One substance shown to be reliably removed by detox

Edzard Ernst 2008

Detox is a popular aspect of celebrity health styles. Recently, even Prince Charles joined the ranks of ‘Detox-entrepreneurs’ by launching his ‘Duchy Originals Detox-Tincture’. Detox comes in many forms but the common benefit is that, allegedly, the body is stimulated to eliminate toxins that left untreated would cause a variety of health problems. We are honored to have Professor Edzard Ernst, an international authority on complementary medicine, give us his views on this topic. You can learn more about Dr. Ernst’s background and qualifications at the end of this article.

The basic concept that our bodies need help eliminating toxins is both wrong and potentially dangerous. Unless someone is very severely ill, the elimination of toxins is most efficiently being taken care of by various organs we were born with including the liver, kidneys, skin, lungs and the GI tract. In a healthy person, the function of these systems is already optimal. No improvements are needed or can be achieved. In a sick patient, for example someone that has diabetic kidney disease, their kidney can not filter the blood to eliminate toxins in through the urinary system and patients like this need renal or peritoneal dialysis or a kidney transplant, not colonic irrigation (see below). Likewise, a person with liver failure needs a transplant, not an enema.

However in a normal, healthy person the idea that waste products from our bodies might poison us is simply incorrect. Proponents of various detox therapies have never been able to demonstrate that their treatments actually decrease the level of any specific substance in the body. Such a thing would be very simple to demonstrate: name the toxin, measure its blood level before and after the treatment and compare the readings. If the level is lower after the detox treatment, the treatment worked. If the readings are the same, it didn’t. Why do those studies not exist? I suspect because the promoters of such treatments know very well that such a simple and easy experiment would not support their claims.

Detoxification is also potentially hazardous to your health. A person might easily get the idea that they can over-indulge, i.e. poison his or her “system” with toxins, and then put everything right by applying this or that detox method. This could prompt many people to live unhealthy lifestyles in the belief they could avoid harm by periodic detoxification. The best way to stay healthy is to avoid unhealthy behaviors, rather than trying to reverse their effects once you get sick.

One of the most popular detox treatments is colonic irrigation. It is promoted incessantly by celebrities, practitioners, their organizations and uncritical journalists for a very wide range of diseases and other medical conditions including: alcoholism, allergies, arthritis, asthma, backache, bad breath, bloating, coated tongue, colitis, constipation, damage caused by nicotine or other environmental factors, fatigue, headache, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, indigestion, insomnia, joint problems, liver insufficiency, loss of concentration, mental disorders, infestation by parasites, strengthening the immune system, rheumatoid arthritis, sinus congestion, skin problems, ulcerative colitis and many more. The treatment usually involves the administration via the rectum of about ½ quart (or 500 ml) of warm, filtered water through a proctoscope or similar device. The purpose of this procedure is to infuse the entire colon with water. Sometimes, ingredients such as herbal extracts are added.

There is no good evidence from clinical research trials to suggest that colonic irrigation lowers toxin levels of the body or that it is an effective therapy for any human condition. Thus there is no reason to believe the wide variety of claims made by therapists and their professional organizations. (editors note: see Resounding Health’s Baloney Detection Kit).

But one might argue, why not? If the person wants it, or it makes them feel psychologically better, or leads to temporary weight loss (the weight lost is merely the contents of the colon which quickly fills up again – true body weight reduction does not occur), then he or she should have it! I might say “to each his own” were it not for the misleading claims and the risks associated with colonic irrigation. Side-effects can include nausea, diarrhea, nervous disturbances as well as cramps and irritations as well as depletion of important minerals, water intoxication and life-threatening bowel perforations and infection. These events might be rare, but considering the lack of any demonstrated benefit from colonic irrigation, why take the risk?

What is the one substance that colonic irrigation and other detox treatments reliably removes from patients?

Money from their bank accounts.

For a copy of this article with a additional links and references, see the Resounding Health CaseBook™ on Colonic Irrigation.

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Our guest blogger

Edzard Ernst, MD, PhD, F Med Sci, FRCP and FRCP(Ed) is currently Professor of Complementary Medicine in the Peninsula Medical School of the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. He trained as a physician and scientist in Germany, has held two Visiting Professorships and won numerous scientific prizes and awards for his work. He has published extensively in medical journals on a variety of unconventional medical procedures including cupping, homeopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture and moxibustion and their use in treating a variety of health conditions such as breast cancer, fibromyalgia and stroke. For more information, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edzard_Ernst and check out his book, Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine. We would like to thank Prof. Ernst for generously contributing his time and expertise to Celebrity Diagnosis™ and we sincerely hope that he will agree to share with us his views on other topics in the future.

Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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