Products that promise “detox” are a sham. Yes, all of them.


In 2007, a science advocacy group called Sense
About Science reached out to the manufacturers of 15 detox health products. They wanted to figure out one thing: what
exactly was the toxin that those products were targeting? After talking to the makers of everything
from smoothies to supplements to shampoos, the researchers came back with absolutely
nothing. Not a single company could identify what “toxic
substance” their “detox” product eliminated. Long story short, detoxing — for weight
loss, for beauty treatments, for fitness — is bullshit. But it’s been kept alive thanks to some
really archaic misconceptions about how our bodies work, and a whole lot of celebrity
endorsements. In fact, I’ve created a great 48-hour detox plan on DoctorOz.com. So how did we get here? Now when we talk about detox, we’re thinking about
getting rid of things we’ve overconsumed, too much food, too much alcohol, or dangerous chemicals that have entered our bodies from the environment. But if you go back to about 3000 BC in ancient
Egypt, physicians thought that toxic substances were actually produced within people’s bodies, and that these toxins were the cause of disease, and that they
needed to be expelled. Remember how we used to use leeches to get
out the “bad blood” when people were sick? That’s kind of the same idea. People thought that the body would poison
itself when toxins from feces were absorbed back into the blood. They called this idea autointoxication, and
it lasted for a long time. And even microbiologists believed in it through
the last century. By the early 1900s, our understanding of physiology
evolved, and we stopped taking the idea of autointoxication seriously. But in the realm of health pseudoscience,
detoxing still stuck around. And a lot of that detox culture has been shaped
by celebrity culture. Movie stars and other performers will use
detox products, and their stories will get written up in magazines. Gwyneth Paltrow is a fantastic example
of that, her website is just a panorama of pseudoscience. She’s famously endorsed different types
of cleanses that she allegedly uses herself. What you don’t see is that those products
are just one part of a multi-million dollar business promoting easy exercise and diet
solutions. It’s very appealing to just believe you can
take something from a store shelf, take it for a few weeks, and somehow have this very quick transformation into something
that will look as wonderful as she does. Here’s the thing: our bodies are already
fantastic detox machines. We have the skin, the lymphatic and gastrointestinal
systems, the kidneys, the liver — they’re all working together to convert toxic substances
that enter the body into harmless things that your body can either store or eliminate. But the best things you can do to boost your wellbeing and maybe even improve your long-term health outcomes are just sleep, don’t drink too much, don’t smoke, exercise, eat a balanced diet
— and these don’t come in a magical pill form, they don’t come in a tea form, you
can’t put them on your face in a special cream. At the same time, “detoxing” is a real
process for people suffering from substance addiction. The detox that you see on the side of a shampoo
bottle, or vitamin bottle — that’s marketing hype. But there’s actual, real, legitimate medical detox
procedures for people who have levels of alcohol or drugs or poisons in their body that are too high, and they need to go through some kind of treatment to get them back to levels that basically won’t kill them, or overwhelm their organ systems. Again, that’s not something you can buy
on the shelf at the grocery store or the pharmacy. The bottom line is, over the counter detox
products just aren’t supported by science. And they can also actually be dangerous. More extreme detoxes like colon cleanses can
deplete electrolytes to dangerously low levels. There have been reports of perforations of
the gut and even death when people use these kinds of products. “And the things that these ‘detox’ and ‘cleanse’
products claim to accomplish? Your body does those things on its own.” So any time you see words like ‘detox’
or ‘cleanse’ on a product label, remember: it’s just marketing hype. And it’s time we start treating it accordingly. One of the things we didn’t get into in this story is that Amazon, one of the world’s largest retailers, is also selling hundreds of detox products on its site. So everything from colon cleansers to help you lose weight to detox footpads, teas. So it’s not just Gwyneth Paltrow selling this stuff, it’s everywhere, and it’s a reminder of how critical we need to be of health claims that seem to good to be true.