January is the month associated with resolution. Once the last mince pie is eaten, our cards collected for recycling and the last traces of tinsel cleared away, our minds inevitably turn to what comes next. Across the nation we resolve to be thinner, healthier, happier and more successful than ever before. And tapping into this collective impulse for self-improvement is a massive marketing machine for detox products and diets. But do we really need to ‘detoxify’ the body?
Recently the Guardian newspaper ran an article which claimed the detox industry to be based upon a lie, stating that:
Whether it’s cucumbers splashing into water or models sitting smugly next to a pile of vegetables, it’s tough not to be sucked in by the detox industry. The idea that you can wash away your calorific sins is the perfect antidote to our fast-food lifestyles and alcohol-lubricated social lives. But before you dust off that juicer or take the first tentative steps towards a colonic irrigation clinic, there’s something you should know: detoxing – the idea that you can flush your system of impurities and leave your organs squeaky clean and raring to go – is a scam. It’s a pseudo-medical concept designed to sell you things.
As Professor Edzard Ernst explains, if toxins did build up in a way your body couldn’t excrete you’d likely be dead or in need of serious medical intervention. “The healthy body has kidneys, a liver, skin, even lungs that are detoxifying as we speak,” he says. “There is no known way – certainly not through detox treatments – to make something that works perfectly well in a healthy body work better.”
Of course, this is not say that healthy lifestyle, good nutrition and exercise are not essential to maintaining optimum fitness. They are. If a medical condition or a dietary imbalance is hindering the body’s natural processes then clearly this should be addressed. However, the word ‘detox’ is frequently misused and very few products claiming to aid ‘detoxification’ are targeted at specific conditions or deficiencies. It has become a catch-all term with little meaning, and in the worst case scenario is used to fraudulently sell bogus products. So if you want to avoid the con merchants and scam artists, here are the top 3 detox myths that you should be avoiding.
1. Detoxifying Foot Pads
These miracle foots pads claim to draw out everything from parasites to cellulite, all from the soles of your feet whilst you sleep. To support the claim, manufacturers point to the ‘evidence’ that the foots pads turn brown overnight, a sign of successful toxin removal. This sludge is nothing of the sort – a substance in the pads turns brown when it mixes with water from your sweat.
2. Ear Candles
Ear candling has been around for many years, and is offered in salons and alternative therapy centres, as well as being available for home use. The benefits attributed to ear candling are numerous, and in a similar way to the detox foot pads, their claims are backed-up by so-called visible evidence.
Should you have experience an ‘ear candling it may certainly seem that something ‘therapeutic’ is happening.
The candles produce a pleasant warmth and fragrance when burnt as well as a relaxing rushing sound. Finally, on opening the candle after use there is the startling ‘evidence’ of waxy residue supposedly sucked out of your ear by negative pressure.
It is, of course a scam from start to finish for the residue is simply the by product of burning the candle and has nothing to do with removing ‘toxins’. This is easy to test by burning an isolated candle. Were the candles really able to ‘suck’ out ear wax, the force required to do so would be far, far greater than an ear candle can produce, and most likely rather painful.
The claim that the practise originated with the Hopi tribe is likewise a myth.
3. Colon Cleansing
Colon cleansing comes in various forms, from irrigation to pills and potions. It is true that digestive health is extremely important, with research finding increasing evidence for the benefits of probiotics and also for the relationship between the gut and neurotransmitters. However the idea that colonic irrigation can wash away plaques of disease-causing impacted poo has been largely debunked. Many doctors warn against having the procedure done, saying that it can perforate your bowel. The safest and easiest advice is to eat a diet with adequate soluble and insoluble fibres, as well as both pre- and probiotics.
Other methods follow the approach of detox footpads and ear candles by fabricating visible evidence. As explained in the Guardian, “some colon-cleansing tablets contain a polymerising agent that turns your faeces into something like a plastic, so that when a massive rubbery poo snake slithers into your toilet you can stare back at it and feel vindicated in your purchase.”
How to Detox
So what does work? It is perhaps best to take the word detox with a large pinch of proverbial salt. As a euphemism for healthy eating and a general commitment to fitness it is not, however, all bad. If detoxing simply means forsaking unhealthy habits in favour of exercise and a well balanced diet, then this is a great commitment to make, and is a resolution to be proud of.
Nicole Slavina, a 200 Yoga Alliance-registered yoga teacher who holds a BSc in physiology and pharmacology, wrote a great article on the misuse of the phrase ‘detox.’ Her conclusion was this:
Will practicing yoga, or exercising in general, get your cardiovascular system working? Yes. Does this have an impact on blood flow? Yes. Does change in blood flow impact on the other organ systems of the body? Yes. Can eating healthily, avoiding fatty food, alcohol etc give the liver a “break” from the demanding work of detoxing? Yes, it can. Does this mean you can make your liver work faster, better, stronger through an exercise or specific product/food/ritual? No, you can’t.
The best detox advice I know is:
• Possess a (hopefully healthy) liver.
• Limit intake of high fat foods, excess calories, alcohol etc to maintain said healthy liver.
• And, of course, though it won’t “detoxify” you directly, do exercise.
To quote Sir Liam Donaldson, former Chief Medical Officer, in his 2009 report on the state of public health: “The potential benefits of physical activity to health are huge. If a medication existed which had a similar effect, it would be regarded as a ‘wonder drug’ or ‘miracle cure’.”
And the fantastic thing is that, with a bit of resolution, this ‘miracle cure’ is within the reach of us all.