Doctors Have Another Reason Why A January Detox Is A Bad Idea

Illustration by Anna Sudit
"Detox" has long been a bit of an iffy concept, with many health professionals pointing out it's not backed by science and others claiming it's been hijacked by quacks to sell us bogus remedies.

So, with many of us embarking on health kicks after a little Christmas overindulgence, it's worth reminding ourselves of the importance of moderation and treating our bodies with respect.

A group of doctors has warned against undertaking a radical new year detox because of its potentially harmful effects, reported the BBC.

Writing in the BMJ Case Reports, the doctors said that while it may be tempting to undergo a short-term cleanse, a detox isn't necessarily healthy and isn't supported by medical science.

They highlighted the case of a 47-year-old woman who became critically ill after taking herbal remedies and drinking too much water.

The woman, who needed intensive care at Milton Keynes hospital, had ingested a mixture of herbs and alternative remedies including milk thistle, molkosan, I-theanine, glutamine, vitamin B compound, vervain and valerian root.

She had also drunk lots of water, green tea and sage tea in the few days before she collapsed and had a seizure, the doctors said.

The woman recovered with treatment, but doctors said her story was a reminder of how dangerous it can be to undertake a drastic detox.

The levels of salt (sodium) in her body were dangerously low, according to medical tests. The doctors also highlighted the case of a male patient with a history of anxiety whose low sodium level had caused him to have seizures.

He developed his symptoms after consuming a large amount of a herbal remedy containing valerian root, lemon balm, passion flower, hops and chamomile.

"The complementary medicine market is very popular in the U.K. and the concept of the new-year 'detox' with all-natural products is appealing to those less concerned with evidence-based medicine and more with complementary medicine," the doctors wrote.

They said "excessive water intake as a way of 'purifying and cleansing' the body" is linked to "the belief that harmful waste products can thus be washed from the body".

But they added that "despite marketing suggesting otherwise, all-natural products are not without side-effects".

The British Dietetic Association, which represents dieticians in the U.K., also criticised the idea of detoxing. "There are no pills or specific drinks, patches or lotions that can do a magic job," a spokesperson told the BBC.

"The body has numerous organs, such as the skin, gut, liver and kidney, that continually 'detoxify' the body from head to toe," they added.

While "being well-hydrated is a sensible strategy", they said, "drinking too much water can be as dangerous as not drinking enough."

"It sounds predictable, but for the vast majority of people, a sensible diet and regular physical activity really are the only ways to properly maintain and maximise your health."

It's not rocket science, but it's useful to be reminded of the importance of moderation. Especially at this time of year.
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