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Debunking detox

In January 2009 VoYS released The Detox Dossier a report of their hunt for evidence behind the claims made about detox products and diets. After an initial survey, VoYS investigated 15 products that were sold in a range of mainstream supermarkets and pharmacies including foot pads, diet supplements and hair straighteners. The manufacturers were contacted to find out what evidence they had for the product claims and what they meant by ‘detox’.

The Detox Dossier

DetoxDossierThey found:

  1. No two companies seem to use the same definition of ‘detox’.
  2. Little, and in most cases no, evidence was offered to back up the detox claims.
  3. In the majority of cases, producers and retailers contacted by the young scientists were forced to admit that they are renaming mundane things, like cleaning or brushing, as ‘detox’.

The dossier concluded that ‘detox’, as used in product marketing, is a myth and worryingly many of the claims about how the body works were wrong and in some cases the suggested remedies were potentially dangerous.

detoxleaflet

Debunking Detox Leaflet

In response to these misleading claims VoYS compiled an ‘anti detox’ leaflet explaining how the body is perfectly capable of dealing with most chemicals we encounter. ‘Detox’ has no meaning outside of the clinical treatment for drug addiction or poisoning. The leaflet promotes the liver and kidneys as a fantastic ‘detox’ system and explains why there is no need to spend money on expensive products and treatments.

VoYS members took to the streets of London, Manchester and Cambridge and distributed over 400 leaflets outside chemists. They explained that the best thing to do after an indulgent Christmas was to get a good night’s sleep and have a glass of water.

COMMENTS FROM AUTHORS:

Tom Wells, chemist: “The minimum sellers of ‘detox’ products should be able to offer is a clear understanding of what ‘detox’ is and proof that their product actually works. The people we contacted could do neither.”

Neil Young, chemist: “Whilst investigating ‘detox’ products we were shocked at how much of what they claim is contrary to what we really know about the body. We wanted to share these insights so we decided to produce our own leaflet showing why ‘detox’ is meaningless and why the claims made by the products don’t make sense.”

Harriet Ball, biologist: “Detox is marketed as the idea that modern living fills us with invisible nasties that our bodies can’t cope with unless we buy the latest jargon-filled remedy. Last year we investigated scientific claims that are plastered on everything from sandwiches to devices that supposedly protect you from radiation. Our new investigation into detox products has convinced us that there is little or no proof that these products work, except to part people from their cash and downplay all the amazing ways in which our bodies can look after themselves!”

Alice Tuff, Sense About Science: “It is ridiculous that we’re seeing a return to mystical properties being claimed for products in the 21st Century and I’m really pleased that young scientists are sharing their concerns about this with the public. The Voice of Young Science network last year decided they wanted to make the ‘detox’ claim a marketing embarrassment, not a marketing advantage!”

Jennifer Lardge, physicist: “Some ‘detox’ diets can have disastrous results, as shown in the recent case of the woman who suffered brain damage from a ‘detox’ diet. Often the people selling ‘detox’ products have no professional training and the substances on sale could be untested, potentially dangerous or even toxic.”

Oliver Fenwick, physicist: “The ‘detox’ industry has become a huge success. However, the industry seems to be based almost entirely on a marketing slogan since when you look a little closer you find that most of these products do nothing more than can be achieved by your body on its own.”

COMMENTS FROM SENIOR SCIENTISTS:

John Emsley, chemical scientist and award winning science writer: "There is no scientific reason for people to waste time and money on so-called detox regimes, fancy diets, or expensive remedies, none of which can compare to the detox system that is already inbuilt into our natural system. This leaflet from the Voice of Young Science is a clear, sensible, explanation for anyone who wants to know how simple it really is to 'detoxify' our body."

Sir Colin Berry, pathologist: "It’s easy to detox; just let you body use the great systems it has evolved over thousands of years to get rid of whatever is harming you. But if it’s booze, drink less as well.”

Ursula Arens, member of the British Dietetic Association: “Detox claims are undefined, and are based on marketing and wellness concepts. Healthy diets containing sufficient intake of fruits and vegetables and only modest amounts of alcohol (if any) are as far as we can go, in terms of proven claims to support the detox functions of the body".

Media coverage

Metro The detox myth: Trust your body and stop wasting money on juices

BBC News Online Scientists dismiss ‘detox myth’ 

Alice Tuff being interviewed on BBC Breakfast

The Guardian Detox remedies are a waste of money, say scientists

The Daily Mail Detox diets to kick-start the New Year are a ‘total waste of money’ say experts

The Independent Products offering an easy detox ‘are a waste of time’

The Daily Telegraph Detox product claims ‘misleading’

The Daily Mirror Scientists say most “detox” products don’t work

Marie Claire Online Detox remedies are ‘a con’, says scientists

VoYS pinboard

  • Top tip 1: Ask for Evidence. If you’re being sold a product or asked to believe a claim then you deserve to know whether it’s based on evidence – or imagination.

  • Top tip 2: Immune boosting. You can’t and you don’t need to.

  • Top tip 3: Detox. It’s a marketing myth – our body does it without pricey potions and detox diets.

  • Top tip 4: Superfood. There is no such thing, just foods that are high in some nutrients.

  • Top tip 5: Cleansing. You shouldn’t be trying to cleanse anything other than your skin or hair.

  • Top tip 6: If it sounds too good to be true… it probably is.

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