Don't believe the detox myth!

juice cleanse
CC BY 2.0 thedabblist

Don't bother wasting your money on something that doesn't exist. There are other, much better ways to get healthy and stay healthy.

The January issue of Bon Appétit invited me to “join our food lover’s cleanse now!” No, thanks, I think, but it’s impossible to get away from the “Get Healthy in 2015” mandate that’s plastered across the front cover, illustrated by a piece of the grainiest-looking toast I’ve ever seen. Featured articles include “Juice Nation,” “Raw Bars,” and “Sweet-ish Desserts.” I feel like I’ve stepped into the health food store.

For the past month, I’ve been bombarded with articles, ads, emails, and Facebook posts about how important it is to detox my body. It seems as if the world wants me to feel guilty about what I eat and insists that I undergo some kind of purging for my calorific sins. The whole thing is vaguely reminiscent of the historical practice of being sold an indulgence by a Catholic pardoner – and wasn’t that made illegal years ago?

You can tell I’m a skeptic. No, I’m more than a skeptic. I think it’s all a load of hogwash, and a recent article in The Guardian confirms what I’ve sensed all along – that there is no such thing as detoxing your body. Sorry to break it to you, but it’s a myth, folks.

“If toxins did build up in a way your body couldn’t excrete,” says Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University, “you’d likely be dead or in need of serious medical intervention. The healthy body has kidneys, a liver, skin, even lungs that are detoxifying as we speak. There is no known way – certainly not through detox treatments – to make something that works perfectly well in a healthy body work better.

So how can there be such a hugely lucrative detox industry out there, if it’s all a scam?

A big part of the problem is that unsuspecting consumers will believe much of what they’re told without questioning it. We like the idea of detoxing, so we buy the countless products – from facial cleansers, masks, and scrubs to expensive spa getaways, hair treatments, and massages – in hopes that the claims will prove true.

There is also a false sense of security in the overarching industry, which we like to think watches over us. Surely claims can’t be entirely outrageous, can they? They must be backed by some kind of science. Sadly, that’s not the case, and much of what’s sold to us is outright quackery.

The biggest issue, though, is that those so-called “toxins” are largely undefined. Nobody really knows what they are, not even the manufacturers of the products that claim to get rid of them.

The Guardian cites a 2009 survey in which a group of scientists contacted the manufacturers of 15 detox products sold in U.K. pharmacies and supermarkets. Not a single manufacturer was able to define what they meant by detoxification, nor identify the targeted toxin.

In a great book called Toxin Toxout, Bruce Lourie and Rick Smith (bestselling authors of Slow Death by Rubber Duck) embark on a quest to discover how best to get harmful chemicals out of our bodies. Detox kits, they find, are of little value:

“They provide individuals with a false sense that consuming juice or various herbs over 10 days can somehow eliminate toxins that have accumulated over a much longer period of time. They therefore ignore one of the foundations of the detox process – namely, that detox is a continuous lifestyle shift, not a short-term diet.”

Lourie and Smith point out the obvious – that if a person typically consumes coffee, burgers, fries, Coke, and doughnuts all day long, a detox cleanse is going to feel pretty great, no matter what. But you can get just as great a feeling by following a normal, healthy, well-balanced diet, which is exactly what Catherine Collins, a dietician at St George Hospital, suggests:

“The ultimate lifestyle ‘detox’ is not smoking, exercising, and enjoying a healthy balanced diet like the Mediterranean diet.”

That sounds good to me.

Tags: Diet | Health

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