Respectful Insolence

Detoxifying fashionably

How many times have I read or heard from believers in “alternative” medicine that some disease or other is caused by “toxins”? I honestly can’t remember, but in alt-world, no matter what the disease or condition under discussion is, there’s a good chance that sooner or later it will be linked to “toxins.” It doesn’t matter if it’s cancer, autism, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, or that general malaise that comes over people who, as British comedians Mitchell and Webb put it, have more money than sense; somehow, some way, someone will invoke “toxins.”

I was reminded of this obsession among believers in unscientific medicine a couple of weeks ago, when I came across an article by Guy Trebay in the New York Times entitled The Age of Purification. The article appeared, appropriately enough, in the Fashion section and was festooned with photos of cupping, surely one of the silliest of the many “detoxification” modalities that alternative medicine practitioners use to claim to draw the “toxins” out of their clients through the application of, well, cups or various other containers in which the air had been heated in order to generate negative pressure when sealed to the skin and presumably thus bring them to a greater level of purification and health. Indeed, the only “detoxification” rituals sillier than cupping that I can think of off the top of my head are detoxifying footpads and “detox foot baths.”

Oh, wait. Scratch that. I forgot about ear candling, which must surely be the undisputed silliest “detox” treatment of all time–until someone thinks of an even sillier one. Or not. There are just so many silly “detox” procedures that it’s hard to select a “winner.”

Be that as it may, Trebay mixes sarcasm with exposition throughout his article in a rather amusing way that’s worth quoting:

My friend, like everyone else around, seemed to believe that mysterious, amorphous sludge had lodged in the anatomical crannies of half the local adult population. Unseen toxins were lurking, like Communists during the Red Scare.

The “toxins” required elimination, somehow, and thus at lunches, at cocktails, at dinner parties, normal conversations turned abruptly from the day’s news to progress reports on juice fasts, energy alignments, radical purging. From painful sessions with traditional healers to toxin-leaching treatments designed, it might seem, to clean out not just body but wallet, a surprising number of New Yorkers (not all of them well-to-do neurotics) are caught up in a new New Age, the Age of Purification.

How had it happened, I wondered, that so many otherwise sensible, urban people found themselves in the grip of a dreadful feeling that systems are down? “I just bought five pounds of carrots, ginger and kale and put it all in my Breville juicer and pounded that all day,” said a corporate adviser of my acquaintance, far from a credulous woo-woo type.

Of course, as we have noted so many times before, hard-nosed skepticism in one area of one’s life does not necessarily translate to other areas. Many are the people who would never ever fall prey to scams in business, for example, but happily fork over money for scams such as “detox footpads”–or fall for anti-vaccine quackery, like J.B. Handley. Whatever the case, why this fascination with “detoxification” in alternative medicine? Why do so many of its treatments, be they dietary, chelation therapy, purges, colon cleanses, or whatever, claim to eliminate “toxins”? Why is it that, if you Google “alternative medicine” and “detoxification,” you find so many references, some of which claim external toxins need to be eliminated, some of which claim that internal toxins need to be purged, and still more of which blame various “parasites” for all manner of health distress. There’s even a line of products called Detoxify, complete with different products for taking care of “high toxicity” and “regular toxicity.”

In this post, I’ll try to explain, but first a little history–self-history that is.

“You’re poisoning yourself from within!”

My first encounter with the concept of “detoxification” (at least, as it is described in alternative medicine terms) occurred perhaps 10 or 15 years ago, after I had been out of medical school several years and completed my surgery education. Basically, a acquaintance of mine had on her bookshelf on “body cleansing.” Given how much I’ve delved into “alternative” medical practices in the last several years, it’s truly amazing to realize that for the majority of my adult life I had no clue what “detoxification” was or what “colon cleanses” were. My ignorance at the time aside, I don’t remember the title, and I don’t remember the author, but I do remember that, as I leafed through the book, it became rapidly clear to me that “body cleansing” had nothing to do with taking a shower or a bath, at least not in this book. In particular, my attention was riveted to a chapter entitled “Death begins in the colon.”

It turns out that the admonition to beware of your colon trying to kill you came from a chiropractor named Dr. Bernard Jensen, DC, who is apparently known as the “father of colonics.” Personally, that would not be a name or title that I’d be particularly interested in having ascribed to me, but then I’m not a chiropractor. My avoidance of icky titles aside, this was my first ever real encounter with the nitty-gritty (much of the grit within the stool) of colon cleansing. What followed were two chapters, the first telling readers how supposedly up to 20 lbs. of fecal waste lurks in their colons, producing “toxins” that slowly poison them, the symptoms of which manifest themselves as lethargy and a sense of not feeling well, coupled with any or all of a huge number of potential conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and many others. What’s the solution?

Guess.

Yes, the solution, as I wrote about long ago, is colon cleansing, and this was my first encounter, up close and personal, so to speak, with the concept. What followed were long and rather lovingly limned descriptions of the vast quantities of feces, along with–dare I say it?–almost pornographic-seeming photos of what people fish out of their toilet after colon cleanses. (For examples of the sorts of photos that I encountered, click here, but only if you have a strong stomach.) In the text were passages like this:

It is no longer possible to ignore the importance of alimentary toxemia or autointoxication as a fact in the production of disease. To no other cause is it possible to attribute one-tenth as many various and widely diverse disorders. It may be said that almost every chronic disease known is directly or indirectly due to the influence of bacterial poisons absorbed from the intestine. The colon may be justly looked upon as veritable Pandora’s Box, out of which come more human misery and suffering, mental and moral, as well as physical than from any other known source.

The colon is a sewage system, but by neglect and abuse it becomes a cesspool. When it is clean and normal we are well and happy; let it stagnate, and it will distill the poisons of decay, fermentation and putrefaction into the blood, poisoning the brain and nervous system so that we become mentally depressed and irritable; it will poison the heart so that we are weak and listless; poisons the lungs so the breath is foul; poisons the digestive organs so that we are distressed and bloated; and poisons the blood so that the skin is sallow and unhealthy. In short, every organ of the body is poisoned, and we age prematurely, look and feel old, the joints are stiff and painful, neuritis, dull eyes and a sluggish brain overtake us; the pleasure of living is gone.

Even back then, having recently finished my general surgery residency, I knew this to be utter nonsense. The reason, of course, is that I was still doing abdominal surgery back then, and I had done a lot of colectomies in urgent situations, where there was no time to prep the colon using GoLytely or something similar. Never once had I seen anything resembling the sorts of horrors delineated in this book. While that didn’t rule out that some patients might be as described in the passage above, it certainly indicates that having 20 lbs of fecal waste clogging up one’s insides is not nearly as common as the colon cleansers seem to believe. Similarly, I had done a number of colonoscopies in patients with unprepped colons, and, similarly, had never seen anything like this. None of this means such a thing is not possible, but in reality if a person’s colon has 20+ lbs of impacted fecal matter that person is going to be suffering not from chronic illness or a vague sense of illness. That person is likely to be, to use a scientific term beloved among the surgeons under whom I trained as a resident, sick as snot. In other words, while it is true that the fecal matter in our colons can make us sick, it’s quite uncommon that it does make us sick. Becoming ill from our own fecal waste matter usually only happens when something bad happens to break down the protective barrier of the colon and allow wee beasties that normally reside there to translocate into the bloodstream. For example, common causes of such breakdowns in mucosal barrier function usually involve severe physiological insults resulting in too little blood getting to the colon; i.e., sepsis, shock due to massive bleeding, or acute cardiac failure. These are usually not subtle things.

I told my acquaintance that whoever had written that book was full of…well, never mind. My experience, however, had been, if you’ll excuse the term, indelibly stained. I also came quickly to realize that the concept of autointoxication seems to have a lot more to do with religious concepts than science:

“The body as hotbed of festering sin was first examined by St. Augustine,” said Caroline Weber, a professor of French literature at Barnard College and Columbia University and a writer who often explores the weird byways of shifting cultural mores. “It was adopted later by monastic orders in the form of practices like self-flagellation, the wearing of hair-shirts, ritual fasting and the mortifications of the flesh.”

What is “detoxification” but ritual purification in another guise?

Attack of the toxins

If we are to believe the “detox” cult, our bodies are a pestilent sea of toxins, arising both from internal sources (the colon being but one example) and external sources. That’s why it’s useful to divide our “toxic exposure” from an alt-med perspective into two general kinds: External and internal, the latter of which is often referred to as “autointoxication.” External toxins are easy to understand and consist of pretty much anything that is viewed as toxic that enters the body from the environment. This term thus encompasses diet, pollution, and, of course, the ever-favorite bugaboo, “toxic chemicals.” Don’t get me wrong; there is no doubt that certain chemicals can be toxic. Further, there is no doubt that some environmental exposures can make us sick. Even further still, I do not deny that there have been times when chemical companies have behaved, to put it mildly, less than admirably when it comes to chemical spills and their consequences (Love Canal, anyone?)

That’s why I want to make it absolutely clear that these sorts of demonstrated, defined adverse health events are not what’s meant most of the time when when alt-med believers discuss “toxins.”

As for “internal” toxins, there is the aforementioned belief in “autointoxication” due to massive build up of fecal matter, and then there is–well, let me allow naturopath Robert Groves explain, given how heavily naturopathy emphasizes “detoxification”:

Autointoxication is poisoning by toxic substances generated within the body. In this process the body breaks down the parts that have served their function and attempts to, but fails to fully (or in the proper amount of time) neutralize their poisons and transports them out of the body. When these substances are not properly neutralized and/or eliminated, they damage our other cells causing dysfunction and disease. This continual cycle of destroying and eliminating the old worn out materials and cells happens in a time frame from split seconds to many years depending upon the type of cells and the substances. As an example of this regenerative process, your liver regenerates itself in about 3 weeks. The old cells are now waste to breakdown and move out. The body does this in a number of ways with the help of a few friends such as antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, viruses, bacteria, etc.

Anyone who has a basic understanding of human physiology should immediately recognize how poor an understanding of bodily function the article by Groves represents. Indeed, while the above passage is superficially correct about how the body is continually renewing itself, the conclusions Groves draws from this knowledge are so wrong they’re not even wrong, particularly his answer to the question of why detoxification is necessary:

If you don’t detoxify, you’ll blow up! It sounds like I’m kidding and in some ways I am and other ways I’m not. If there is intake and metabolism, but not elimination of the substances ingested or byproducts produced, an increase in size will occur. This is a matter of physics, the old saying “if you eat more calories than you burn you will gain weight” routine. Without proper elimination of unnecessary substances, obesity will be a problem at the very least. Bacterial and yeast overgrowth will increase bloating and create rotting of the entire digestive system. The cells of your body will no longer have room to take in nutrients and burn them (metabolism) resulting in fatigue. Consequently, the cells will fill with waste within and also in the interstitial space or area surrounding them (toxemia). In this state they will starve, as they are unable to absorb nutrients (malnutrition), and/or be denied oxygen causing cells to suffocate (hypoxia), and finally will die (necrosis). When enough tissues die, your organs die, and when enough organs die, you die.

Again, this is utter nonsense, too. First of all, there is no reason why the amount of waste must necessarily precisely equal the amount of food ingested. After all, what happens to the part of the food that we actually use for energy? How on earth is it that Groves thinks that if we take in too many nutrients we will “run out of room” to use any more, resulting in fatigue? After all, one might well argue part of the problem with our physiology is that it is too efficient in using calories far beyond what our bodies need, happily storing them as fat. Be that as it may, the body has very finely tuned and efficient mechanisms for disposing of waste material or recycling it into other molecules that the body needs, such as proteins, nucleic acids, and lipids. The liver is incredibly adept at getting rid of various waste products, as are the colon, lung, and kidneys. Except when these organs fail, help is rarely necessary; the body can “detoxify” itself just fine, thank you very much. Groves makes an analogy to an automobile in which the owner rarely changes the oil, rarely replaces the filters, and uses bad gasoline. Of course, an automobile is not capable of self-renewal the way that the human body is, which is why, although this analogy may seem attractive, it is too off-base to have even a whiff of a hint of any validity.

In all fairness, it should be noted that the very concept of “autointoxication” was not an alternative medicine concept per se, at least not 100 years ago. True, it is an ancient concept that dates back to the ancient Egyptians, who believed that a putrefactive principle associated with feces was somehow absorbed by the body, where it acted to produce fever and pus, and the ancient Greeks, who extended the idea beyond digestive waste in the colon to include the four humors and incorporate the concept into the humoral theory of medicine. Even so, it was also a concept promulgated by proponents of scientific medicine in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The concept was very much like what I’ve described so far, namely that putrefactive products of digestion remained in the colon, there to leech into the bloodstream and sicken patients due to autointoxication. Indeed, some surgeons, chief among them Sir W. Arbuthnot Lane, advocated total colectomy for the autointoxication that was thought to be the cause of diseases ranging from lassitude to epilepsy. Given that there were no antibiotics effective against colonic flora back then, intestinal surgery was still fraught with peril due to the high rate of sepsis and death, making this approach reckless indeed, even by the standards of the time. Eventually, even Sir Arbuthnot Lane came to the same conclusion and by the 1920s had changed his mind, deciding that diet was the answer. In any case, also by the 1920s, science had shown that the various symptoms observed in patients with chronic constipation were largely due to distension of the bowel and were not due to autointoxication. As is its wont, scientific medicine moved on from a failed hypothesis.

In marked contrast, as is their wont, alternative medicine practitioners clung all the more tightly to this failed hypothesis, an embrace that continues to this day.

What are these “toxin” things, anyway?

The first thing you need to understand when trying to figure out what toxins are is to realize that what an alt-med practitioner means when he or she mentions toxins resemble what a physician, scientist, or toxicologist means when he or she mentions toxins only by coincidence. In science, the formal definition of a “toxin” is actually quite narrow. Basically, a toxin is a poisonous substance produced by living cells or organisms. Man-made substances that are poisonous are not considered, strictly speaking, “toxins” by this definition. Rather, they are called toxicants. In marked contrast, alt-med practitioners do not distinguish between “toxin” and “toxicant,” lumping them all together as “toxins,” be they the products of autointoxication, heavy metals, pesticides, or industrial chemicals. To the alt-med practitioner, they are all “toxins,” which is why at this point I tend to make like Gunnery Sergeant Hartman and proclaim that I do not discriminate based on toxins, toxicants, or heavy metals. To me, in alt-med usage, they are all equally worthless.

Nomenclature aside, however, perhaps the most important differences in how science views toxins versus how alt-med views toxins is in demonstrating an understanding of (1) identity and (2) how the dose makes the poison. When toxicologists speak of toxins or toxicants, they tend to be very specific about the identity of the toxin or toxicant; they do their best to identify the specific compound or chemical that is causing illness, regardless of its source. This is often not an easy task, because there are frequently many confounders. Rarely are we fortunate enough to have a smoking gun like Minamata disease for mercury poisoning or the syndrome associated with Thalidomide dosing. This is particularly true for chronic disease as opposed to acute poisoning. In marked contrast, alt-med aficionados are almost intentionally vague when discussing toxins. To them, it seems, toxins are either all-purpose nasty substances without specific identities or substances whose toxicity appears not to depend upon dose. In the former case, toxins might as well be miasmas. If you’ll recall, the miasma theory of disease stated that infectious diseases were caused by a “miasma”; i.e., “bad air.” This was not an unreasonable concept before the germ theory of disease, because before germ theory the agents through which infectious disease was transmitted were unknown, but it’s not so reasonable now. Alternatively, “toxins” often seem to function like evil humors in the humoral theory of disease. Either way, alt-med toxins do not correspond to anything resembling toxins or toxicants in science.

My favorite example of this comes from the anti-vaccine movement. Remember our old friend Dr. Jay Gordon, pediatrician to the children of the stars and anti-vaccine apologist? A couple of years ago, “Dr. Jay” (as he likes to call himself) asserted that formaldehyde is a horrible toxin in vaccines. Yet, formaldehyde is a normal product of metabolism and ubiquitous in the environment. As I pointed out at the time, Dr. Jay breathes far more formaldehyde sitting in L.A. traffic jams than is in the entire vaccine scheduled, and human infants have many times more formaldehyde circulating in their bloodstream than would be contained in any vaccine. Believe it or not, I personally engaged in a long exchange with Dr. Jay trying to get him to understand why the “formaldehyde” gambit makes no sense from a medical or scientific standpoint. I’m still not sure whether I got through, because periodically he pulls in essence the “toxins” gambit, in which ingredients in vaccines are listed, along with all sorts of scary potential adverse effects, with no mention given as to the dose required to result in those toxic effects.

When it comes right down to it, alt-med “toxins” are as fantastical as the sympathetic magic that is the basis of homeopathy.

But how do you get rid of toxins?

Given that these magical, mystical “toxins” are ubiquitous, the methods proposed to eliminate them are legion. Still, they tend to break down into five main methods. Often two or more of these methods are combined in order to flush out those evil humors toxins:

  • Diet. Key to many “detox” regimens is diet. These can range from all juice diets such as the “Master Cleanse” diet, which consists of lemonade, maple syrup, and Cayenne peppers (I kid you not) to raw food diets such as the ones I’ve discussed (cooking food apparently loads it up with toxins) to any number of other bizarre diets.
  • Colon cleansing. Discussed in depth by yours truly nearly five years ago and better known as regularity über alles.
  • Heavy metals. This is where “chelation” therapy comes in. In essence, the claim is that we are all overloaded with “toxic” heavy metals. The treatment is, of course, chelation therapy. Unfortunately for quacks (and fortunately for us), genuine heavy metal poisoning is increasingly uncommon. Removing lead from paint has made it less and less common for babies to be poisoned when they put paint chips in their mouth, and removing lead from gasoline has decreased the amount of lead people breathe in. Moreover, there are specific criteria for the diagnosis of poisoning due to specific metals, and chelation is only useful for some metals. It’s also important to remember that, for all the claims of anti-vaccine activists that mercury in the thimerosal preservative that used to be in some childhood vaccines causes autism, not only is there no evidence to support this claim, but there is a lot of evidence against it. Worse, often the diagnosis of “heavy metal toxicity” made by alt-med practitioners is based on “provoked” urine levels, a methodology that has no validity.
  • Skin detoxification methods. These methods claim to purge the “toxins” by eliminating them through the skin. They include modalities such as “cupping,” pads like the infamous Kinoki footpads whose manufacturers claim they can draw toxins out through the soles of the feet, and the even more infamous “detox foot bath,” where the water turns colors regardless of whether your feet are in there or not.
  • Manipulative methods. These tend to break down into methods like massage therapy and “lymphatic drainage,” basically manual methods that claim to “improve lymph flow” and thus “detoxify” the tissues. Examples include rolfing and lymphatic drainage massage (which, while feeling good, doesn’t remove any toxins that anyone can show).

The bottom line is that in medicine, “detoxification” has a specific meaning, and alt-med “detox” believers have appropriated the term for something that has little or nothing to do with its real medical meaning. Basically, in real medicine “detoxification” means removing a real and specific toxin or toxicant (or set of toxins and/or toxicants). In the case of real heavy metal poisoning, chelation therapy is real detoxification. Similarly, using lactulose to decrease the production absorption of ammonia by the gut is an example of detoxification. In contrast, alt-med “detoxification” is far more akin to the exorcism of evil spirits, the removal of evil humors, or the driving away of miasmas.

Fashionable nonsense

It’s not clear to me what’s behind this latest wave of detox faddism, but it’s clear that the concept that we are somehow being “contaminated” or poisoned is nothing new. Perhaps my favorite pop culture example is from a movie that’s nearly 50 years old, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. In this blackest of black comedies, U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper has a paranoid delusion that fluoridation of water is a Communist plot that will lead to the contamination of the “precious bodily fluids” of every American. Acting on this belief, General Ripper initiates an all out first strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, and the rest of the movie involves the increasingly darkly funny efforts of the U.S. government to recall the bombers and abort the attack in order to prevent global Armageddon. The idea “contamination” and the need for “purification” goes back much farther than that, though, as Trebay notes:

The idea of toxicity is a constant in Western culture, said Noah Guynn, director of the humanities program at the University of California, Davis, and a researcher into the cultural meanings of ritual cleansing. “We’re obsessed with the idea that our environments have turned against us, that they are poisoning us and we have no choice in the matter,” Dr. Guynn added. “We’ve been contaminated by something that you cannot eradicate, you can only treat.”

Whatever the reason for the resurgence of belief in various “detox” modalities, one thing’s for sure. Unnamed, unknown, undefined “toxins” are the new evil humors and miasmas, and detoxification is the newest fashionable form of ritual purification. It’s a religion far more than anything resembling science.

Comments

  1. #1 Narad
    June 6, 2011
  2. #2 Jacob
    June 6, 2011

    What do you call a toxin that doesn’t harm you?

    Food.

  3. #3 Jamie
    June 6, 2011

    What about those of us who just think cupping feels really neat and relaxing and love the red circles it leaves? Can we still enjoy it if our practitioner isn’t an insane woo monger and is just a massage person who thinks that anything that feels good and is relaxing is a good thing?

    That said, toxins, HAH. If I hear one more hipster friend say they need to ‘detox’ to fight off a cold/headache/whatever I may gag. It’s amazing the amount of things that will cure 24 hour illnesses if only you give them a chance… And 24 hours.

  4. #4 dt
    June 6, 2011

    Unfortunately the concept of dangerous “toxins” and the need for “detox” is so universal, pervasive and lucrative that it will take much more than level headed rationality to eradicate it.

    One of the main drivers for the nonsense is the celebrity endorsement – not just reading someone’s testimonial but where whole TV programmes are devoted to having popular celebrities indulge in ridiculous pseudoscience, which acts as a powerful motivator for the ordinary joe to think his/her life can be similarly revolutionised.

    Rolfing?
    ROFLing more like.

  5. #5 Jacob
    June 6, 2011

    On a serious note, Ashtanga Yoga is supposed to be detoxifying.

    It’s also supposed to boost all round health. It was developed to increase survival high up in the Himalayas.

    Unlike modern exercise systems, it is not based on ‘hunting activity’ it was developed specifically (and initially unconsciously) to improve health.

    Yoga repairs damage from sitting and smoking charas, which the yogis did an awful lot of, and still do if you go to rishikesh and check them out.

    Orac, can we look at Ashtanga Yoga please?

  6. #6 Jacob
    June 6, 2011

    dt, If your meniscus gets badly torn in your knee, good luck fixing it.

    If no joy, find ‘Ken the Rolfer’ ;)

    Unless surgery can fix menisci now? Have things improved in the last 5 years?

  7. #7 anarchic teapot
    June 6, 2011

    Here in France I hear a lot of this “detox” crap. Usually it’s along the lines of “flushing the toxins out of your system after the winter” i.e. a variant on the dieting for summer fashion.

    Even people whose diets are already perfectly healthy buy into this crap, which generally boils down to a foul-tasting mixture of ground roots to be drunk after meals.

    I’m already considered abrasive enough by others, apparently. Would telling people who waste their money on this crap get me fired for not integrating with the rest of the personnel? Possibly…

  8. #8 Narendra Nayak
    June 6, 2011

    In India it is a common thing in Ayurveda to advise colonic irrigation with all sorts of oils and plant extracts under the same theory as toxins accumulating. One so called system of medicine called naturpoathy is full of these things.

  9. #9 Opyuse
    June 6, 2011

    All of this naturpoathy stuff really saddens me. Unfortantitly it really isn’t anything new but because of the internet and the media coverage it receives it appears to be getting bigger.

    I’m from Ireland and my Granda was a blacksmith this apparently meant he had the ‘cure’ (This term is used by people in the country or small towns and villages. You go for the cure). The cure could be for anything really; from heart disease to arthritis. His form of the cure was smithing nails, which you kept on you.

    I’m sure everyone here already knows it is the persons individual desire to control their treatment, that draws them to most forms of woo. But another reason I think should be talked about more is the difference in diagnoses style between a SBM doctor and a woo practitioner.

    When I was at university I had an old friend who was a medical student and within a year he distanced himself from me and our other shared friends to socialise only with other medical students. Now maybe we weren’t the best of friends or he wasn’t a very nice person but everyone else I know agrees that medial students in general thought they were better than other disciplines.

    I think this carries over from student to doctor in a small amount of doctors but more importantly the bias remains in the vast majority of people. It is this bias that doctors are unfriendly, uncaring and unwilling to listen, I think, that pushes people to look more kindly on woo practices.

    I love this blog and other medical blogs because it lets me see doctors who really care for people.

    So Cheers for that Orac

  10. #10 Adam
    June 6, 2011

    Ah, you missed one: MMS, or “Miracle Mineral Solution” (aka industrial bleach) is also highly recommended for detoxing.

    And, what’s more, you can tell it’s detoxing you. Apparently when you drink it, it makes you feel really ill. That’s the toxins leaving your body. Obviously. Not the effects of drinking industrial bleach at all.

  11. #11 Todd W.
    June 6, 2011

    Re: cupping

    If the mechanism of action is supposed to be the vacuum that is created, couldn’t one just use the hose attachment on their vacuum cleaner to accomplish the same thing? Or do all of the cup locations need to be sucked at the same time?

    Down side to the vacuum cleaner, I guess, is the noise. Not particularly relaxing, perhaps.

  12. #12 Dangerous Bacon
    June 6, 2011

    “If you don’t detoxify, you’ll blow up!”

    This is why I no longer take public transit. Too much risk of fellow passengers going ka-blooey.

  13. #13 Arianne
    June 6, 2011

    After using a lot of ways, I finally decided to opt for rehab centers for my are who has become a drug addict. Sometimes, I feel that I have failed as a mother as I am the one who should be responsible for his addiction towards drugs. It’s because of the hectic work schedule which is one of the major reasons of the distance created in our relation. Are you okay? I have never asked this question to him. Starting from 10 am to 10 pm, I have always been busy in work. Meeting my deadline was the only objective of my life at that period of time. Now, my are is fighting with his deadline for his heroin addiction. What I am I supposed to do? Are rehab centers the only way to treat my are? Findrxonline in his blog indicates that it is an option, as mother I’m desperate, you think?

  14. #14 PatchUp
    June 6, 2011

    @Adam – MMS is much beloved of the ‘chronic lyme’ and Morgellons crowd. Some of them use it several times a day, and marvel at all of the stuff they manage to puke up. Ben Goldacre at badscience.net has highlighted the case of a young welsh lad who was banned from a Crohns support website for telling users that their beloved ‘Miracle Mineral Solution’ was bleach. Google Bleachgate to find his site.

    @Jacob – can colonics and yoga heal a torn meniscus? Do tell…

  15. #15 ali
    June 6, 2011

    Vegetarian Times had an article a few years back about doing a “weekend detox”, basically you eat steamed and raw veggies with a few grains, do yoga, brush your skin, take showers, meditate, talk walks, and journal. It somehow helps your body.

    I think taking a weekend of rest and reflection can be nice especially when things are stressful but I don’t know what it’s supposed to detox.

    Then there’s the Raw Food World (website) which is full of every kind of woo you can imagine. MMS, colonics, medicincal mushrooms, parasite cleansing, candida cleansing, EMF protectors ect.

    When I started my job the email for this was in our mail email address so I started reading it.

    Besides the raw food, the basic idea put forth by the guy behind this is – a raw diet and colonics cure everything. But colonics are the key. According to him, colonics can instantly cure pneumonia.

  16. #16 Jacob
    June 6, 2011

    A funny and true story (when amongst american yoga practitioners who are well known for falling for woo):

    Upon chancing upon some yogis having a conversation about the benefits of colonic irrigation:

    Me: Did you know that there is a tribe of baboons in Africa who have used 3 pieces of hollowed out bamboo to direct a powerful jet of water from a waterfall, and they use it for colonic irrigation?

    Yogis: Really? (happy faces all round).

    Me: No of course not, baboons simply aren’t advanced enough to fall for that stuff.

    Yogis: Why are you so negative?

    Me: I’m smiling inside, from the bottom of my arse.

    The health benefits of Ashtanga Yoga are too numerous to list.

  17. #17 Anglachel the Common Sense Pagan
    June 6, 2011

    If I had to chose between colonics and getting a shot of anti-biotics to help fight off pneumonia (again, that is)I would take the shot! Sounds alot cheeper and is far more likely to work. Using such a method doesn’t even make any sense. Pneumonia has nothing to do with the colon, at least I have never heard such a thing!

  18. #18 Jamie
    June 6, 2011

    @Todd: Not sure if you meant me or the article, but for me and people I know who enjoy it for sensorial value, the heat of it is part of it. It really .is. a cool little bit of playing with fire and such. Doesn’t have a fraction of the ‘medical uses’ some people claim, but like anything else, can be a lovely form of relaxation. =)

  19. #19 Jacob
    June 6, 2011

    @Patchup – “can colonics and yoga heal a torn meniscus? Do tell…”

    Quite the opposite! Ashtanga yoga is often mistaken for physical showing off, so it attracts a lot of people who like to play hard and have big Egos.

    Wu Li masters will tell you that the EGO resides in the knees. (i dunno..)

    A lot of westerners cannot sit in padmasana (full lotus) and go against all good advice and try to force it in the first few months (to get into lotus you need to open the hips safely over the course of a few years, using the straight-legged postures which put less strain on the knee).

    As the medical people will know, if you force your legs into lotus hard enough you will crush, wear and ultimately tear the meniscus.

    When this happens, a few people get surgery but it often comes back.

    David Williams, now in his 60’s, tore his meniscus while trying to get both feet flat on his chest. It was through his mission to get it fixed that he discovered ‘Rolfing’ and the union between ashtanga yoga and rolfing was born. (http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_EA05sU1J_aY/Sfw3OSyQ9hI/AAAAAAAAAiU/zw3cN7rA_rg/s320/rockstaryoga.jpg) – both feet on chest picture.

    Rolfing is more than just deep tissue massage. They look at the movement habits that cause the injuries and re-educate on how to move in a way that does no more damage.

    I’ve begun to tear my meniscus twice. My ego isn’t so big so I fixed mine by just easing off – not putting my leg in lotus for 3 months but still doing the yoga to promote healing.

    Have you ever read ‘Bodymind’ by Ken Ditchwald?

    I’ve met seriously spooky people who can watch you walk back and forth for 20 seconds and tell you who you are and tell you all about your parents personality too! The shape you are is the history of the way you and your ancestors felt ;)

  20. #20 Old Rockin' Dave
    June 6, 2011

    The whole concept sounds like a garbled, misunderstood description of toxic megacolon mashed up with diverticulitis.
    Those are two conditions in either of which large amounts of fecal matter can be trapped within the bowel, but it is extremely unlikely to be as much as twenty pounds and it is even more unlikely that anyone suffering with either would not, in fact, be obviously suffering and in marked pain.

  21. #21 Jud
    June 6, 2011

    If cupping has given us nothing else, it is responsible for an amusing Yiddish expression for absolutely futile action: Wie ein Toten bankes, “Like cupping a dead man.” (Apologies for the missing umlaut over the “o” in Toten.)

  22. #22 Calli Arcale
    June 6, 2011

    ali:

    I think taking a weekend of rest and reflection can be nice especially when things are stressful but I don’t know what it’s supposed to detox.

    Angst, maybe. You hit the nail on the head; it’d be some nice rest and reflection, and of course it’s good for you to eat healthy and get some exercise, but it’s not going to do anything beyond that. It really is amazing what people buy into.

    I recently got to know a guy who is very bright, generous, and sharp as a tack. Also, he’s into doing cleanses. Turns out, anybody can get suckered into this sort of thing. I expressed my skepticism politely, but he feels it’s helpful so he’s going to continue.

    Colonics to cure pneumonia — wow. Talk about getting the ends completely mixed up. :-D

  23. #23 Denice Walter
    June 6, 2011

    While Mike Adams does sell, uh… apparatus ( see “store”/ NaturalNews), he and the other idiot** advocate a kinder, gentler de-tox method: they believe that intake ( by mouth) of chlorophyll-based nutrients can *chelate* out the heavy metals and industrial toxins highly concentrated in most folks from years of indulgence. The “theory” goes something like this: all illness is caused by poor nutrition( and pollution) and can be cured by appropriate nutrition; needless to say, physicians, nurses, and dieticians know *nothing* about this earth-shattering truism, so they lie as they enable their pharma paymasters ( a/k/a ” Poison, Inc”.)

    Obviously then, the quality of food and supplements is of extreme import to these guys: all should be organic, vegan/ or nearly , non-GMO, uncooked or lightly so ( low heat doesn’t mess with the vital essences). A variety of vegetables should be juiced ( juicers are available as well) and consumed several times a day with pure water ( water filters are available). *That’s* what the Masters do: mere mortals unable to keep up can buy a plethora of dried vegetable powders to compensate for their addiction to burgers, pizza, milk products, wheat products, and other deadly drugs available at those dens of iniquity, supermarkets and fast food sellers.

    So *de-tox*, via green products is first, *then* ( you knew that it couldn’t be quite *that* simple) you *re-build* and *re-juvenate* with the red/ purple products, also available in powdered form. Then, many plant-based supplements are also added to the mix. And vitamins. The endless list of products is an integral part of these “informational/ educational” websites.

    I have my own form of food/ beverage woo that I actually used this Saturday: if I have a cold or sore throat , I go out for Thai or Indian food, drink gin, and have tea. Works every time, I get better.

    ** the Woo-meister *par excellence* is set to reveal *all* about the “quack-busters” ( That’s us!)- more on this later.

  24. #24 Sastra
    June 6, 2011

    I’ve often wondered how much of the current widespread concern over “toxins,” both internal and external, has at least some foundation in the strong anti-pollution messages children in elementary school began receiving regularly starting in the 60’s and 70’s. I’m not saying the “Give a Hoot; Don’t Pollute” campaigns and environmental education weren’t valuable, but it may have helped implant the idea of a toxic boogy-man in young minds that later proved easy to exploit.

  25. #25 Denice Walter
    June 6, 2011

    @ Sastra: Totally agree! That explains that cohort.

    However, there is earlier activism, people like Rodale ( Prevention Magazine): I have a 1960 compilation of articles from the 1950’s: I know of others from the UK and Germany, names escape me now.

  26. #26 Todd W.
    June 6, 2011

    @Jamie

    Sorry, I meant the article, specifically the belief that it draws out toxins. I imagine that it’s kinda like hot stone massage: warmth on the skin that soothes the muscles, etc. In short, relaxing, but that’s about it.

  27. #27 Aaron
    June 6, 2011

    Thanks for the info, Orac.

  28. #28 viggen
    June 6, 2011

    that alternative medicine practitioners use to claim to draw the “toxins” out of their clients through the application of, well, cups or various other containers in which the air had been heated in order to generate negative pressure when sealed to the skin and presumably thus bring them to a greater level of purification and health.

    Reading this, it struck me very suddenly that, for all the times I’ve seen you write about acupuncture, I’m sort of surprised that I’ve never seen you touch moxibustion.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moxibustion

  29. #29 kd
    June 6, 2011

    Orac, in your discourse with Dr. Jay, did you consider conveying the doses of “toxic” substances in vaccine preparations in terms of their homeopathic dilutions?

    The most formaldehyde encountered in a typical pediatric vaccine is ~0.1mg, or a homeopathic dilution of 4X assuming a volume of ~1mL. More commonly the exposure is 0.01mg or less, a homeopathic dilution of 5X.

    Certainly a 4X or 5X dilution of a substance that at higher doses can cause headache, nausea, vomiting, CNS depression, dypsnea, and kidney failure (and coma or death) should show value as a homeopathic therapy for colic, asthma, and diabetes in young infants? Dr. Jay should be singing its praises.

  30. #30 Edith Prickly
    June 6, 2011

    (first time commenter, please be gentle…) I’ve been reading for a few months but haven’t spoken up yet, mainly because my science education stopped after high school. I’ve been greatly enjoying both the posts and ensuing discussions, and gathering ammunition to counter the woo-ists among my friends and extended family.

    Today you’ve highlighted the aspect of alt-med I’ve always found the most puzzling, which is the huge disconnect between their belief in “natural healing” and their equally fervent conviction that the body is a festering cesspit of toxins that requires bizarre dietary restrictions, weird nutritional supplements and invasive procedures (in the absence of any actual symptoms of illness) to keep it healthy. Makes you wonder how alienated they are from their own bodies…

    I’ve gotten to the stage in my life where I need more medical help to stay healthy and every recommendation and/or medication (including nutritional supplements!) my unhip family physician has given me is working just fine. Oh well, she’s probably on the take from Big Pharma and just brainwashed me into thinking I’m better!

  31. #31 Edith Prickly
    June 6, 2011

    (first time commenter, please be gentle…) I’ve been reading for a few months but haven’t spoken up yet, mainly because my science education stopped after high school. I’ve been greatly enjoying both the posts and ensuing discussions, and gathering ammunition to counter the woo-ists among my friends and extended family.

    Today you’ve highlighted the aspect of alt-med I’ve always found the most puzzling, which is the huge disconnect between their belief in “natural healing” and their equally fervent conviction that the body is a festering cesspit of toxins that requires bizarre dietary restrictions, weird nutritional supplements and invasive procedures (in the absence of any actual symptoms of illness) to keep it healthy. Makes you wonder how alienated they are from their own bodies…

    I’ve gotten to the stage in my life where I need more medical help to stay healthy and every recommendation and/or medication (including nutritional supplements!) my unhip family physician has given me is working just fine. Oh well, she’s probably on the take from Big Pharma and just brainwashed me into thinking I’m better!

  32. #32 Edith Prickly
    June 6, 2011

    sorry for the double post, my browser is being ornery.

  33. #33 Scott Cunningham
    June 6, 2011

    I find a lot of people lump every idea together into one congealed mess. Personal self-esteem boosterism, politics, environmentalism, medicine, history, it all has to be connected somehow into a single grand narrative. Makes for a giant mess of imaginary associations. One result is people looking for environmentalism-founded anti-corporate theories of medicine. At least, such is my experience as a university undergrad. I used to dismiss it as the inexperience of the young, but I guess it can persist for a lifetime.

  34. #34 Edith Prickly
    June 6, 2011

    sorry for the double post, my browser is being ornery.

  35. #35 triskelethecat
    June 6, 2011

    @Edith Prickly: welcome. You will find the inhabitents are generally friendly. Don’t worry about double posting; we all end up doing it sometimes if the browser or Sciblogs is acting up. Just make sure to refresh before trying to post again. It may still double post though.

    I know. It’s so terrible. I honestly think my doctor is iin the pay of Big Farm(a) or Big Exercisa; he keeps telling me that I need to eat more fruits and vegetables, less red meat. He rarely gives me drugs unless they are needed and after other things like dietary changes and exercise have been tried. I am just SO disgusted. /snark

  36. #36 Jeff Read
    June 6, 2011

    Re: colonics tards

    THESE PEOPLE EXHIBIT THEIR POOP ON ALUMINUM FOIL. AND THEN TAKE PHOTOS OF IT AND POST THEM TO THE INTERNET.

    Also, one of the more popular colonics products to emerge in the last few years is literally called “Colon Blow” — after a 1980s SNL skit that parodied high-fiber cereal commercials.

    Poe’s law massively applies. (Or is that Poo’s law?) The genuine article has become indistinguishable from parody.

  37. #37 palindrom
    June 6, 2011

    @Edith Prickly — Welcome! I love your moniker — for those not familiar with the old SCTV, Edith Prickly was a character played by the great Andrea Martin; a hard chargin’, tough talkin’ old gal who always wore a leopard skin coat. One memorable parody involved her in a soft-focus takeoff on “Body Heat” called, you guessed it, “Prickly Heat”.

  38. #38 Travis
    June 6, 2011

    There is an add for a detox program that plays constantly on the TV channel guide from my local cable provider. It is called Internal Flush. They actually sell it as a weight loss system, “Flush the Fat With Internal Flush” is the line. However it is really just yet another one of these things that is supposed to cleanse your intestinal tract. It also has the most annoying little musical jingle to go along with it and it gets stuck in my head.

  39. #39 hibob
    June 6, 2011

    Well, if you run into someone who is convinced they are swimming in undefined toxins their body can’t clear, you could inform them about Batten, Gaucher’s, or other storage diseases. Describe the tragic courses these diseases take, and gently suggest maybe they could put their colonic or sweatlodge dollars into a donation for medical research instead. Or (if you are not a medical professional) convince them that what they actually have is hemochromatosis, and that their best treatment is regular blood donation.

  40. #40 Melissa G
    June 6, 2011

    Triskelethecat, I know what you mean! My internist is *definitely* in the pay of Big HealthyDieta. Dude wants me to stop eating so much cheese and get more dietary fiber– WHAT KIND OF MADMAN IS HE????

    Welcome, Edith! :)

  41. #41 The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge
    June 6, 2011

    Denice Walter @ 20:

    I have my own form of food/ beverage woo that I actually used this Saturday: if I have a cold or sore throat , I go out for Thai or Indian food, drink gin, and have tea. Works every time, I get better.

    Seconded. Whenever I start to come down with something—it always starts with a sore throat; I could come down with leprosy and my first symptom would be a sore throat—there’s a little Chinese buffet place I go to. Hot ‘n’ Sour soup, their really lethal kimchi, and egg rolls with lots of really aromatic mustard and/or wasabi, and I’m good as new. (Except of course, for the half the time I’m not—but that record beats Big Supplement’s and is a lot tastier!)

  42. #42 GregH
    June 6, 2011

    WRONG.

    There is another equally specious cause of MANY MODERN AILMENTS!!1! And that’s Allergies.

    Allergies can be the cause of almost anything, and I just heard of someone who was allergic to sunlight (self-diagnosed).

    Where are your PUNY TOXINS now?!?!

  43. #43 Richard Smith
    June 6, 2011

    There seems to be something decidedly European* about the obsession with the colon and all it produces. When I was there a few years ago (a week in Holland, then several in Germany), I was hard pressed to find a single toilet that did not have a “poo shelf” – a ledge molded into the back of the bowl above the standing water line – so that you could search for anomalies before flushing it away.

    ———————–

    *Not up to figuring out how to work in a “you’re a-poopin'” line, so here it is as a footnote. Scrape it off…

  44. #44 Terrie
    June 6, 2011

    @GrefH, well there is such a thing as solar urticaria, but I believe it’s consider non-allergenic, though it’s still a histamine response.

  45. #45 Todd W.
    June 6, 2011

    @Terrie

    Yep. I actually know someone who, if they spend too much time in the sun, will break out in hives. Kinda weird to see. Whether they wear sunblock or not, whether they get a burn/tan or not, they develop hives.

  46. #46 herr doktor bimler
    June 6, 2011

    intake ( by mouth) of chlorophyll-based nutrients

    Eating grass, then? It works for my cat.

    their equally fervent conviction that the body is a festering cesspit of toxins
    It is like an epidemic, socially-conditioned version of Cotard’s Delusion.

  47. #47 Roadstergal
    June 6, 2011

    Today you’ve highlighted the aspect of alt-med I’ve always found the most puzzling, which is the huge disconnect between their belief in “natural healing” and their equally fervent conviction that the body is a festering cesspit of toxins that requires bizarre dietary restrictions, weird nutritional supplements and invasive procedures (in the absence of any actual symptoms of illness) to keep it healthy.

    Oh, this gets me, too! The alt-med people are continually ‘medicating’ themselves – with supplements and homeopathic sugar pills and colonics and god knows what else. It’s almost Münchausen-ian – only instead of getting attention for being sick, they’re getting attention for Being Able To Treat Themselves Better Than You Stupid Sheep Who Go To Doctors.

    Only I almost never have to go to a doctor. I eat well (veggie for moral and eco reasons, but I get a lot of protein along with fresh fruit and veg), excercise regularly, use sunscreen, don’t blow up like a balloon, and generally enjoy life. If, in the future, I fall on the bad side of the statistics and end up with something truly medically wrong with me, I’ll go see a real doctor, and if I don’t, I hardly feel a need to endlessly ‘medicate’ myself.

  48. #48 ebohlman
    June 6, 2011

    Edith: For a first-time commenter, you really hit a home run out of the park! Yes, the main problem with people who are into detox woo is that they are, as you say, alienated from their bodies. Specifically, they’re ashamed of being biological organisms who need to poop, pee, eat, sleep, etc. That’s what hardline conservative Christians call “carnality” (and, oh yeah, that sex thing is another aspect of being a biological organism) and they definitely view it as negative. But other more “liberal” worldviews still suffer from the same thing.

    I wonder how much of the colon woo stems from toilet training. The fact that infants and toddlers need to defecate certainly inconveniences their parents, and they (the kids) may misinterpret signs of frustration on the part of their parents as disapproval of themselves as persons. I think that would be especially true if they were raised by highly authoritarian parents.

    I also think this body alienation is responsible for the tendency to define “health” as freedom from minor aches and pains, unpleasant GI sensations, minor fatigue, and the like. Because we can imagine ourselves free of those vicissitudes of everyday life, we jump to the conclusion that we “should” be and there’s something wrong with us if we’re not. Our ability to imagine the impossible can lead us astray.

  49. #49 EJ
    June 6, 2011

    What do those photos *actually* show, I wonder? String foreign bodies? Shoelaces dipped in chocolate? They just look too… cohesive to be actual human waste.

  50. #50 JayK
    June 6, 2011

    Those pix make me think that the people created them just so they felt like the super pooper version of Superman, crapping strings is their awesome super power and they can crap strings better than anyone else! Stand back super villains, your toxins only make my poo stronger!

    Or worms. Maybe they need a higher pile carpet?

  51. #51 lilady
    June 6, 2011

    Hi to Edith Prickly…join the fray.

    Every so often one hears of a wave of not so new nonsense with elimination/colonic/natural laxatives. I suspect this “wave” has staying power…aided now by the internet.

    Years ago, when I visited my Auntie on weekends, she always had the giant economy size of Swiss Kris…marketed by one of the old time purveyors of woo, Gayelord Hauser. Yeah, Auntie would whip that box out and dole it out in large tablespoons for the “sniffles”, mosquito bites…or anything that warranted “a good cleansing”. We quickly learned to stifle the sniffle and not scratch the mosquito bite. The stuff was composed of dried herbs, truly gag inducing. Swiss Kris is still available in pill form, on the internet.

    I suspect that some of the believers in colon cleansing are purgers, smart enough to realize that induced vomiting destroys the teeth…and dopey enough to ignore the loss of electrolytes and risks for irreversible major organ damage. Anything and everything to keep the washboard abs and get into those size 2-4-6 clothes.

  52. #52 Sigivald
    June 6, 2011

    Even further still, I do not deny that there have been times when chemical companies have behaved, to put it mildly, less than admirably when it comes to chemical spills and their consequences (Love Canal, anyone?)

    That’s deeply unfair – to chemical companies. What’s more, the link you provide shows it!

    Hooker Chemical behaved quite properly, sealing the waste up to the state of the art at the time – and then were strong-armed by the local School Board into selling the tainted land under threat of seizure.

    The School Board then did exactly what Hooker told them not to do, and build schools on the land, and sold the rest off to the local Housing Authority, which then breached the clay containment walls.

    There’s a villain or two in the Love Canal story, all right, but it’s not the one people keep pointing at.

    (Oh, Hooker Chemical [or rather the conglomerate who owned them at the time] wasn’t “nice” about “accepting liability” for the dump’s effects on the population after the City and School Board caused all these problems.

    And I don’t blame them in the slightest, given that they’d warned the City about the hazards and had to be bullied into selling the land in the first place.

    But of course, a giant chemical company has much bigger pockets and isn’t as cuddly as the local School Board, so who you gonna sue?)

  53. #53 Krebiozen
    June 6, 2011

    @EJ

    What do those photos *actually* show, I wonder?

    If you ingest bentonite clay and psyllium, or guar gum and pectin, they combine to form a rubbery cast of the bowel, which is then passed.

  54. #54 Terrie
    June 6, 2011

    The oddest to me was someone I knew who did all sorts of cleanses and talked about ridding the body of parasites, but at the same time talked about how there were no parasites in the raw meat she fed to her dogs (who, she also claimed, had digestive tracts that prevented parasite infections, so it didn’t matter anyway).

    The contradiction always made my head hurt. If she was talking about parasites, they were a huge health issue that we all had. If I was talking about parasites, they didn’t really exist.

  55. #55 Censored Analyst
    June 6, 2011

    Some diseases you mention deplete glutathione.

    What would be a consequence of glutathione depletion?

    Everything is black and white.

  56. #56 jre
    June 6, 2011

    This horrified fascination with the yucky, partnered with a compulsion to cleanse, seems to come very naturally to many people — so much so that I wonder if it is instinctive. Does anyone know if any particular area of the brain is associated with a human grooming instinct?

  57. #57 herr doktor bimler
    June 6, 2011

    Does anyone know if any particular area of the brain is associated with a human grooming instinct?

    The basal ganglia, is one theory (based on observations of Huntington’s Disease, where there is progressive damage to the caudate nucleus, associated with unconcern for personal grooming and loss of the usual disgust reactions).

  58. #58 Diane
    June 6, 2011

    it seems to me that someone once did the math on how much space *20 lbs of poo* would take up. They assumed a density equal to water, since poo can float or sink. I don’t remember the exact answer except that it amounted to a few liters (think 2-L soda pop bottles)–a laughably huge volume.

  59. In my Newage to English dictionary(*), the translation of “toxins” is “demons”.

    (*) Which exists only as a vague concept that I half remember from time to time and think of writing up and never do.

  60. #60 feralboy12
    June 6, 2011

    The colon may be justly looked upon as veritable Pandora’s Box, out of which come more human misery and suffering, mental and moral, as well as physical than from any other known source.

    Right. See, that’s why I had mine removed.

  61. #61 Todd W.
    June 6, 2011

    @Cath

    You should write that up. It could be similar to Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary.

  62. #62 Richard Smith
    June 6, 2011

    @feralboy12 (#55)

    The colon is the alt med of alt med.

  63. #63 Richard Smith
    June 6, 2011

    @myself (#57)

    It seemed wittier before I hit ENTER. Perhaps better as “…of the human body”?

    “I wish I hadn’t said that.”
    “You did, Oscar, you did.”

  64. #64 DoctorDiva
    June 6, 2011

    A recurring theme among my patients who ask me about colon cleansing is that they think it is a quick (and ?easy) way to lose 10#. They are astounded (and very disappointed) to hear that no, it it’s not and in fact your colon is self-cleaning. Then I concentrate on what I think is likely to make a greater impact – that these procedures are performed by people (I will not call them practitioners of any sort) who likely have no medical training and that the complications can be really bad, like colon perforation and electrolyte imbalances.

  65. #65 Phila
    June 6, 2011

    “The body as hotbed of festering sin was first examined by St. Augustine,” said Caroline Weber, a professor of French literature at Barnard College and Columbia University and a writer who often explores the weird byways of shifting cultural mores.

    This type of lazy analogical argument is very common among climate denialists (e.g., cutting CO2 emissions is an update on ancient propitiatory rituals) and other propagandists (cf. Jonah Goldbeg). They should be taken with an ocean’s worth of salt whether they come from friend or foe.

    In this case, the differences a lot more striking than the similarities. Kind of pedantic, I know, but distorting history isn’t any more admirable than distorting science.

  66. #66 Matthew Cline
    June 7, 2011

    @Censored Analyst:

    Some diseases you mention deplete glutathione.

    What would be a consequence of glutathione depletion?

    Everything is black and white.

    ????

  67. #67 SC (Salty Current)
    June 7, 2011

    Becoming ill from our own fecal waste matter usually only happens when something bad happens to break down the protective barrier of the colon and allow wee beasties that normally reside there to translocate into the bloodstream.

    In addition to the acute crises, those with real chronic intestinal conditions or diseases that result in severe intestinal problems are likely to be dumbfounded by this. It’s like people intentionally inducing in part the illnesses from which they suffer. Madness. The only aspect that could be worse, I suppose, would be the insinuation that these conditions themselves result from autointoxication and could be relieved by a “cleansing.”

  68. #68 Phil O.Tawcksens
    June 7, 2011

    “It is this bias that doctors are unfriendly, uncaring and unwilling to listen, I think, that pushes people to look more kindly on woo practices.”

    I see this a lot by commenters on this blog and it puzzles me. Although uncaring and unwilling to listen are certainly bad qualities for anyone in health care, doctors don’t have a monopoly on unfriendliness Perhaps you haven’t been to many naturopaths, but the ones I’ve seen are no ‘friendlier’ than doctors. I think anyone who constantly deals with sick people will end up being not very friendly soon enough which is hardly surprising. I think the real reason many people prefer naturopaths is because they tend to cure, while doctors tend to treat. At least that’s why I do.

  69. #69 Dave Ruddell
    June 7, 2011

    Diane,

    I believe that this is what you’re talking about, although it’s only 10 lbs of poop. It would take up roughly 4.5 litres. Or, you know, more than a gallon jug of milk.

  70. #70 Andreas Johansson
    June 7, 2011

    Denice Walter wrote:

    uncooked or lightly so ( low heat doesn’t mess with the vital essences)

    Hm? Wouldn’t any cooking bring the thing cooked to approximately the boiling point of the liquid cooked in?

    One detox modality I ‘ve seen recommended but don’t recall Orac discussing is fasting. The idea, I believe, is that “waste products” (from eating or digestion) accumulate too fast for the body to get rid off, so fasting gives it a chance to catch up.

    According to a much too favourable review of a book about this that I had to study (the review not the book) in high school, much of the “waste products” are supposed to be leaving the body via sweating, which explains why fasting people (allegedly) tend to smell odd. The author (of the book) also apparently emphasized that weight loss could be a beneficial side effect of the regimen, but that it wasn’t why you should be doing it. ‘Sfunny how many altmed therapies “just happen” to amount to a starvation diet or worse …

    (The review was written by a teacher as an example to follow, though on being challenged she conceded it was “perhaps” too uncritically favourable.)

  71. #71 Denice Walter
    June 7, 2011

    @ Andreas Johansson:

    While I don’t exactly understand *how*, the woo-meisters advocate “cooking” at low heats of approximately 115 degrees Fahrenheit *or below* to preserve the precious “life essences” and enzymes. Paradoxically, they appear to endorse eating whole grains- which have to be boiled for long periods. You were expecting consistency from this camp? Go figure!

  72. #72 Beamup
    June 7, 2011

    Hm? Wouldn’t any cooking bring the thing cooked to approximately the boiling point of the liquid cooked in?

    Not necessarily, if the heat is sufficiently low. It’s hard to precisely regulate the actual cooking temperature at such low heats, but it can be done – sous vide cooking being the most well-known example.

    But I don’t think they really worry about it. It sounds good, nothing else matters – like Denice said, consistency is not a strong suit.

  73. #73 Gene Burnett
    June 7, 2011

    I think “detoxification” has it’s roots in Puritanism as does much of New Age thinking. We are guilty dirty sinners and we must be cleansed of our wickedness. I’ve been saying for years that New Agers are basically Puritans in more comfortable clothes. That said, I do believe there are byproducts of our internal and external lives that are hazardous to our health if they are not flushed out. For instance, if asbestos fibers lodge in your lungs, they can cause cancer. If you smoke, or hardly move, your lungs don’t flush out the fibers as well and they are more likely to do damage. But your body is a natural “flusher”, all you have to do is not get in its way. Some things that can help: drink plenty of clean water, get regular moderate exercise, practice good posture, don’t smoke, eat more vegetables, and balance your online and TV time with activity outside in the physical world, preferably where there is clean fresh air. But these things are not pills or special procedures and as such are harder to sell. ;~)

  74. #74 John Valenty
    June 7, 2011

    Would Reiki fall under this category?

  75. #75 Andreas Johansson
    June 7, 2011

    @Beamup: Apparently I’ve been led astray by a false friend – the Swedish cognate of “cooking” specifically means (in the context of food preparation) immersion in boiling liquid. I would thus not have thought sous-vide qualified as “cooking”.

  76. #76 Dangerous Bacon
    June 7, 2011

    “I think the real reason many people prefer naturopaths is because they pretend to cure, while doctors tend to treat.”

    Fixed that for you.

    Among all the foibles and foolishness of the woo-crowd, one of the worst things they’ve done is ruin the word “cure”. It is a perfectly valid term and noble goal (if not attainable yet in some situations), yet “cure” has become laden with altie pretensions and misconceptions to the point that I develop anticipatory nausea when seeing it.

  77. #77 Beamup
    June 7, 2011

    @ Andreas:

    Ah, that makes sense. Yes, in the customary American English usage of the term, sous vide counts as “cooking” and there is no particular assumption of boiling liquid. Or even any liquid at all, for that matter. Grilling qualifies, as one example of the latter.

  78. #78 Jacob
    June 7, 2011

    There is no ‘Cure’ for autism. There is only palliative treatment. I use two different palliatives for my autism. One is not enough.

  79. #79 Calli Arcale
    June 7, 2011

    Yes, we Americans are quite lax in our use of the word. Actually, I think that’s also true of all anglophones. Some would make a distinction between cooking and baking, but more would consider baking a subset of cooking. In general, any food preparation that involves heat (other than possibly reheating leftovers) will definitely be considered cooking to an American. Possibly even some which don’t, but that’s unusual.

    I have a wonderful cookbook at home which I refer to often, and which has a recipe for cooked buttercream which contains egg whites. They describe it as cooked even though you are expected to remove it from the heat as soon as the internal temperature reaches 160 F (well below the boiling point).

  80. #80 Matthew Cline
    June 7, 2011

    I think “detoxification” has it’s roots in Puritanism as does much of New Age thinking. We are guilty dirty sinners and we must be cleansed of our wickedness.

    How popular is detox in areas with no Puritan history compared to the U.S.? If it’s less popular in, say, Asia, that lends support to the idea, but if it’s just as popular then it’s a failed hypothesis.

  81. #81 Calli Arcale
    June 7, 2011

    The idea of detox predates Puritanism even in the West. By a lot. But it doesn’t predate the *idea* of purification. Some of the basic ideas behind Puritanism have existed in cultures all over the world, from one time to another. Philosophically, the same basic idea (that one must purify oneself) can be found in sources as diverse as Native American religions, Buddhism, Christianity, and Shintoism. It’s pretty widespread. Not all adherents buy into the quest for total purification, of course, but it’s a pretty common notion throughout human history.

  82. #82 Mandrellian
    June 8, 2011

    Denise & Battleaxe

    As a chronic asthmatic any acquired respiratory condition is always going to complicate things for me, so I’ve learned to recognise the signs early and get onto some sweat-food. Avoiding my beloved dairy products and going hard on a vindaloo or making some killer veg chilli or a hot fish curry does the trick. While it might not be a “cure” per se, a good spice-assault can ease my breathing and allow me to sleep. As my “Western” physician always tells me, the best thing you can do for a cold or cough is to rest, stay hydrated and eat well, but not too much. She’s happy to prescribe antibiotics or antivirals if she thinks they’re indicated, but she (a) makes sure I’m resting and eating properly _as well_ and (b) always _asks me_ if I want to try the pills. Usually we agree to leave it for a while and see if I get better on my own and that’s what usually happens. Dr Z believes a well-maintained body is the best defense against any ailment, but of course recognises that we _sometimes_ need external assistance. Clearly another Western allopath gone mad with power and Big Pharma money.

    Doctors & pills aside, a good hot nosh and good night’s sleep when I’m symptomatc is always & infinitely preferable to sticking a hose up my bunghole for no good fucking reason.

  83. #83 Peter E Dant
    June 8, 2011

    Sorry to live up to my name but your statement “..there to leech into the bloodstream and sicken patients due to autointoxication.” (Attack of the toxins) needs to use the verb “leach” rather than the noun “leech”

  84. #84 Yojimbo
    June 8, 2011

    @60 Calli Arcale

    … remove it from the heat as soon as the internal temperature reaches 160 F (well below the boiling point)

    Actually, if internal temperature is the key, no (edible) meat preparation usually comes close to boiling point. Even poultry and pork don’t usually go over 185 deg – I personally stop at 165 for pork. If the internal temp reached 212 you’d have some pretty ugly food.

  85. #85 leftbanker
    June 12, 2011

    Colon cleansing always seemed like the silliest thing in the world to me. It’s like some neurotic housewife cleaning the garbage. It’s your colon; it’s supposed to be filthy. These people just need to admit to themselves and to the world that they like to put things in their butts.

  86. #86 Anton P. Nym
    June 15, 2011

    Sorry for coming to this a bit late…

    it seems to me that someone once did the math on how much space *20 lbs of poo* would take up.

    The way I thought about it, “20lbs of undigested red meat” (which was the woo I was tackling) is by definition 80 Quarter Pounder(R) hamburger patties. Say each patty is 3″/75mm in diameter; in that case, the colon would be lined as thickly as a factory-made (uncooked) burger for 240″, or 20’/6m.

    The mental image this conjures is, of course, a big load of sh- er, illustrates the falsity quite handily.

    — Steve

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