Detoxification (alternative medicine)

Detoxification is an alternative medicine approach that proponents claim rids the body of "toxins", accumulated harmful substances that are alleged to exert undesirable effects on individual health. Detoxification usually includes one or more of: dieting, fasting, consuming exclusively, or avoiding specific foods (such as fats, carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, juices, herbs or water), colon cleansing, chelation therapy, or the removal of dental fillings.[1][2] Body cleansing is not supported by science, with no medical benefits demonstrated, and is based on questionable or disproved scientific claims.[3][4][5][6] The toxins are usually undefined, with no evidence (or inappropriately used testing) for toxic accumulation in the patient.[7]



The premise of body cleansing is based on the Ancient Egyptian and Greek idea of autointoxication, in which foods consumed or in the humoral theory of health that the four humours themselves can putrefy and produce toxins that harm the body. Biochemistry and microbiology appeared to support the theory in the 19th century, but by the early twentieth century, detoxification based approaches quickly fell out of favour.[8][9] Despite abandonment by mainstream medicine, the idea has persisted in the popular imagination and amongst alternative medicine practitioners.[10][11][12] In recent years, notions of body cleansing have undergone something of a resurgence, along with many other alternative medical approaches. Nonetheless, mainstream medicine continues to produce evidence that the field is unscientific and anachronistic.[10]

Various modalities of body cleansing are currently employed, ranging from physical treatments (e.g. colon cleansing), to dietary restrictions (i.e. avoiding foods) or dietary supplements. Some variants involve the use of herbs and supplements that purportedly speed or increase the effectiveness of the process of cleansing. Several naturopathic and homeopathic preparations are also promoted for cleansing; such products are often marketed as targeting specific organs, such as fiber for the colon or juices for the kidneys.


Detox diets

Detox diets are dietary plans that claim to have detoxifying effects. The general idea suggests that most food is contaminated by various ingredients deemed unnecessary for human life, such as flavor enhancers, food colorings, and artificial preservatives. Scientists, dietitians, and doctors, while generally judging 'detox diets' harmless (unless nutritional deficiency results), often dispute the value and need of 'detox diets' due to lack of supporting factual evidence or coherent rationale.[13] In cases where a person is actually suffering from a disease, belief in the efficacy of a detox diet can result in delay or failure to seek effective treatment.[14] Detox diets can involve consuming extremely limited foods (only water or juice, a form of fasting[15]), or eliminating certain foods from the diet (such as fats). Proponents claim that this will cause the body to burn accumulated stored fats, releasing fat-stored "toxins" into the blood, which can then be eliminated through the blood, skin, urine, feces and breath. Proponents claim things like an altered body odor support the notion that detox diets are working; this claim has been criticized for misinterpreting the body undergoing ketosis.[2] Though a brief fast of a single day is unlikely to cause harm, prolonged fasting can be fatal.[1]

Colon cleansing

Colon cleansing, aka colonics, which are based on a prescientific theoretical model adopted from Ancient Egypt, involves the use of herbs and/or enemas to remove food that proponents claim remains in the colon and rots, producing symptoms and general ill-health. The colon usually does not require any help cleaning itself, and the practices can be both expensive and potentially dangerous.[1]

Heavy metals

Mercury amalgam filling removal: Advocates may recommend the removal of dental amalgam fillings under the guise of potential mercury poisoning. The process uses a mercury vapour analyzer to generate a reading. Sometimes spurious, artificially high results are achieved , which are then used to justify an expensive dental procedure to remove the filling material. Proponents also call for the use of chelation therapy, sometimes even using a chemical such as EDTA to provoke spuriously high urine levels of heavy metals so tests give inaccurate readings. Following the falsely high test result, the advocate will then recommend "detoxification" using products and services sold by the advocate. As in most situations, prevention is always preferred over detoxification. There are alternatives available to "silver amalgam fillings" in the modern era that were not available when the first mercury amalgam fillings were invented.[1]

There are many herbal compounds designed and marketed to help the body excrete toxic heavy metals like lead and mercury. Among those, a common basic ingredient is often the herb Cilantro(Chinese Parsley) and/or Chlorella.

Foot and skin "Detoxification" devices

Certain devices are promoted to allegedly remove toxins from the body. One version is a foot bath using a mild electrical current, while another involves small adhesive pads applied to the skin (usually the foot). In both cases, the production of an alleged brown "toxin" appears after a brief delay. In the case of the foot bath, the "toxin" is actually small amounts of rusted iron leaching from the electrodes. The adhesive pads change color due to oxidation of the pads' ingredients in response to the skin's moisture. In both cases, the same color changes occur irrespective of whether the water or patch even make contact with the skin(they merely require water-thus proving the color change is not a result of any body detoxification process).[1]


Body cleansing and detoxification have been referred to as an elaborate hoax used by con artists to cure nonexistent illnesses. Some doctors contend that the 'toxins' in question do not even exist.[1][16][17] In response, alternative medicine proponents frequently cite heavy metals or pesticides as the source of toxification; however, no evidence exists that detoxification approaches have a measurable effect on these or any other chemical levels. Medical experts state that body cleansing is unnecessary as the human body is naturally capable of maintaining itself, with several organs dedicated to cleansing the blood and gut.[18] Professor Alan Boobis OBE, Toxicologist, Division of Medicine, Imperial College London states that "The body’s own detoxification systems are remarkably sophisticated and versatile. They have to be, as the natural environment that we evolved in is hostile. It is remarkable that people are prepared to risk seriously disrupting these systems with unproven ‘detox’ diets, which could well do more harm than good."[13]

The apparently satisfied testimonial and anecdotal accounts by customers can be explained by either disguised employees creating false anecdotes, or actual customers who are experiencing the placebo effect after trying the products, natural recovery from an actual illness that would have occurred without the use of the product, psychological improvements on illnesses that are psychosomatic or the result of neurosis, and the fact that a large number of dissatisfied customers have not posted equally applicable anecdotes about their poorer experiences.[19]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f Barrett, S (2009-05-08). ""Detoxification" Schemes and Scams". Quackwatch. Retrieved 2010-06-10. 
  2. ^ a b "Detox Diets: Cleansing the Body". WebMD. Retrieved 2010-06-23. 
  3. ^ Henderson, M; Yeoman F (2006-01-03). "Detox diets are a waste of time and money, say scientists". The Times. Retrieved 2010-06-23. 
  4. ^ "Scientists call detox fad waste of money". The Washington Times. 2006-01-04. Retrieved 2010-06-23. 
  5. ^ "Scientists dismiss detox schemes". BBC News. 2006-01-03. Retrieved 2010-06-23. 
  6. ^ Randerson, J (2009-01-05). "Detox remedies are a waste of money, say scientists". The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-06-23. 
  7. ^ Zeratsky, K (2010-04-22). "Do detox diets offer any health benefits?". Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 2010-06-23. 
  8. ^ Alvarez, WC (1919). "Origin of the so-called auto-intoxication symptom". JAMA. 
  9. ^ Wanjek, C (2006-08-08). "Colon Cleansing: Money Down the Toilet". LiveScience. Retrieved 2008-11-10. 
  10. ^ a b Ernst E (June 1997). "Colonic irrigation and the theory of autointoxication: a triumph of ignorance over science". Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology 24 (4): 196–8. doi:10.1097/00004836-199706000-00002. PMID 9252839. 
  11. ^ Chen TS, Chen PS (1989). "Intestinal autointoxication: a medical leitmotif". J. Clin. Gastroenterol. 11 (4): 434–41. doi:10.1097/00004836-198908000-00017. PMID 2668399. 
  12. ^ Adams, C. "Does colonic irrigation do you any good?". The Straight Dope. Retrieved 2008-09-02. 
  13. ^ a b Sense About Science | Detox press release
  14. ^ | Man dies after favoring detox and forgoing dialysis
  15. ^ BBC Staff (23 July 2008). "Woman left brain damaged by detox" (web). BBC News. Retrieved 2008-07-23. ""A woman has been awarded more than £800,000 after she suffered permanent brain damage while on a detox diet."" 
  16. ^ Berg, Francis. ""Detoxification" with Pills and Fasting". Quackwatch. Retrieved 2007-02-12. 
  17. ^ Mitchell, B (2006-01-04). "Scientists warn detox fads are a ‘waste of money’". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 2010-06-23. 
  18. ^ Stamos, J (2007-02-08). "Colon Cleansers: Are They Safe? Experts discuss the safety and effectiveness of colon cleansers". WebMd. Retrieved 2010-06-23. 
  19. ^ Carroll, RT (2010-04-24). "Detoxification therapies". Retrieved 2010-06-23. 

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