Dastardly detoxes, catastrophic cleanses: be wary of fast health fixes

We’ve all seen the articles that crop up in the new year, touting the latest celebrity-endorsed cleanse or detox. 

Regardless of the type of cleanse, they purport to quickly “rid the body of toxins” and “reset metabolism,” which seem like a attractive options in a world increasingly obsessed with health and beauty.

Attractive though they may be, these cleanses are ineffective at best and dangerous at worst.

Thankfully, in the midst of all of the misinformation, Tim Caulfield, a health, law, and science policy professor at the University of Alberta, is on a mission to inform people about health.

“I do research into how health and science issues are represented in the public sphere, not only in pop culture, but more broadly, including social media.”

His entertaining and educational Netflix series, A User’s Guide to Cheating Death, explores the science behind popular health trends and celebrity-driven health trends, as well as cutting-edge science, and how it’s being presented to the public.

Besides exploring the science, Caulfield’s goal was understanding what attracts people to these health fads.

“We didn’t want to make something that was just a ‘gotcha!’ show that made fun of people that have strange health beliefs.”

However, cleanses are one thing he described as “scientifically absurd.”

For example, Well Juicery, a Canadian company that produces cold-pressed juice and “superfood lemonade,” promotes their products as a way to “give your digestive system a break, eliminate toxins, and improve your energy,” according to their website.

However, one bottle of their “Be Well” juice has 27 g of sugar and none of fiber.
The American Heart Association recommends that the maximum amount of sugar women should ingest per day is 25 g. For men, the number is 37.5 g.

Well Juicery recommends drinking around five of their juices per day while doing one of their cleanses. 

I have to admit to not being great at math, but 135 g of sugar per day for up to three days on the “cleanse” sounds a little high.

“You don’t have to pull your punches when you’re talking about detoxes,” said Caulfield.

“There really is no evidence behind them.”

There’s a perception that our bodies need to be cleansed regularly, or “tuned-up” like a car. 

Caulfield believes that people are partially drawn to cleanses as a way to punish themselves or atone for unhealthy habits –  a form of self-flagellation. 

“There’s this idea of ‘purifying’ your body.

“We used to do it with evil spirits, and now we’re doing it with toxins.” 

On cleanses, people are deprived of essential nutrients, and can develop an unhealthy relationship with food.

If your body isn’t removing toxins properly, you need a doctor, not a juice cleanse, because it means your liver and kidneys aren’t working.

When it comes to health, Caulfield says that the old standbys of eating well, exercising, and not smoking are the only tried-and-true methods.

“There’s no magic.”

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