Monday, 5 January 2009

Rational New Year

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If there is one term that has always annoyed me at this time of year, it's "detox". You know - after the excesses of Christmas etc etc, it's time to "detox" our bodies by buying and consuming pricey products from our local health stores. It goes hand-in-hand with that other irritating perennial - the New Year's resolution. "Detox" had to be nonsense, didn't it? Okay, so cutting back on the booze and giving up the fags might not be a bad idea, but could drinking fancy water, taking loads of vitamins, using special face soaps (sorry, "cleansing lotions"), or for that matter the amazing "detox foot patches" shown here, really make a scrap of difference?

Not according to research carried out by Sense About Science, a charitable trust with the admirable aims of "promoting good science and evidence in public debates". In compiling their "Detox Dossier", published today, they found the following:
1) No two companies seem to use the same definition of ‘detox’.

2) Little, and in most cases no, evidence was offered to back up the detox claims.

3) In the majority of cases, producers and retailers contacted by the young scientists were forced to admit that they are renaming mundane things, like cleaning or brushing, as ‘detox’.

4) They range in price from £1-2 for a detox drink to £36.95 for detox bath accessories.
Not surprising at all, but great to see these things exposed (Sense About Science has also previously done some debunking of the pseudoscientific claims made for products like shampoo). I particularly liked this example, given in a BBC website report on the research:

"One researcher investigated a Garnier face wash which claimed to detoxify the skin by removing toxins. The "toxins" turned out to be the dirt, make-up and skin oils that any cleanser would be expected to remove, she said."

This is purely anecdotal, but all this reminds me of a person I used to work with (not at New Humanist, I might add), who used to proclaim the wonders of "detox", pomegranates, magic diets and all the rest. That same person was also paying for a course in how to perform Reiki. . .

Update: Thanks to reader Andy for pointing out that Bad Science author Ben Goldacre has of course written extensively on the nonsense that is detox. In fact he was on the Today programme this morning taking on someone from a company that makes something called "Detox in a Box". Read his blog on this and hear extracts from the Today programme here.


Travis Morgan said...

100% All Natural Artificial Flavor. LOL.

Anonymous said...

Sense About Science not Against Science.

Paul Sims said...

Thanks Anonymous. I'm glad you pointed that out as that was a ridiculous error to make! Fixed now.

Andy said...

Goldacre (my evidence-based hero) is all over this detox woo.

Indeed, he was smiting woomongers on The Today Program only this morning.

Garkbit said...

What impresses is the amount of coverage Sense About Science have managed to garner for this survey. It's great to see some anti-woo people with a bit of media savvy.