Detoxing is bullshit

Originally published at:


Also, real medical-emergency chelation’s not bullshit - if you mistakenly do a shot of mercury or some jazz. But be wary, because it’s also something that quacks and woo-practitioners are quick to corrupt for their own purposes.


The part that is true is dilution. Drinking water or just stopping consuming toxins for a while does reduce the concentration of toxins. So you can die of electrolyte dilution or starvation instead.

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I just want to throw out there that drug detox isn’t the same sort of thing as these cleanse/detox fads. And I’ve very seldom seen to two conflated so I’m not sure why this Ernst guy from the original article is bringing up drug detox. Drug detox is basically just medical short hand for waiting out the final dose of a highly addictive drug and weathering the withdrawal symptoms. The only “toxin” involved is the drug you’ve deliberately taken, the practices and theory behind it have absolutely nothing to do with alt-med/new age cleanses and detoxification. There’s some relatively cool, complex stuff involved sometimes like rapid detox, forced comas and palliative care, but for the most part its this:

Which makes me think I should start a Auravedic Kabbalah Center built around selling specially blessed Lucozade.


Interestingly: Just today read that Alzheimer’s may be cause in part by the brain’s waste-elimination system breaking down. More a mechanical / circulation issue that something to do with sweating, peeing, or shitting. But I bet some quack will latch onto that and sell snake oil designed to cleanse the brain.


“It’s true that people with substance abuse problems can “detox” when they get clean”

Ok, as some one in the field I am concerned about the way that opening line is worded. A person with substance abuse problems receives substance abuse treatment, which is a biosociophysiopsychological disorder. Certain drugs are highly, highly toxic, mainly alcohol and benzodiazapines (xanax). Sudden stoppage of these substances for heavy users can result in death. Detox involves a controlled and medically supervised removal of those chemicals from the body so that addiction treatment can begin. Opiate/opioid users also “detox” and in that instance it means they stop using and participate in supervised withdrawal. They get sick but are not at risk of death. Being clean is an expression that implys sobriety plus recovery time (abstinence from the drug and related behaviors). The phrasing you chose is misleading. Detox is a helping step for those trying to regain control of their lives from addiction. A person can detox and still not be clean. There is no causal relationship between these concepts your wording suggests.

Information is power.


(the companies that sell “detox” can’t even say what “toxins” they’re getting rid of).

The bad ones, obviously. Duh. We can tell you’re totally toxic and it’s making you ask hard questions.


I have friends on Facebook that post stuff like this all the time. All I can think is ‘WTF?’


Hey thanks for the better definition! I think Cory mentions it and sums up that way because the professor quoted at the start of the original article draws a comparison between the two. I’m not sure why that guy did so as the two are not commonly conflated, and don’t bear much resemblance to one another. It strikes me as a bit dangerous/foolish to debunk detoxes and cleanses by pointing at addiction treatment and say “see here’s what real detox looks like”. As I mentioned I’ve seen very few instances of alt med claims bolstering their credentials by pointing at addiction treatment lingo and saying “we do that but for gluten”. Framing things this way seems like an invitation to do so.


I had a because-I’m-50 colonoscopy a couple weeks ago. The fasting and laxatives were meant to clean out my large intestine, and they were successful in doing so. My surgeon advised me that the laxatives caused my electrolytes to be out of balance, and he approved my decision of making my fast-breaking meal plain yogurt (calcium, healthy bacteria) and a banana (potassium).

The best diet advice I’ve seen is ‘eat. not too much, mostly plants.’ We do like to complicate simple things, and that isn’t always the best idea.


‘Detoxing’ (outside of drug rehab) can do more harm than good when it’s not medically ordered or supervised.

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wait. some slick marketing bozo is selling snake oil and hokum to unsuspecting rubes for profit??? SAY IT AINT SO!


Edzard Ernst is awesome.

He was appointed to the first ever Chair of Complementary Medicine in Exeter and then spent the next few years doing real double blind randomised controlled trials. Which proved that the effects of most Complementary & Alternative Medicine treatments are no better than would be found by chance i.e… they don’t work.

He’s Emeritus Professor because Prince Charles —Britain’s very stupid heir to the throne, who is notoriously credulous about CAM— put pressure on the university to force him into early retirement … :frowning:


Not bullshit; but also not something that is just handed out casually, or that has much broad application.

Actual scary dose of certain metals? You might well be deemed worth the risk(which is notably nonzero, hypocalcemia not being the cure for what ails you). Concerned about ‘toxins’? Not so much.

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Perhaps because the same word is used to describe two things, and the first line of the post says that one is true, the other not.

The post is about scammy diet aids, not heroin.

He did so to contrast the two different definitions, and I think this was accomplished in the original article.

Also, heroin detox takes a lot longer than a movie.


Not really. That depends on the specific chemical substance. The residence time of cadmium in the body is on the order of 6 or 7 decades. ‘Detoxing’ cadmium won’t do shit.


If I might add a particularly unhelpful point, nearly all “detox” treatments peddled by sCAMs are some kind of fast combined with juicing of some kind and enemas. Heavy metal poisoning treatments involve injection and/or consumption of chelating agents proven through simple chemistry to bind to heavy metals and ease their elimination via the body’s regular processes working overtime. Usually the liver and kidneys. Anyone selling you friut juice to detox is a grifter.

The fact is, feeling a little under the weather is not a symptom of medically relevant poisoning, and a toxic buildup of any particular chemical is very likely to land you in the hospital, and not just be “hindering your wellness”

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Oh I’m well aware I just like trainspotting, and its a useful pop culture reference on the subject.

As to the other thing, the same word is used with both things. But newspapers aren’t typically mentioning drug detox in articles about juice cleanses and ear candling. Common use of the terms aren’t conflated. So for example if I say “Rick’s gone to detox” I don’t typically need to explain that he’s in a rehab program rather than getting a seaweed wrap. Or if I tell you I’m going to go on a 6 day herbal detox, you wouldn’t assume I’m talking about the first step kicking a heroin addiction. The two concepts are distinct and unrelated at their base. So though I occasionally see CAM stuff claiming to have a magical effect over addiction, I’ve almost never seen this sort of direct connection of drug detox to the toxin fallacy. It seems odd, and unwise to me to make that connection. And its particularly odd that here its coming out of a critical source, seemingly out of nowhere. Rather than a response to a broader trend on the quack end, or a specific attempt to coop drug detox by a particular quack claim.

I mean I could see how the two ideas might be/become confused. But the fact is that they aren’t. It would make sense to me to explain why cleanses and detox are nonsense and then follow up with “just to be clear, drug detox is a fundamentally different thing despite using the same word” and then explain the whys and hows. But that’s not what was done here. They lead off with calling out drug detox as real, didn’t explain it or why, then dove right into explaining why cleanse diets and special foot pads are ripping you off. That approach would tend to imply that there is some relation between the two. Which there isn’t not even to the extent that the foot pad and juice cleanse guys are exploiting the existence of drug detox to bolster their claims. Unless there’s some new trend on that end I haven’t noticed yet.

I think he was awkwardly referencing/joking about the whole dose makes the poison thing. Drinking enough water would technically dilute the cadmium. But either you’d die from the various ways too much water can kill you, or you’d starve to death spending all your time drinking water in an attempt to skew the numbers.

I think you’re entirely missing something. The thing you’re pointing out, is pointed out. In the first sentence of the post. Maybe not with paragraphs of subject changing detail though.