Cleanses and Detox Diets: Quackery

I first noticed this on a cruise a few years ago: expensive “detox diets” or “cleanses” supposedly to help flush toxins from your body. Since the treatment is fairly harmless — consisting of drinking a special fruit or vegetable potion and/or soaking in special mineral solutions or a steambath — and the marketers of such hokum are small-scale, they have been able to avoid scrutiny from the FDA or FTC even though they claim health benefits without any real evidence.

The WSJ covered this:

Some drink only vegetable juice. Others soak in Epsom salts. It’s all in the pursuit of ridding the body of months or years of accumulated toxins, said to be the cause of fat, fatigue, diabetes, memory problems and countless other conditions.

The question isn’t just whether these techniques work. It’s whether the body is overwhelmed by toxins to begin with.

The promises of liquid cleanses and other techniques have attracted legions of followers, celebrity endorsers and millions in venture capital funds. The trend has helped supercharge the U.S. diet industry, which passed $60 billion in sales last year. It has also made carrying gunky green juice a status symbol in fitness circles.

Consuming more vegetables is great, mainstream doctors and nutritionists agree. But they dismiss the detox claims as a confusing jumble of science, pseudoscience and hype. They argue that humans already have a highly efficient system for filtering out most harmful substances—the liver, kidneys and colon.

“If you’re confused, you understand the issue perfectly,” says Edward Saltzman, an associate professor at Human Nutrition Center on Aging at Tufts University.

“Nobody has ever been able to tell me what these toxins are,” says Donald Hensrud, an internist and nutrition specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Brian Dunning at InFactVideo goes further:

Cleansing diets are a food fad that’s been around for decades, from the Hollywood 48-Hour Miracle Diet, to lemon & maple syrup concoctions, to today’s absurdly overpriced high-sugar fruit smoothie drinks that you buy an in impressively multi-colored, day-specific pack.

Notice that accredited healthcare providers like medical doctors and dietitians never recommend that you buy these cleansing products — they recommend the most basic (and free) health advice of all: eat right and get some exercise. It’s only the unaccredited, unlicensed tradespeople like nutritionists and yoga teachers who will advise you to buy cleansing products — and not surprisingly, will often sell them to you themselves.

Why don’t doctors advise cleansing for general health? Because there is no such thing in medical or dietetic science. The idea that toxic substances from a normal diet build up in your body and cause health problems is a fantasy invented by marketers. Proof: Humans and animals all exist fine, and have for millions of years, without these products. We have perfectly functioning systems already built in: kidneys and livers. The technical medical terms for detoxification are “poop” and “pee”.

Make no mistake: These are nothing more than trendy snake oil products that use sciencey-sounding language to take advantage of gullible people who have disposable income.

A lot of disposable income. In the United States alone, high-end boutique cleansing juices are a $60 billion industry. The main demographic is healthy, educated, young women — exactly the same target demographic as high end fashion and cosmetics. Make no mistake. Cleansing is a trendy fashion statement; it’s got nothing to do with your health.

That’s why the marketing claims are medically meaningless: “ridding the body of toxins” without ever identifying what these alleged toxins might be; or “boosting the immune system”, which if it were medically possible, would mean giving you an autoimmune disease, where your body’s overactive immune system begins attacking your own normal healthy cells.

Other posts on pseudoscientific quacks:

Vandana Shiva: Quack
Mike Adams: Quack Suggests Murdering Monsanto-supporting Scientists
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.: Quack
More on Quacks: “Dr. Oz” Testifies He’s a Victim!
Vani Hari, “Food Babe” and Quack: Where the Money Comes From
Vani Hari: “Food Babe” and Quack

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