Skeptical Science Sundays: Detoxing

The kidneys, liver, lungs, and colon do a really good job of eliminating waste, and they don’t require assistance from cilantro or a coffee enema.

Kitty Geoghan, Section Editor - The Reporter

One of the biggest pseudoscience trends sweeping the nation is the idea of detoxing. A broad term that covers a wide range of products and practices, “detoxing” usually refers to ridding the body of “toxins” that build up in the organs and cause health issues. But what exactly are these toxins, and how does a detox regime get rid of them?

Toxins: Those Evil Chemicals

A commonly referenced form of toxins are heavy metals, including mercury, cadmium, lead, and even arsenic. Heavy metal poisoning isa real condition, and it can be extremely harmful. However, it usually results from industrial exposure to high levels of these metals, and is not common in the general public. With advances in science, we’ve slowly stopped using metals like cadmium and lead in our everyday products. But that fact doesn’t matter to the detox industry.

Meet self-proclaimed “nutraceutical expert” Jon Barron, supposedly known to his colleagues and fans as a “Health Renaissance Man.” Despite a lack of any apparent medical training, Barron runsa website that boasts “free natural health information” on everything from diabetes to cancer.

His page on detoxing attributes heavy metals toeverything from brain fog to Parkinson’s disease andrecommends a thorough detox to remove them from the body. Note, if you will, his sound dismissal of any detoxing methods other than the one created by his brand and sold on his website. Red flags, anyone?

Are Heavy Metals Really That Bad?

Short answer: No. While it’s true that small amounts of potentially toxic metals are present in the foods we eat and the soil we farm with, the amount that actually “accumulates” in the bodies is negligible and highly unlikely to result in catastrophic health problems. The detoxing craze is largely driven by an unfounded fear of the chemicals brought about by an industrial society. Indeed, industrial sites are sources of plenty of heavy metals, andindustrial workers are at a higher risk for poisoning, particularly when working with hazardous waste. Additionally, exposure to metals like lead through paint or tainted drinking water can and does cause illness or even death. Overall, though, the average modern person has nothing to fear from heavy metals – the small amounts you consume through food and air supplies won’t kill you, and some of these elements might actually be needed in tiny amounts.

By dropping buzzwords like “heavy metal toxicity” and listing off scary-sounding medical conditions, “experts” like Jon Barron create a perfect storm of fear mongering that makes everyday activities like drinking water seem like they could kill you.

In a world that generally fears the concept of “chemicals” and rejects anything that seems unnatural, this kind of rhetoric speaks to a lot of people. And luckily for them, Barron has the perfect remedy – a line of expensive products that promise to eliminate all those nasty chemicals, while really doing nothing but line his own pockets.

The Detoxing Scam

So if heavy metal toxicity is a myth, then what do detoxes actually do? Generally speaking, not much. A recent review found almost no clinical trials to support the effectiveness of any available detox products in humans. Supplements like those promoted by Barron are little but very expensive placebos. However, some forms of detoxing can be actively harmful, including procedures like colonic irrigation, which in addition to being incredibly uncomfortable can also perforate the colon and cause more serious health problems.

In truth, detoxing is wholly unnecessary. Our bodies detox themselves – that’s why the E. Coli in your gut and the ethanol in your whiskey sour don’t kill you.

The kidneys, liver, lungs, and colon do a really good job of eliminating waste, and they don’t require assistance from cilantro or a coffee enema.

If you truly had a buildup of toxins that needed to be eliminated, you’d probably already be dead, or at the very least feeling symptoms a lot worse than some brain fog and general lethargy. The best thing you can do to stay healthy is to take care of the systems that detox your body naturally. Save your money. Buy a salad and some jogging shoes instead of a detox kit.