Experts say there is little evidence of their proven value



Jennifer Yang for Metro Toronto


A variety of colourful detox products can be found on many store shelves, but health experts debate their usefulness.


“It’s bull ... this idea that there is something magic you can do to cleanse the body.”

Additives, chemicals and toxins — oh my. It seems as if everywhere we turn these days, yet another shrill warning is being announced about yet another harmful … something.

“Every time we hear about something that is bad for you, we want to cleanse ourselves of it,” says Stefanie Shalagan, a registered dietician with Cleveland Clinic Canada. One bandwagon solution that’s fast gaining momentum is the “detoxification” — or “detox” — product, a quick fix that comes in a pill bottle, tea bag, liquid or patch. They promise to purge your body of harmful toxins if you follow their regimens, some of which also include laxatives and diet restrictions.

Al Khan is a manager of a Whole Health store and says detox products are a popular sell. He himself uses one called CleanseSMART every spring and fall. “You feel sluggish before you do it, but when you start you just feel better and better,” he says. Many health experts say there is little evidence to support the efficacy of these products, however, and some insist that such remedies should only be taken with a pinch of salt.

“It’s bull,” scoffs Jack Uetrecht, a University of Toronto professor of pharmacy and medicine. He explains that the human body already has mechanisms for flushing toxins, and supplements can’t do anything to boost your liver’s performance, as many detox products claim. “This idea that there is something magic you can do to cleanse the body — that you can improve on the systems that have evolved over million of years and work really well. It’s just silly,” he says.

David Juurlink, a physician and medical toxicologist, says that the term “toxin” is a general term, referring to many things that can cause harm, and detox products rarely specify which toxins they’re dealing with. “Frankly, we live in a very polluted planet and we probably have lots of toxins floating around in our system,” says Juurlink. “But do we need to get rid of all of them?”

Khan argues that doctors don’t support detox products because many of them don’t believe in natural products. In any case, Shalagan explains that by drinking water, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and steering clear of alcohol and caffeine, one can easily accomplish what detox products claim to do. For Juurlink, the advice is the same. “Do sensible things. Watch what you eat,” he says. “I would not recommend you invest large amounts of money in products that have no proven value.”