Welcome to another Debunkery post! This post is less specific than I’d like it to be, but that is predominantly due to the overwhelming amount of subject matter classifiable as: Detoxification. To clarify, I’m not speaking on the subject of withdrawal as it pertains to drug use/abuse. (If you or someone you know has any questions about that topic, please call the SAMHSA National Helpline at: 1-800-662-HELP or visit their site here.) No, this post is about “Detoxing”, specifically any health benefits from such practices, and a review of the claims often made.
The question being tackled is: Can detoxing methods work, and if so, are they safe? And as I have given before, here’s the summary/teaser: Nope.
The human body is a wonderful machine, capable of growing, healing, and detoxifying itself. Between the liver, and the kidneys, all of your non-life threatening ‘toxins’ can be taken care of. I’ve now touched on the ‘scare quoted’ word “toxins”, so as a good blogger and scientist I’ll define my term. As defined by The Free Dictionary a toxin is:
A poison, especially a protein or conjugated protein produced by some higher plants, certain animals, and pathogenic bacteria, that is highly poisonous for other living organisms.
There’s an interesting linguistic (and practical) difference between poison, venom, and toxin comically explained here. But suffice it to say, toxins are categorised, testable, and more or less understood. I say more or less, because there will likely always be some toxin or venom somewhere that we’re baffled by. So what can our liver and kidneys do about these? Well, when bitten by certain types of snakes, not much. But when ingested, we have a fighting chance. The liver does most of the heavy lifting, but the kidneys and sometimes the immune system itself, lend a hand.
What Detox schemes pray upon however, is the consumers lack of knowledge. Most of the world isn’t scientifically literate, unfortunately, so without those fine tuned ‘bologna detectors‘, many are up for grabs. This doesn’t simply apply to Detox schemes, but a wide variety of bunk. I plan to touch on as many of these as I can get to, via Debunkery. Also check out the Skeptoid archives for a lot more this type of skeptical approach.
But back to the idea of ‘Detoxing'; the basic premise is flawed. If the human body required detoxification through special diet, fasting, Oil Pulling, Colon Cleansing, or ‘Kelp Tape‘ (kelp tape thankfully is a parody) then all of us who do not do these things, would die. Simple as that. If our bodies stockpiled deadly toxins, we would die without detoxifying them.
But what about possible benefits, even if the alternative isn’t death? Well, as this publication found, none were detectable. Such measures can often be dangerous to your health, as discussed here, and here. Simply eat a well rounded diet, with moderation and variation, (toss in some exercise) and you’ll be more healthy than most of the country.
To summarise, Detox/detoxification have no regulatory or universal meaning, outside of drug withdrawal. Products or practices that tout such claims should be subject to massive evidentiary standards; cheap, free, or otherwise. As good ‘ol Carl Sagan popularized, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
- natural-detox: http://www.detox.net/wp-content/uploads/natural-detox.jpg