Health Quackery

Published on July 30th, 2014 | by Rayne


Detox: because my facebook picture is better than your science

As I’ve mentioned before, sometimes blog posts fall into my lap.

And sometimes they wake me up with a sledgehammer to the face.

Today was such a day.

Imagine if you will, dear readers, I awoke at 7am to get ready for work which naturally meant I procrastinated for 20 minutes before getting up while the heater heated the room. I decided to check my Facebook.

I found this:

I’ll admit it annoyed me a little. I replied with this link from Sense about Science with their publications detailing the marketing ploy that is the “detox”. Sense about Science for those who don’t know is a charitable trust that dedicates their time in creating resources to help people in understanding scientific concepts and debunks pseudoscience and misconceptions about science. They use a database of over 6000 scientists to do this. You can check out their “About Us” page here. They have other nifty publications including:  debunking homeopathy and chiropractic, how to make sense of chemicals and drug safety, making sense of genetic modification, making sense of statistics and how to peer review process and systematic reviews work among others. All the publications are easy to read especially for those who aren’t science savvy.

The publications on site relating to detoxing underline the reasons why detox cannot work the way they are described to work, the publications look at different detox regimes and the ever annoying habit of pseudoscience – ignoring inconsistencies. In this case the inconsistencies of the detox market – that is, different detox “experts” couldn’t even come to a common consensus what “detox” meant nor provide any scientifically backed evidence of how different detox regimes work or what toxins they are eliminating.

The response to my link and comment of “There is no scientific evidence for any claims from this website nor for what the picture is saying, sure the drink may taste nice but we already have waste elimination – liver and kidneys” was met with “The liver and kidneys don’t always eliminate waste, I take it you have read no anatomy books? You posted a link from the Internet, that’s not evidence”.

Says the person who reposted a photo from a website well-known to never back up their claims with anything resembling rational thought.

Oh, the irony. The irony. Holy shit, the fucking irony.

I should have continued with more refutations but honestly I was too mad. Mad at the accusation I had never read an anatomy book before as an attempt to discredit my input into the discussion, mad this person was being a condescending prat like all pseudoscientists in trying to give legitimacy to their inability to critically think.

From what I understand of the detox industry, detoxing is all about “removing toxins from your body”. Detoxes are based on the idea that stored toxic substances can be removed by eating or avoiding certain foods. The most popular detoxes generally involve drinking ‘cleansing’ fruit and vegetable juice often called a “juice cleanse”, colon cleanses, ear candles, coffee enemas or cutting out entire food groups for a period of time.

The detox phenomena is based on the early school of thought called “autointoxication“, in which foods consumed become stagnate in the colon (stay in the body and not be pooped out for a while) which leads to the remains becoming putrid and releasing waste back into the body which causes illnesses. Autointoxication has also spawned the “coffee enema” detox and colon cleansing. Detoxing is part of remains of early attempts at medicine called the Four Humors.

       Then, starting with the Greek healer Hippocrates in 400 B.C., the focus changed. No longer were diseases defined in supernatural terms; rather, they were caused by something inside the body—specifically, an imbalance of bodily fluids called humors. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, named these humors yellow bile, black bile, phlegm, and blood, likening them to four colors (yellow, black, white, and red), four elements (fire, earth, water, and air), four seasons (summer, autumn, winter, and spring), four organs (spleen, gall bladder, lungs, and liver), and four temperaments (choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic, and sanguine). Because diseases were caused by an imbalance of humors, treatments were designed to balance them, most prominently bloodletting, enemas, and emetics (drugs that induce vomiting).

      Malaria wasn’t caused by a parasite; it was the result of excess yellow bile from hot summer weather Epilepsy wasn’t linked to abnormal brain activity; it was caused by too much phlegm blocking the windpipe. Cancer wasn’t caused by an uncontrolled growth of cells but by the accumulation of black bile. Inflammation didn’t stem from a vigorous immune response; it was caused by too much blood (hence bloodletting). Over the years with the rise in evidence based medicine – we have since figured out the cause and treatments to many illnesses that were previously attributed to the Four Humors. – Paul Offit: Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine.

The term “toxin” in the scientific sense refers to a “poisonous substance produced within living cells or organisms”. Artificially created substances are referred to as “toxicants”. The toxicity of a substance is the degree is which that substance is harmful to humans or other organisms. The essential component of toxicology is the effects of a substance are dose-dependent.


From the wise words of  :

“Detox” is a case of a legitimate medical term being turned into a marketing strategy – all designed to treat a nonexistent condition. In the setting of real medicine, detoxification means treatments for dangerous levels of drugs, alcohol, or poisons, like heavy metals. Detoxification treatments are medical procedures that are not casually selected from a menu of alternative health treatments, or pulled off the shelf in the pharmacy. Real detoxification is provided in hospitals when there are life-threatening circumstances. But then there are the “toxins” that alternative health providers claim to eliminate. This form of detoxification is simply the co-opting of a real term to give legitimacy to useless products and services, while confusing consumers into thinking they’re science-based”. (The Detox Scam: How to spot it, and how to avoid it)

The detox market (among other industries especially alternative medicine) being the pseudoscientific crankfest that it is has stolen (sloppily) from science to market its products. It uses the term “toxins” as an umbrella term to describe things that are harmful to humans rather than in the scientific sense – toxins mean anything they want to scare people into thinking is harmful. None of the pseudoscientific industries can tell us exactly what toxins their products are targeting, how the products target said toxins and how the toxins are affecting us using scientific backing. Nearly every aliment, allergy and illness has been reported by pseudoscientists as originating from toxins. Toxins, it seems, is the go-to diagnosis for pseudoscientists, it’s a nice and simple way to make money without ever having to back your claims. Let your scare-tactics and butchering of science do the job for you.

In January 2009, the Voice for Young Scientists released a report of surveys of various detox regimes. After an initial survey, VoYS investigated 15  detox products and the manufacturers were contacted to find out what evidence they had for their product claims and what they meant by ‘detox’.

From the publication:

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’.

The dossier concluded that ‘detox’, as used in product marketing, is a myth and worryingly many of the claims about how the body works were wrong and in some cases the suggested remedies were potentially dangerous.

In short, the concept of “detox” is a scare tactic designed to sell products by promoting the idea that day to day life is filled with an alarming number of potentials threats our body cannot handle. While life does have threats – disease and illness, that our bodies have difficulty fighting to the point we need medical intervention – that medical intervention is based on evidence-based science, not pseudoscience. The detox diet is yet another unsubstantiated quick fix to make money while scaring people into thinking they are sick when in fact they may be perfectly healthy.

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4 Responses to Detox: because my facebook picture is better than your science

  1. David Jewitt says:

    Most enjoyable. Have a look at my friend’s blog “Rectoflossil Ambiguity” – you may find some of it amusing 😀

  2. Pingback: » How to make money like the Food Babe

  3. Pingback: » Woo and Lament Series: Woofest 2014 – Episode 2: Introducing the quack diagnosis

  4. Pingback: » My visit to a woo store, a story about the absence of science

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