Pseudoscientific “detox” regimes are based on the flawed idea that unspecified “toxins” accumulate in the body and by consuming nothing but fruit juices, fasting, taking part in dangerous colon cleansing or using fake foot baths will rid the body of these alleged “toxins”. In reality, the liver and kidneys are very efficient at eliminating real toxins and other waste products from the body. If the body accumulates actual toxins at harmful levels, that means that the liver and kidneys are malfunctioning or shutting down. This would be lethal, and not just generate diffuse symptoms such as tiredness. Drinking nothing but juices or fasting will not help deadly poisoning. So in essence, “detox” products are useless.
Recently, the Swedish Public Radio (“Sveriges Radio”) broadcasted an episode of P4 Extra with guest host Mina Benaissa (2015-01-01, 13:00 local time). Around 41:21 into the show, we are treated to the following exchange about pseudoscientific detox treatments between the host and alleged “detox expert” Erica Palmcrantz Aziz (my translation):
Benaissa: There will be more about change now in the first day of the new year…I think some of you listeners want a fresh start of 2015 and maybe you have eaten a little too much of the good stuff with Christmas table, candy, mulled wine, and champagne. What would be better than doing a detox during the leave. With us, we have Erica Palmcrantz Aziz, raw food inspirer and author that is an expert on detox. What is a detox, Eric?
Palmcrantz Aziz: A detox is really, in short, it is called detoxification, but it sounds so dramatic actually. What does one have to detox from? Headlines talk about detox back and forth, and we get, without thinking about it, toxins, into us from the outside, pollutions, car exhausts, but it is also the case that what we eat and how we live, simply how we feel on the inside, that we can need a little break from, to use the English word, to “reset” the body, zero the body a little bit to find one’s way home and to clean out and tidy thing up.
Benaissa: When is it appropriate to do a detox, then?
Palmcrantz Aziz: Well, it depends a lot on how you feel…when you feel lethargic, when you feel that you have an easy tendency to use sugar, become a little bit tired, then you can test “now I’ll try a detox”…and often this is after all Christmas food and New Year’s celebration that, “no, it has been too much of the good stuff”, then it is a phenomenal opportunity to do it.
Benaissa: …and what is needed, what are the cornerstones for starting?
Palmcrantz Aziz: It is to have fresh ingredients at home and I promote the detox version that consists of fresh, raw vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, and good oils…
Benaissa: …no meat?
Palmcrantz Aziz: not in the things I promote…some detox…although there are few that promote meat…
Benaissa: could you give examples about what to eat during a day’s worth of detox?
Palmcrantz Aziz: Yes, I brought a chocolate hia porridge with goji berries. When you get to taste it, it is not a pain or disgusting…”can I start the day like this if I am on a detox, then I can detox every morning!” [mutual laughter]
Benaissa: I have gotten a bowl from you Erica with it looks like…it is something brownish dried berries…
Palmcrantz Aziz: [interrupts] goji berries…that contain an incredible amount of antioxidants that we need when we detox so that we can capture these “toxins” that circulate in the body we need nutrients and then there are chia seeds that are loads of fibers, incredible amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, proteins and really lot of antioxidants and that has been left to swell in almond milk and raw cocoa, something called coco-palm sugar that has a low glycemic index so it does not affect blood sugar..
Benaissa: It tastes like chocolate pudding with some bubbles in it, I would say…
Palmcrantz Aziz: …so that could be a good breakfast and for snacks, it can be a green smoothy…green leaves and fruits that you mix…lunch can be a large salad with algae, sauerkraut, seeds and in the afternoon I like to roll snack balls made out of dried fruits, nuts and seeds..and dinner zucchini lasagna…with no regular pasta or pasta plates but zucchini and tomato sauce and some seed mix…it is an amazing food day.
Benaissa: …but it sounds difficult with the…you have to fill up algae and stuff that one does not usually have at home
Palmcrantz Aziz: yep, that is the way it is…and one can adapt the detox based on one’s own prospects and also how much commitment, how much time one has. I promote always, rather do one detox day than thinking “I have to do a week and I don’t have the energy for it”. Then it is better to do one way, or do Friday, Saturday, Sunday is fantastic.
Benaissa: How long, on average, do you think one should, is it possible to do it excessively? How long…?
Palmcrantz Aziz: It differs, as I explained how a day looks like…that I usually eat over a day…
Benaissa: …and can you tell that this detox has gotten any effect on the body?
Palmcrantz Aziz: one becomes more alert, happier, has more energy, sleep better, not as much craving for sweetness…it simply feels easier.
Benaissa: Is there any scientific evidence that this actually works?
Palmcrantz Aziz: …the doctors say that this is not needed. The body can take care of this on its own and I also think that the body…our inner organs has a function, but unfortunately, we live a little too good maybe, we exercise too little, sleep too little, so we do not give our body the maximum conditions to do its job, it becomes a little tired, and we trick the body with sugar and fast carbohydrates..and that has an effect in the body…I understand the argument made by doctors…but what I also see and have read is research in the other direction of good nutritional therapists and others who are good at nutrition and knows how the body works…but they only thing that I actually see as the most important research ever is the one that I can perform on myself…how do I react? Am I feeling more alert and happy after a 3-7 day detox, then yes…it probably had an effect…It does not work for everyone, but it works for many.
Benaissa: mm…thank you Erica Palmcrantz Aziz for telling us about detox, and it should be said that this chia chocolate pudding can be found on the website of P4 Extra, you will find the recipe there.
In this short segment, the largest public radio channel in Sweden gave proponents of pseudoscientific detox regimes a powerful and influential platform for spreading their nonsense. Swedish public radio lent some of its credibility to useless and ineffective “treatments” for accumulation of unspecified “toxins” that is not supported by mainstream medicine. While the host did ask two somewhat critical questions, the radio station gave a massive platform for quackery and the host let the detox proponent get away with all of the classic evasions and excuses unhindered. The website of P4 extra also has a page about the interview with the headline “Detox could be the right way to start off the year” and links to Palmcrantz Aziz’s blog, thereby giving her even more phoney legitimacy.
Now, we cannot put too much blame on the host. In a short twitter exchange, she did acknowledge that she should have asked more critical questions and that the thought behind the segment was really about healthy foods after New Year’s and she thanked for the tip of inviting a skeptical activist next time they would consider discussing detox.
A big part of the reason why quackery like this gets airtime and reduced critical attention of Swedish Public Radio is because of their contradictory policies. They claim that they require to be both factual and impartial. However, virtually all pseudoscientific beliefs are contradicted by a large amount of scientific evidence and facts, so it is not possible to be both factual and impartial, especially when “impartiality” in practice has meant “false balance”. It is not factual to give equal time to rational science and irrational quackery. It is not “taking sides” to stand up for good science.