A pox on your detox

Last week on the show, Stu talked about something that catches the attention of many of us who over-indulge during this silliest of seasons: detox. In particular, the detox programs hawked by manufacturers of vitamin supplements and weight-loss plans, which claim to cleanse your body of toxic substances.

These pseudomedicines are a beloved bane of science communicators everywhere, so I don’t really have much to add. Instead, I recommend you listen to our podcast.

But if you really need to read something about it, try the following:

But if you really, really want something without having to click a link, take the following example: cigarette smoke.

Anti-smoking poster produced by the Australian Government's Quit program, explaining the benefits of stopping smoking and allowing your body and your wallet to start repairing (PDF, 777 KB)
Cigarette smoke and the damage it causes cannot be cleansed by taking a magic pill. The only way to get it out of your system is to stop smoking for good (Quit poster, Australian Government)

Cigarette smoke is one of the toxins most frequently listed by detox proponents. But as we all should know after decades of government advertising – like the Quit poster shown above – the only way to rid yourself of its toxic effects is to stop smoking.

There is no magic pill, lemon drink, ear candle, or – heaven forfend – colonic irrigation, that will protect you from harm and allow you to keep smoking. Similarly, quitting for a couple of weeks, or 10 days as many of the detox plans seem to run for, won’t undo the damage from years of tobacco.

As for other, less deadly toxins that you consume in moderate amounts – like say, chocolate – well your body is quite capable of handling them itself, thank you very much. You don’t need to swallow another substance to chase them out of your system.

When you think about it, detox programs are a bit like the old lady who swallowed a fly. And look at what happened to her…

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