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Hi! Can I interest you in drinking some pure lemon juice? Better yet, how about this delightfully tasteless smoothie? Alright, here’s my last offer: an expensive, complex plan that may require drastic changes to your lifestyle?


OK, OK – I know none of those sound particularly tempting. Yet untold numbers of people are engaging in this type of goosebump-inducing activity on a daily basis in the hopes of ridding their bodies of a massive assortment of poisons, usually referred to as “toxins.” Depending on whom you ask, they’re the result of exposure to pollution, eating unhealthy food, the government, or any number of sources, and just about everyone on Earth is chock full of them!


But… chock full of what, exactly? Definitions of what toxins actually are can be vague. The U.S. National Library of Medicine describes it simply: they’re poisonous substances derived from plants or animals. But “most toxins that cause problems in humans come from germs such as bacteria.” A famous example would be the Botulinum bacteria, which both causes a disease called botulism and can also be used to smooth out those pesky forehead wrinkles. By the same token, certain toxins can be useful in medicine when applied in a controlled dose.


Enter the world of detox. No, not medical detoxification for drug addicts, silly! I’m talking about healthy, holistic solutions for those of us who don’t use drugs but are still absolutely filled to the brim with poisons. Hope you have a big wallet! Let’s start looking for the right regimen for you, shall we?


Surprisingly (not), when you browse the websites of people who specialize in “detoxing,” there’s rarely, if ever, mention of bacteria. Instead, a popular detox cleanse program will tend to focus on nebulous promises of giving you more energy or just generally making you feel better. After all, an ill-defined goal makes it much easier to take advantage of the placebo effect – when something makes us feel better solely because we think it will. In other words, if an online “health guru” says that drinking some vile concoction every day is bound to prevent your morning exhaustion (caused by toxins, no doubt, and surely not a lack of sleep) and you strongly believe it will, it’s not unlikely you’ll experience some level of benefit from it. The next thing you know, your photo is being plastered on the guru’s website with a quote about how cayenne pepper gave you unlimited energy.


There are also a lesser number of detox cleanses that do promise to prevent or treat specific diseases, and a popular choice is cancer. You can lower your risk of cancer by not smoking, staying out of the sun when possible, and not drinking alcohol excessively. Which you already knew. The regimens promoted by quacks, on the other hand, can involve anything – one woman who claimed to have cured her cancer included coffee enemas in her routine. How shooting coffee up your butt is supposed to have any effect on cancer in your breasts is beyond me. Maybe she just enjoys grossing people out. In reality, coffee enemas don’t actually cure anything, although they can cause rectal burns, septicemia, and colitis. It’s like Russian roulette; you never know which exciting condition you’ll get!


The toxins that produce disease come from viruses, bacteria, and in some cases, fungi (I recommend checking out that article just to see the delightfully gross illustrations). Avoiding these germs completely is impossible – your best bet is to practice good hygiene and not get close to people who are sick. Oh yeah, and get vaccinated. I would also like to point out that 39% of deaths annually in the U.S. are caused by “unintentional injuries,” which can include things like not wearing a seatbelt in a car. Buckling up is much easier and cheaper than any detox cleanse… just saying.


It is, however, true that people are exposed to many toxins every day. Some are the result of manmade structures, but others are naturally-occurring and still others are produced by own traitorous bodies. So, how come we aren’t all keeling over? The answer is pretty simple: our internal organs are capable of filtering out these toxins on their own, with the liver and kidneys taking a starring role. They’re heroes at keeping the body healthy by filtering out dangerous substances and secreting them into our urine and feces so they aren’t absorbed into the body. As Science-Based Medicine puts it, “to argue that either [the kidneys or liver] need a ‘cleanse’ is to demonstrate a profound ignorance of human physiology, metabolism, and toxicology.”


If you still aren’t convinced and are having a hard time not splashing some cash on that program that Debbie from the office keeps suggesting (God damn it, Debbie), you should probably demand some evidence. A report by the Voice of Young Science looked at specific products on the market and found none convincing, while this article from Harvard Medical School concluded that the typical detox cleanse does little to nothing, and instead suggests “a healthful diet, adequate fluid intake, regular exercise, sufficient sleep, and all recommended medical check-ups.” Imagine that!


To me, the increased popularity of detoxing is merely another signal of a growing distrust in mainstream medicine. Healthcare that is extremely costly and doesn’t always produce the wished-for result makes people skeptical of “Big Pharma” and more willing to consult alternative therapies, despite a scarcity of supporting research. And while these unproven forms of medicine might be less expensive, you don’t actually save any money if they don’t do anything. So, ultimately, a detox cleanse really doesn’t have the ability to make you any healthier or empty your body of toxins – it can, however, empty your wallet. That’s why detoxing should be Filed Under Crap.

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