Why WDDTY is wrong about detox

Detox is a staple of the SCAM industry. It’s mentioned quite often in WDDTY. Any responsible journal must necessarily advise serious caution over detox claims, as Scott Gavura points out in his excellent article The Detox Scam: How to spot it, and how to avoid it.

This article refers to the quack concept, not to legitimate medical detox as used in treating alcoholism and drug abuse. To remove ambiguity, you might want to refer to the medical concept as “detox” and the quack version as “detocks“.
Detox varies between harmless dietary advice and expensive and dangerous interventions. Some of the latter are actively supported by the WDDTY editorial panel (e.g. chelation). Few, if any, WDDTY contributors question the validity of detox, and virtually every discussion of detox in WDDTY falls foul of the red flags Scott Gavura identifies:

1. Our bodies are accumulating toxins

See how much healthier we were back in the “good old days”? Life expectancy at birth has only doubled since the mid 18th Century.

One of the perennial problems for SCAM generally is the idea that we have evolved as a species to be routinely deficient in essential ways: it’s ridiculous to claim that a normal balanced diet is substantially deficient in essential nutrients, because if it was, the human body, with its many homeostatic mechanisms,  would have evolved or adapted to cope – and that’s exactly what happens, for example there’s good evidence that dark-skinned people living in Northern latitudes have a greater proportion of bioavailable vitamin D.

Detox  is firmer ground for the quacks, as they can blame everything from the common cold to cancer on nebulous and undefined “toxins” brought on by modern life. If there’s one concept on which the SCAM community can unite, it’s the appeal to tradition. Because, after all, when we lived i mud huts and didn’t use toxic modern medicines and vaccinations, we lived much longer and healthier lives, right?

Gavura puts the persistent belief in detox down to “sympathetic magic” – another way of looking at it, is that it’s the SCAM religion’s version of “original sin”.

The core question, always, has to be: what toxin, at what level, is being addressed? With very few exceptions (notably mercury amalgam in dental fillings, a well-studied non-threat to health) the toxins are not named in WDDTY. You might just as well substitute bogeyman or demons. And if a statement works equally well with any non-specific term replaced by the word demons, as virtually all SCAM statements on toxins do, then it’s likely to be rubbish.

We’d go one further: the word toxins as used in SCAM is fundamentally different to the similarly spelled medical term. We’d advocate replacing it with “toxsins” to accurately reflect the religious nature of this nonsense.

2. Illness is the result of toxins

Again, Gavura zeroes in on the core problem with the claim that illnesses are due to “toxins”: the entire field of epidemiology exists to analyse such links, and vanishingly few of the claimed links between “toxins” and disease are supported by robust epidemiology. And this is one of the weaker forms of evidence – while many people consider epidemiology to be almost magical thanks to the work of Richard Doll and others, it’s much less well understood that the smoking gun in establishing the link between smoking and cancer was provided by other forms of evidence. Epidemiology is extremely valuable in pointing the way, but is quite capable of false positives (e.g the purported reduction of coronary heart disease from hormone replacement therapy).

Gavura offers a fascinating historical perspective on the discarded theory of “autointoxication”, a term apparently first used in the late 19th Century, which again is contradicted by the rather obvious evolutionary success of the human species.

3. Detox treatments remove toxins

It is impossible to improve on Scott Gavura’s headline statement here:

A search of the medical literature for clinical studies of detox kits provides the following result:

No Items Found

There is no credible evidence to demonstrate that detox kits do anything at all. 

This also extends to many of the products sold with the pretence of detox. Milk thistle, colonic irrigation, coffee enemas, homeopathy, chelation (hopefully the bullshit percutaneous type, not the genuinely risky EDTA injections), whatever. Not one of them has any proven benefit n “detoxifying”. The “mucoid plaques” so beloved of colonic cleansers, do not exist. No surgeon or pathologist has ever found one.

The WWDDTYDTY Detox Plan

We’ll be selling our own miracle detox package, based on the Sense About Science advice:

  • Have a glass of water to help you rehydrate.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Get a good night’s sleep.

All suggestions on pricing and packaging gratefully received. Unfortunately we don’t think it’s likely to be quite as lucrative as the treatments the WDDTY editorial panel sell.

Weighing up WDDTY

We’re analysing each use of the word “detox” in WDDTY and checking it against the list above. For each claim, we’ll assess:

  1. Is the toxin named, and a credible measure of its presence in the body proposed?
  2. Is there good evidence that this is widespread and in routine need of therapeutic intervention?
  3. Is there sound evidence that the proposed intervention is effective in reducing the levels of the named toxin?

We’ll keep you posted!

What Doctors Don't Tell You
Why don’t doctors advise you to detox?

Because your liver does that.