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We All Agree Detox Is A Sham, So Now What?

shutterstock_121283596The world seems crazy about detox. You can find detox food supplements, detox teas, detox tablets, detox shampoos, detox body gels, detox face masks, detox yoga, detox colon cleansers, and even detox bath salts.

Tomorrow, detox ice cream and detox socks.

At the consumer level, detox is a big business. Billions are spent each year on detox products – juice cleansers alone are a multi-billion dollar industry. The Guardian published a very well-written article today about the myth of detoxifying the body, and the marketing schemes that play upon the ignorance of nearly everyone involved.

Are You Being Fooled?

Advertisers will have you believe that you can “revitalize” your hair using “detox” formulas, or that you can “rejuvenate” your skin using “detox” face creams.

So are you being fooled? The answer depends on how you define detox. If you mean detox adds moisture (which is a very lousy definition of detox), then yes, shampoos and face creams work. But if you think detox means removing free radicals from the body, then you are being fooled.

It’s All About The Cells

Cells fight free radicals. Not yoga. Not creams. Not face masks. But cells. The battle to contain and destroy harmful oxidative free radicals happens on cell membranes, in organelles like peroxisomes and mitochondria, and in the fluid (cytosol) of cells. Animals are designed incredibly well to manage free radicals in the body.

In abundance, free radicals can lead to cellular damage that can harm DNA, proteins, and lipids, and lead to premature cell death.

What most people may not know is that free radicals can be beneficial – they defend the body against infectious agents, as well as assist in a number of cellular signaling systems. A balance is needed.

Detox and Decontamination Are Two Different Things

Decontamination is what happens when someone ingests a poison and ends up in the emergency room of a hospital. It refers to the removal of an ingested toxin from the gastrointestinal tract to decrease its absorption. Historically, this has included gastric evacuation via emesis or lavage, intra-gastric binding via activated charcoal, or accelerated transit via irrigation or cathartics.

Today, people will try to sell you on the idea that irrigating your colon will detox the body. Well I have news for you.

Irrigating a colon can lead to perforation of the colon. It can lead to complications that would make your life miserable. The medical community does not recommend routine GI decontamination.

Only if a person has consumed a toxin that is a threat to life should decontamination be considered. GI decontamination should NOT be performed for a food that is nontoxic, or if the toxin is already fully absorbed. No controlled clinical studies have demonstrated that the routine use of gastrointestinal (GI) decontamination reduces morbidity and mortality in poisoned patients.

This means you can throw away your colon cleansers.

Antioxidants Do Matter

I agree with The Guardian in that you cannot simply wash away toxins after you eat a preservative-sodium-hormone-filled fast food dinner by chasing it with berries and oranges.

However, those berries and oranges deliver powerful antioxidants needed for deactivating free radicals, just in case you might have drawn the wrong conclusion that diet doesn’t matter.

The human body needs vitamins and antioxidants to assist in these endogenous antioxidant cellular systems. This means that while the detox craze is completely over-the-top and misleading in many cases, the goal of consuming a balanced diet containing antioxidants is a very health-conscience idea.

Here is a partial list of foods that contain high amounts of antioxidants:

  • wild blueberries
  • kidney beans
  • cranberries
  • artichokes
  • prunes
  • raspberries
  • strawberries
  • oranges
  • apples
  • dark chocolate (75% or greater)

A study in 2004 revealed that a diet rich in antioxidants together with exercise and controlled alcohol use, in the absence of smoking, can lower the rate of all-causes and cause-specific mortality by more than 50% in the 70–90 years old age group.

So Where Does This Leave Us?

It leaves us with more cash in our pockets because we realize spending on most detox products has no impact on removing toxins or free radicals from the body.

Fighting the aging process – if that is what we are really talking about – comes down to five smart habits:

  1. daily exercise
  2. a diet high in antioxidants
  3. avoiding alcohol and drugs
  4. avoiding smoking
  5. managing your blood pressure, glucose, and weight

I never said it would be easy, but at least you won’t play the fool.

by Dr. Charles Chaney

President, the Depression Health Network

Fruit image available from Shutterstock.

We All Agree Detox Is A Sham, So Now What?

Dr. Charles

Dr. Charles Chaney is a leading pain medicine physician and psychiatrist in Southern California who specializes in women's health. He completed training in interventional pain medicine at UCSD and in general adult and reproductive psychiatry at UCLA. He has several publications in peer-reviewed academic journals, and has given numerous talks at medical conferences.

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APA Reference
Chaney, C. (2014). We All Agree Detox Is A Sham, So Now What?. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 19, 2019, from


Last updated: 6 Dec 2014
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Dec 2014
Published on All rights reserved.