to be nothing more than an ordinary stiff brush.  It seems that Boots’ definition of “detox”, for this purpose, is “removing dead skin cells” A totally shameless con, in other words.” http://www.dcscience.net/2009/01/05/detox-nonsense-for-the-gullible/

Cleansing diets lure celebs, but not health experts
"These kinds of diets are not a reasonable approach to weight loss, and there is no data that they do what they claim," says Gary Foster, director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University in Philadelphia. He is concerned that the cleanses could be harmful to people who suffer the medical consequences of obesity, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.

Joy Bauer, a registered dietitian in New York City, says: "People are always doing them, and it's disheartening because they are sophisticated, smart people who know better, but they are so desperate for a quick fix. You don't experience long-term success on them. You may be less bloated. You may feel lighter. You may be losing some weight, but much of it is water weight."

Nutrition experts say they'd like to see some scientific evidence the plans work. "I've never seen any published trials that would lead me to believe that if you are healthy, your lungs, kidney and liver need help removing toxins from your body," says Colleen Doyle, director of nutrition and physical activity for the American Cancer Society.

Detoxification Schemes & Scams 
“Various herbal and dietary supplement concoctions are claimed to detoxify through metabolic action that is vaguely described or simply assumed to take place. One product, for example, is claimed to "promote balanced activity of the Phase I and Phase II detoxification pathways." The substances such products supposedly remove are seldom identified, and no studies have demonstrated that they actually detoxify anything. Testing any such products would be simple: Merely take a few blood samples from volunteers and measure whether any identifiable toxin is eliminated from the body faster than normal. No such studies exist because such products have no real detoxification effects.”

Detox plans may seriously damage your wealth 
“However, while the benefits of a relaxing new year break are not to be underestimated, the British Dietetic Association (BDA), which represents 6,000 UK dieticians, says there is no ‘potion or lotion’ to ‘magically’ rid the body of chemicals. ‘You are buying into a marketing myth if you choose, say, a three-day detox kit,’ says Catherine Collins, a dietician and spokesperson for the BDA. ‘These detox products often take a convoluted approach to getting rid of toxins and try to blind people with science – and can be very expensive.’"

Detox: flushing out poison or absorbing dangerous claptrap?
“Proponents of alternative detox have never been able to demonstrate that their treatments actually decrease the level of any specific toxin in the body. Yet such studies would be very simple to conduct: name the toxin, measure its level before and after the treatment and compare the readings. Why do such studies not exist? I suspect it is because the promoters of detox treatments know only too well that their results would not confirm their assumptions. And that would, of course, be bad for business.

“One of the most popular detox treatments is colonic irrigation. Conventional healthcare describes the technique used for cleansing the colon, for instance, before surgery. In alternative medicine, colonic irrigation is promoted by celebrities, alternative practitioners and their organisations for a very wide range of indications:

“alcoholism, allergies, arthritis, asthma, backache, bad breath, bloating, coated tongue, colitis, constipation, damage caused by nicotine or other environmental factors, fatigue, headache, hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, indigestion, insomnia, joint problems, liver insufficiency, loss of concentration, mental disorders, parasites infestation, proneness to infections, rheumatoid arthritis, sinus congestion, skin problems, ulcerative colitis and many more.

“However, there is no good evidence from controlled clinical trials to suggest that colonic irrigation lowers toxin levels of the body or that it is an effective therapy for any condition at all. None of the numerous claims made by therapists and their professional organizations are therefore supported by good evidence." 

Sense About Science
A group of young scientists investigated the claims for 15 common detox diets and products. They found:
1.    No two companies seem to use the same definition of ‘detox’.
2.    Little, and in most cases no, evidence was offered to back up the detox claims.
3.    In the majority of cases, producers and retailers contacted by the young scientists were forced to admit that they are renaming mundane things, like cleaning or brushing, as ‘detox’.

Fashionably Toxic
An example of the absurd claims made by the cleansing industry:

“The colon is a sewage system, but by neglect and abuse it becomes a cesspool. When it is clean and normal we are well and happy; let it stagnate, and it will distill the poisons of decay, fermentation and putrefaction into the blood, poisoning the brain and nervous system so that we become mentally depressed and irritable; it will poison the heart so that we are weak and listless; poisons the lungs so the breath is foul; poisons the digestive organs so that we are distressed and bloated; and poisons the blood so that the skin is sallow and unhealthy. In short, every organ of the body is poisoned, and we age prematurely, look and feel old, the joints are stiff and painful, neuritis, dull eyes and a sluggish brain overtake us; the pleasure of living is gone.”

A possible insight into the real motivation of people who use cleanses:

“The idea of toxicity is a constant in Western culture, said Noah Guynn, director of the humanities program at the University of California, Davis, and a researcher into the cultural meanings of ritual cleansing. ‘We’re obsessed with the idea that our environments have turned against us, that they are poisoning us and we have no choice in the matter,’ Dr. Guynn added. ‘We’ve been contaminated by something that you cannot eradicate, you can only treat.’”

The Detox Scam: How to spot it, and how to avoid it
“Any product or service with the words “detox” or “cleanse” in the name is only truly effective at cleansing your wallet of cash. Alternative medicine’s ideas of detoxification and cleansing have no basis in reality. There’s no published evidence to suggest that detox treatments, kits or rituals have any effect on our body’s ability to eliminate waste products effectively. They do have the ability to harm however – not only direct effects, like coffee enemas and purgatives, but the broader distraction away from the reality of how the body actually works and what we need to do to keep it healthy. 

“Detox” focuses attention on irrelevant issues, and gives consumers the impression that they can undo lifestyle decisions with quick fixes. Improved health isn’t found in a box of herbs, a bottle of homeopathy, or a bag of coffee pushed into your rectum. The lifestyle implications of a poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, lack of sleep, and alcohol or drug use cannot simply be flushed or purged away. Our kidneys and liver don’t need a detox treatment. If anyone suggests a detox or cleanse to you, you’d do well to ignore the suggestion, and question any other health advice they may offer.”

CBS News HealthWatch: The Skinny on Detox Diets
Video: 3 minutes 41 seconds

Do detoxes work? Testing Dr. Oz's detox cleanse diet (CBC Marketplace)

Photo: http://www.optibacprobiotics.co.uk/blog/2015/01/is-detoxing-easier-with-a-healthy-gut    CC

Jerry De Luca is a Christian freelance writer who loves perusing dozens of interesting and informative publications. When he finds any useful info he summarizes it, taking the main points, and creates a (hopefully) helpful blog post.


  1. I definitely will not be going on a detox diet anytime soon. Its not the way to go! Going natural and adding fiber and reducing sugar is the way to go!


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