Detox – what the medical establishment appear not to understand

In many parts of the world, particularly in those where Christmas is celebrated, the end of the calendar year represents a time of excess. More food, often more alcohol, and less physical activity, have become customary for many of us. Come the New Year though, many of us want to bring some changes to our diet and lifestyle, sometimes just for a month or so, while others commit to long-term changes. 

The rest did you good

First of all, let’s not be too hard on ourselves. The rest is, for the majority of people, well deserved. Okay, it’s better if the rest you had didn’t involve sitting in front of the television, as a study in the journal Circulation reveals that being a couch potato for just one hour a day increases your risk of heart disease by 18%. But mindful rest and relaxation, does quite the opposite.

After you've been on a Bender (= binge drinking session)

When it comes to views on how we should start the New Year from the medical establishment, or should we say from the natural health skeptic movement, it’s always detox that comes under fire. One of the latest assaults comes from Professor David Bender, an emeritus professor of nutritional biochemistry at University College London, who published an article called 'The Detox Delusion' in the December 2011 edition of the Society of Biologists’ journal, The Biologist.

He said that detox is a "meaningless marketing term" and could be bad for your health and wrote, "I am not sure what "self-healing" is and the idea of 'raised energy levels' is nonsense…..The whole philosophy of detox is based on the unlikely premise that accumulated toxins cause a sluggish metabolism, weight gain, general malaise and so on."

Professor Bender concluded that, "Weight gain is due to an imbalance between food consumption and energy expenditure. There is no magic shortcut for weight loss – you have to eat less and exercise more. It's that simple."

Frankly, Professor Bender needs to go back to school. For self-healing he should read up on ‘homeostasis’. A good starting point would be to read the work of pioneering endocrinologist, Dr Hans Selye. He should also read the latest science on weight gain and realise that, in many people, excess weight and obesity is a lot more complex than just a matter of decreasing food intake and increasing physical activity. For many people, the root problem is actually disruption of their hormone (endocrine) system, and particularly their ability to regulate the blood-sugar balancing hormone produced in our pancreas, insulin.

Hard on the heels of Bender’s advisory comes the British Liver Trust’s press release that, according to Google News found its way into 241 articles around the world,  telling us that going on a detox for the month of January is “medically futile” and “pointless”.

Why detoxing is good for you

The attack on detox is a predictable event, launched primarily by a few high profile academics or past-academics who appear to have little better to do than massage their egos and engage in their peculiar natural health-bashing hobby. It will therefore come as no surprise that we have laid out our own arguments in support of detox before.

Check out our response to Sense About Science’s attack on detox from 2009. It’s as current today as it was back then.

In the simplest terms, periodic detoxing is a great way of dealing with the accumulation of specific toxins that may not be adequately detoxified and excreted during the course of normal living. Detoxing once a year is almost certainly better than not detoxing at all. But of course it’s worth recognising that not all forms of detox are created equally, and, as in any field of life, there are lower and higher quality, more and less effective, versions available.  When it comes to your selection, get the advice of a good health store, or better still, a qualified and experienced natural health practitioner. The longest standing traditions in healthcare, such as Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), use enhanced detoxification as a central plank to many of their individualised healing protocols.  

The fact is that our exposure to new-to-nature chemicals is greater than it’s ever been during our evolution. Being less active than we used to be, and consuming fewer plant nutrients that up-regulate natural detoxification pathways, means many suffer from a burden caused by their chemical load. This can lead to sluggishness, fatigue, anxiety, bad skin and — in the longer-term — to serious diseases like cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

Our New Year recommendation

It is only people ignorant of the science who refuse to accept that natural factors in the diet (e.g., dietary polyphenols, curcumin in turmeric, sulphoraphane in broccoli, ginger, licorice, dandelion), as well as a wide variety of herbal species (e.g., Rehmannia glutinosa, Coptis chinensis (berberine), Schisandra chinensis, Terminalia belerica [‘bibhitaki’]) and supplements (e.g., N-acetyl-cysteine that is a precursor for glutathione), are able to substantially enhance our elimination of toxins within the body.  The substantial literature on the ability of milk thistle (Silybum marianum) to protect the liver should also never be forgotten.

Therefore, on the basis of published science, including dozens of clinical trials, as well as years and even centuries of clinical experience among those who have practiced detox (clearly that excludes the likes of Prof Bender), we have no qualms about urging you to engage in periodic detoxes. But you should do this with proper advice, or prior knowledge, while also maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle, in combination with adequate amounts of physical activity, rest and relaxation.

In our view, and seemingly contrary to elements of the medical establishment, that’s a darned good way of starting 2012! And for fear of sounding a little like the British Liver Trust, clearly, if you want on-going benefits, don’t give up any newfound, improved diet and lifestyle habits in February!


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Updated: 6 Jan 2012

It would benefit Dr. Bender to read Dr. Henry Bieler M.D.s classic book Food Is Your Best Medicine where Dr. Bieler tells his personal story of healing after unsuccessfully following his own conventional medical advice. Dr. Bieler turned to the old time doctors and the Hippocratic Oath and re-discovered that fasting, proper foods and when or when not to eat were the crucial factors in regaining and keeping his health. He spent the rest of his life and career treating patients, many of them famous Hollywood people (including Gloria Swanson who included Dr. Bieler in her own autobiography) and was also shunned by his own colleagues who expressed thoughts like Dr. Bender. Fasting and proper foods advice gave Dr. Bieler a steady stream of clients even after he retired. The findings of Ann Wigmore, Drs. Herbert Shelton and Bernard Jensen, Victoria Boutenko and family, and many others since have written valuable volumes … not to mention the several clinics worldwide who are reversing the incurable and chronic ailments, all with similar approaches. Optimum Health Institute near San Diego CA, Wigmore Foundation in New Mexico and Puerto Rico, Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center near Tucson AZ, Humlegaarden in Denmark… there are many. And many M.D.'s have now joined the ranks of Dr. Bieler, treating their patients non-surgically, without drugs: Dr. Sandra Cabot, Dr. Gabriel Cousens and Dr. Nolfi are just three of the many M.D.'s who would be able to prove the efficacy of the detox and the benefits of lifestyle changes on even the most 'terminal' of patients.

Typical of the shortsighted arrogance of mainstream medical (so-called profession)

We run a detox at our camp in Thailand and can attest to it's effectiveness. Whilst it's difficult to claim scientific improvements, I can report significant improvements in energy and zest for life.

William

I believe in todays world a detox program is important for everyone.. There is absolutely No way to avoid the toxic effects that we are face with everyday in the food we eat, the air we breathe and the water we drink and the same goes for our pets! We have been using this product for over 5 years with people and pets and have seen amazing results as their body's are cleared of toxins and their pH is balanced to more alkaline state. If there was a product that was 100% natural, safe for long term use, and could protect you from the effects of toxins and was inexpensive, wouldn't you use it?

Most people have no idea what a healthy diet is anymore and this is one reason why 'detox diets' and 'detox products' are so popular - they provide people with a plan to follow.

I know that detoxing works as does anyone else who has done any type of detox.

I'd like to suggest that those who've obviously never tried it and know nothing about it take a look a Dr Gabriel Cousins' work. In his documentary "Raw for 30 Days", he works with a number of diabetic volunteers, changing them to a 100% raw food diet. Almost all of the subjects were off all medication and insulin within days. That is the power of detox! In the 30 days that they were filmed and tested, they all had miraculous changes that the medical establishment would tell you were unlikely or impossible.

Our body is a self healing mechanism that will heal, repair and remove built up toxins if we give it what it requires. The problem of course with too many people knowing that is that it reduces the need for drugs and surgery - hence the attacks on detox!

Professor B says "Weight gain is due to an imbalance between food consumption and energy expenditure. There is no magic shortcut for weight loss – you have to eat less and exercise more. It's that simple."

You insult Dr B by saying "Frankly, Professor Bender needs to go back to school. For self-healing he should read up on ‘homeostasis’. A good starting point would be to read the work of pioneering endocrinologist, Dr Hans Selye. He should also read the latest science on weight gain and realise that, in many people, excess weight and obesity is a lot more complex than just a matter of decreasing food intake and increasing physical activity. For many people, the root problem is actually disruption of their hormone (endocrine) system, and particularly their ability to regulate the blood-sugar balancing hormone produced in our pancreas, insulin."

The article you link to is pertaining to type 2 diabetes, and much of the advise is akin to Dr B's. Perhaps "eat better and exercise more", certainly has absolutely nothing to do with detox, which is what the article, and his comment was pertaining to. To explicitly state that isn't what he was meaning, without wanting to go in to details off the topic ofdetoc, just makes yourselves look rather foolish.

Rather than choosing to insult him you could simply have elaborated, or indeed, asked him to, but of course, that's got nothing to do with detox, so much easier to link to something and hope no one would follow the link and realise the nonsense.

"type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder that is not only easily preventable, but one that can very often be handled through dietary and lifestyle measures alone"
"Type 2 diabetes is well known for its close association with obesity"
"However, and again at a basic level, type 2 diabetes is actually a collection of effects that all stem from a severe metabolic (and psycho-neuro-endocrinological) disorder, caused almost entirely by inappropriate diet and lifestyle."
"Consumption of too much simple carbohydrate
Consumption of too much sugar
Taking in too many calories
...
Insufficient physical activity"

Even the how to beat insulin resistance is essentially an eat less and exercise more mantra.

There is absolutely nothing offensive here, if you don't post it ( and preferable respond to it ), I'll know you're just being evasive.

Thanks for coming back to us and keeping the debate going, Barrie. In reply, we’d like to make two points.

Firstly, in our detailed response [http://www.anh-europe.org/news/anh-feature-dr-verkerk-responds-to-detox-skeptics] to the comments we received on the above article, we specifically addressed your observation that our position largely agrees with Professor Bender’s. In discussions like this, there are frequently areas of agreement and areas of disagreement - and, while we agree with Professor Bender that diet and lifestyle are hugely important factors in weight gain, we strongly disagree that weight gain is purely a simple equation, such as energy eaten-energy expended=weight gain.

Secondly, and this point is intimately linked with point 1, we were making two separate points in the above article. The first was that many factors are involved in weight gain, particularly endocrine issues, and to illustrate that point we linked to an article on type 2 diabetes [http://anh-europe.org/news/is-the-rise-of-type-2-diabetes-as-unstoppable-as-governments-make-out]. The second point was a wider one on the scientific basis for detox, which we illustrated with a separate article that we wrote in 2009 on the topic of detox [http://anh-europe.org/news/detox-works-%E2%80%94-we-can-prove-it].

Two different points of objection with Professor Bender – two different articles in support of our positions. We certainly didn’t try to muddy the waters by using the diabetes article to justify detox, rather we provided each article in logical contexts in support of our argument.

Your statement above is quite untrue, in the case of my comment at least. I simply asked you to respond in writing to the journal and not to indulge in an ad hom attack of questionable taste. But opposing free speech is utterly typical of those who oppose science. Why don't you cite these `100s of clinical trials' that support detox, so that we can read the evidence?

Dear Les, we actually referred to “dozens” of clinical trials in our article, not “hundreds”. In Dr Verkerk’s answer to ‘rosegirl’ in his response to comments received on this article [http://www.anh-europe.org/news/anh-feature-dr-verkerk-responds-to-detox-skeptics], Dr Verkerk provided many examples of toxins that you can look up on PubMed [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed], while some detoxification pathway enzymes that would yield interesting and fruitful research include superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, glutathione-S-tranferase, sulphotransferase and UDP-glucuronosyl-transferase.

The real point, however, is that the extensive research is out there on the mechanisms involved, and over many years thousands of medical doctors and natural healthcare practitioners have been enhancing detoxification by altering diets and using supplementary amino acids, phytonutrients and other botanical compounds. There is no great incentive for these docs to pay thousands for clinical trials; the stuff works, and they/we even know why. It’s a big pity that so-called evidence-based medicine has departed so far from including the expertise of the physician as proposed by one of EBM’s initial advocates, Prof Sackett et al (see http://www.bmj.com/content/312/7023/71.full).

We chose not to publish 20 offensive comments to what we thought was a pretty innocuous article reminding people that Professor Bender and the British Liver Trust views weren't the only views in town.

But we've harvested the parts of the comments that we felt justified a response. I have responded personally to each of these questions or statements and these answers have been incorporated into a feature at: http://www.anh-europe.org/news/anh-feature-dr-verkerk-responds-to-detox-...

"Being less active than we used to be, and consuming fewer plant nutrients... means many suffer from a burden caused by their chemical load"

So exercise, eat more fruit and veg, and probably drink and smoke less. If we all did this all year round, as advocated by the medical profession, we'd have no need to "detox". Or am I missing something?

Very interesting.....got any independant peer reviewed proof showing the efficacy of "detoxing"?

Because, if you don't then the above completely qualifies offically either as "a fairy story", "wishful thinking" or "a money making dodgy claim".

You chose which definition fits best.

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