It seems there are advertisements everywhere for various types of “detox” that will improve your health, make you lose weight, and more. But what does “detox” really do?
Any time I see the word “detox”, my scam alert radar kicks in (to be fair, maybe some people offering detox treatments aren’t scammers, and are merely deluded). These treatments are generally based on the concept of some undefined “toxins” being the source of all your problems, without ever defining what these toxins are supposed to be.
There are several different types of detox treatments out there; I’ll touch on a few of them.
One common treatment is the “detox diet.” A quick internet search shows a lot of these, all generally similar. Basically they involve going on a diet for a few weeks where you avoid things like sugar, dairy, wheat, gluten, meat and coffee, and eat mainly things like fruits, vegetables, rice (despite most rice having a high arsenic content?), certain grains, and green or herbal teas, often with some sort of herbal supplements. On the surface at least these diets aren’t necessarily overly bad – eating lots of fruits and vegetables and cutting down a bit on meat and sugar are generally good things (some of the recommended supplements may be a bit dubious though). It’s actually not unreasonable that someone could feel better after following this sort of diet for a while, particularly if his/her diet was really bad to start with.
My biggest problem with these diets is their claim to be about flushing “toxins” from your system. People who feel better after a detox diet weren’t feeling bad due to mythical undefined toxins, but rather due to a poor diet. Furthermore, some of the detox diets are fairly extreme. For example, some of the supposedly popular detox diets I found on a quick internet search included one where you’re limited to spring water, maple syrup, lemonade and cayenne pepper. A lot of them do not result in adequate intake of many essential nutrients. Short-term some of them may not be particularly harmful, but maintaining an overall healthy diet for the long term is a better solution.
Another detox treatment is detox foot baths or spas (and their close cousins, detox foot pads). This one is an outright scam. Basically, they involve putting your feet in water with electrodes; the water changes colour, supposedly due to all the terrible toxins being magically purged from your body. However, the colour change is actually due to the corrosion of the electrodes; the colour of the water would change even if you didn’t put your feet in them.
A third type is detox body wraps. These involve wrapping a person in bandages and clay, which supposedly draws toxins out and results in weight loss (with the results virtually always expressed in “inches” rather than pounds or kilograms). A person may in fact lose some “inches” from these treatments, with the effect exaggerated by taking a large number of measurements around the body – but this is due to water loss. A treatment like this certainly isn’t going to do much to remove “toxins” from the body. Most toxic chemicals do not readily move through the skin and aren’t water soluble; those chemicals that are water soluble and could conceivably be removed from the body with the water are excreted in urine anyhow. I suppose if you need to quickly lose some “inches” to fit into a special outfit or something like that, this type of treatment could work, but I doubt if there are any long-term benefits and it definitely is not purging your body of toxins.
In general, whenever you see the word “detox”, it’s a good idea to take a closer look at the claims. Any time someone claims their treatment is going to remove “toxins” from your body, as opposed to specific chemicals, chances are the treatment is not doing what it claims.