Detox products debunked

While detox has become something of a buzzword, the science behind it is flimsy and few companies know what they mean by the term, say UK scientists from the organisation Sense About Science.

The organisation this week released an investigation into 11 products in the UK that claimed to have detoxifying properties.

No reliable evidence
"While companies and individuals now use the claim ‘detox’ to promote everything from foot patches to hair straighteners, they are unable to provide reliable evidence or consistent explanations of what the ‘detox’ process is supposed to be," the scientists wrote.

They contacted the manufacturers of the 11 products and questioned them over what they meant by the term 'detox' and what evidence these claims were based on.

They found that:

  • No two companies seem to use the same definition of ‘detox’.
  • Little, and in most cases no, evidence was offered to back up the detox claims.
  • 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 products range in price from £1-2 (roughly R14-28) for a detox drink to £36.95 (about R520) for detox bath accessories.

They wrote that 'detox’ has no meaning outside of the clinical treatment for drug addiction or poisoning and that our bodies have their own ‘detox’ mechanisms.

"The gut prevents bacteria and many toxins from entering the body. When harmful chemicals do enter the body, the liver acts as an extraordinary chemical factory, usually combining them with its own chemicals to make a water-soluble compound that can be excreted by the kidneys. The body thus detoxifies itself. The body is re-hydrated with ordinary tap water. It is refreshed with a good night’s sleep."

"These processes do not occur more effectively as a result of taking detox tablets, wearing detox socks, having a detox body wrap, eating nettle-root extract, drinking herbal infusions or oxygenated water, following a special detox diet, or using any of the other products and rituals that are promoted," they write. "They waste money and sow confusion about how our bodies, nutrition and chemistry actually work."

“One of the most poisonous chemicals that many people will encounter this time of year is alcohol. However, even if you drink an almost lethal dose of alcohol (which I don’t recommend) your liver will clear it in 36 hours without any assistance from detox tablets. "As a pathologist, I am frustrated by the claims made at this time of year that a detox diet will somehow improve your liver function. The only thing you can do to help your liver after a period of indulgence is to stop drinking alcohol and drink water to re-hydrate,” Professor Sir Colin Berry, Professor Emeritus of Pathology, Queen Mary, London, is quoted as saying on the Sense About Science website.

The complete "Detox Dossier" can be downloaded here. (Note that it is in PDF format.)

Source: Sense about Science

(Health24, January 2009)

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