Dr. Seema Yasmin is an epidemiologist, Stanford professor, CDC disease specialist and journalist. In her 2021 book "Viral BS: Medical Myths and Why We Fall for Them", she dissects many of the more popular medical myths, scams, pseudoscience and "epidemics of misinformation." Bad science is often more appealing and believable than proven facts. In the case of detox cleanses, celebrities have helped fuel the popularity of most detox scams, in this case teas. She writes:
"Diet fads aren't new; even detox teas have been around for decades, but they are being sold to us in a different way. And the detox industry is big business. There are juice cleanses, cheese cleanses, detox teas and tinctures, and your favorite celebrities can be seen on Instagram pouting while holding any one of these scams. Some are paid tens of thousands of dollars to pose fish-faced and take selfies with 'fit teas' and 'flat tummy teas'. They are part of the multimillion-dollar industry that promises to quickly tighten and tone while you lay on your couch and hand over your credit card.
"These quick fixes don't work. They do drain you of some water and make you poop for days, both of which makes you weigh less when you stand on a scale. But this is weight that is quickly regained when you stop taking the supplements."
Just one of numerous typical examples of death following a detox tea cleanse:
"In 2017 a 60-year-old woman in Philadelphia died from a cleanse involving detox tea. She had been drinking Yogi Detox tea three times a day for two weeks before she went to the doctor feeling weak and lethargic. Her skin and eyes had turned yellow and she was admitted to the hospital. Nine days into her admission she became disoriented and confused. Her liver was failing. A biopsy revealed black, dying liver tissue.
"On day fifteen she had to be intubated. She died on day seventeen.
"The doctors looked at the list of nineteen ingredients in the detox tea and found six that were known to cause liver injury, among them: gardenia fruit, rhubarb root, juniper berry, cinnamon bark and skullcap root.
"Some ingredients in the tea were said to protect the liver, but those claims were based on experiments in mice, the researchers said. They warned that 'herbal products are contaminated with other toxins or added adulterants that are not advertised on the packaging,' which could lead to a 'cluster effect', where more than one toxic ingredient bombards the liver until it can't cope, shuts down, and dies. It didn't help that the woman drank three glasses of wine a night, the doctors said. The combination of wine and harmless-sounding but toxic 'cleansing' herbs was the likely cause of her death."
The dose makes the poison:
"Senna is an herb approved by the Food and Drug Administration for short-term use to treat constipation; that's why you might see the labels 'natural' or 'clinically proven' on some detox and cleanse products. Be wary. Some herbs at particular doses can be deadly.
"Senna is available without a prescription, but it is intended for short-term use and not as a weight loss tool. Besides causing severe abdominal cramps and dehydration, taken in high doses or for longer than two weeks, Senna can cause dependence as well as muscle weakness, liver damage, and heart disorders."
Celebrities and social media influencers:
"One company, Flat Tummy Co., started off selling its Senna-laced tea and progressed to lollipops that were supposed to make you eat less. The company used inspirational mantras as part of its social media strategy, even quotes from Nelson Mandela.
"Upset employees spoke to journalists in 2018 on the condition of anonymity and described how the company used celebrities and social media influencers to skyrocket sales. Staff were asked to contact hundreds of influencers each, ideally those with at least 100,000 Instagram followers. They were paid from $25 per post up to tens of thousands of dollars depending on their stardom. 'We never expected them to actually use the tea,' one former employee told the Guardian, 'It just had to look like it.'"
Unethical celebrities fueling dangerous scams:
"When it comes to potentially harmful supplements, we're shown the glamorous aftereffects by people paid to pose with products they are often not taking themselves. In the case of detox teas and so-called cleanses, photos of hospital visits for dehydration, kidney failure, liver damage, heart palpitations, and nonstop diarrhea don't end up on Instagram with the tags #flattummyteascam or #flattummyteacantstoppooping. It's not as sexy to pout for the camera and say a balanced diet and exercise are the best ways to lose fat and gain muscle, so don't expect your favorite celebrity to say that anytime soon. But keep in mind that behind the filters and the pouts, there are multimillion-dollar companies paying influencers to make false claims. The detox and cleanse industries are a dangerous scam."
Dr. Seema Yasmin, "Viral BS: Medical Myths and Why We Fall for Them", Johns Hopkins University Press, 2021
FTC’s Teami case: Spilling the tea about influencers and advertisers https://www.ftc.gov/business-guidance/blog/2020/03/ftcs-teami-case-spilling-tea-about-influencers-and-advertisers
How Flat Tummy Co gamed Instagram to sell women the unattainable ideal https://www.theguardian.com/media/2018/aug/29/flat-tummy-instagram-women-appetite-suppressant-lollipops
Hundreds of FDA Notifications from 2009 to today https://www.fda.gov/drugs/medication-health-fraud/tainted-weight-loss-products
Jameela Jamil Isn't Wrong, Detox Teas Are Terrible for Weight Loss, Your Body, and Your Mental Health https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/diet-nutrition/a27227848/detox-tea-weight-loss/
Detox: What “They” Don’t Want You To Know https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/detox-what-they-dont-want-you-to-know-2/
Detox Diets & Cleanses: Murky Claims That Need A Scrubbing http://www.mybestbuddymedia.com/2015/04/detox-cleanses..html
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