The dangerous delusion of “detox” drinks

True detoxification doesn’t come in a bottle

Here we go again…A tried and true tenet of natural healing is being potentially misunderstood by mainstream medicine and meanwhile exploited by the quick-fix (and quick- buck) “health” marketeers.

This time it’s with the delusion of so-called “detox” products and drinks. But unfortunately, the detox-in-a-blender fad bears no resemblance to any authentic detox regimen.

What is detox, anyway?

Some of the new drink marketeers may not know it, but it actually stands for detoxification. And that can mean two very different things from a health perspective:

1. To the medical establishment, it’s about appropriate treatment for drug or alcohol intoxication or addiction.

2. In natural medicine, it’s a way of restoring the body, mind, and spirit to their most cleansed, balanced and healthful state.

The characters running around promoting “detox” drinks (who seem hyped up on their own adrenaline) could use a good detox themselves. They need to slow down, and take time (and even lie down) for an authentic, natural detox treatment…as I’ll demonstrate in just a moment.

Heavy metals and other “toxins”

A really unfortunate thing about the wildly incorrect messages about detox is that real detoxification is an important cornerstone of good health. It’s something we should all do periodically to get rid of toxic accumulations that slow down our bodies and cloud our minds.

The human body accumulates toxins, like heavy metals, that the liver can’t effectively metabolize and the kidney can’t adequately excrete. Metals like lead or excess iron can accumulate and poison virtually any and all tissues of the body. Fortunately, there is a real medical treatment for effectively eliminating lead that I will tell you about shortly. Other toxins, including chemicals from pesticides, for example, accumulate in body fat.

Note to dieters: One of many reasons I recommend slow, steady weight loss is that accumulated toxic chemicals trapped in fat tissues are released into the blood and body when fat is metabolized due to caloric restriction. A sudden release of toxins into the bloodstream can temporarily poison other tissues in the body, causing symptoms that may convince you that your weight loss is doing more harm than good, at least temporarily. That’s another reason to follow a sensible diet for weight loss or maintenance, such as the one I outlined in the “Top-of-the-Food-Chain” Cure for Obesity bonus report that came with your subscription.

But back to the medical treatment I mentioned for eliminating excess lead from the body. Chelation therapy using infusion with a substance called EDTA has been approved for use by the FDA for lead poisoning. The EDTA chemically traps the heavy metal so it can be eliminated in the urine. After many years of study, research recently established that chelation therapy with EDTA, together with vitamin C, is effective for treating and reversing cardiovascular disease (theoretically by removing the mineral calcium from blocked arteries).1

As I reported in last month’s Insiders’ Cures, mainstream medical “experts” were quick to claim it was the vitamin C—not the chelation therapy itself—that was responsible for the positive effect. (Yes, these are indeed the same “experts who are usually quick to claim that vitamins have no effect on heart disease, or anything else, for that matter!)

Is your body poisoning itself?

“Alternative” or natural medicine holds that everyday food consumption results in toxic buildup. The idea is that when we break down the food’s constituents and our gut bacteria carry out their own metabolism, the result is that we produce chemical products that are “foreign” to the body—termed “auto- intoxication.”

This is a 19th century concept that we now realize is more complex in terms of the microbiome and the role of probiotics and fiber (see last month’s Insiders’ Cures).

Modern research validates genuine detoxification

Some of my own research in the late 20th century actually validated some of the 19th century ideas about auto-intoxication. Based on a theory from Dr. Nicholas Petrakis at University of California, San Francisco, I performed an analysis with colleagues at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) on the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. We found that less frequent bowel movements (constipation) in women is related to higher rates of breast cancer.

Dr. Petrakis thought that constipation allowed toxic, carcinogenic breakdown products to accumulate in the intestines, which would then be absorbed back into the blood and could cause cancer in tissues. We found such results for the most common cancer in women. But we were quietly told by our political bosses at NCI not to pursue this research because nobody really believed in those old ideas anymore…despite the evidence we had just found.

Change your body and your life with true detoxification

So far I’ve covered two types of detoxification: alcohol/drug detox and removal of heavy metals and chemicals from the body. But it’s the cleansing of this “auto-intoxification” that applies to the vast majority of us.

What I hope you take away from this article is that the true detoxification, or cleansing, that I’m about to describe, can change your body and your life. All those ways in which you feel sluggish, “stuck,” or foggy—this type of detoxification can reverse them.

But here’s the thing: You’ll have to slow down and take your time to reap the rewards (in fact, the slowing down is a reward in itself). This detox does not come in a bottle. Rest and relaxation, good air, pure water, and “energy” form the foundation of any authentic detox. This approach is bound to be good for whatever ails you.

Ancient detoxification rituals get new life

The idea of accumulated toxins actually goes back before the 19th century—way before.

Ayurveda, the 5,000-year-old healing system of India, recognizes toxic buildup, and that’s why purification plays such a crucial role in Ayurvedic medicine. The difference is that while Western natural medicine is concerned with products of digestion, Ayurveda places emphasis on the toxic effects of poorly or undigested food (or thoughts, or experiences—all known as ama).

Did you notice I referred to “purification,” and not “detoxification”? Rather than thinking of the process as “de-” anything, Ayurveda takes a more positive approach. The mainstay of Ayurvedic purification is an intensive treatment regimen that’s custom tailored to each individual based on constitution, season, medical or emotional conditions, and other factors.

Panchakarma (PK), or “five actions,” is not a just a quick “do- it-yourself” detox in a bottle. It requires the help of an Ayurvedic practitioner, who will design a program just for you. The program entails a customized, combination herbal remedy, modified diet of easily digestible foods, a schedule that honors nature’s daily cycles, and daily treatments performed by highly trained therapists. PK can last anywhere from a few days to more than a month. Some facilities offer outpatient services, but many people choose to stay at the treatment center so they can focus without distraction on the intense purification they’re undergoing.

And the treatments? While they’re not quite like what you’ll experience at a typical spa, they are incredibly relaxing and balancing. Well—most of them anyway.

Some of the actions of PK are not practiced in the west because they’re somewhat extreme and unpleasant (bloodletting and therapeutic vomiting). And one, the basti, or enema, is frequently included as a substitute, but may not constitute what you might consider a typical day at the spa. But together with the PK’s heat-based massages, aromatherapy, and stimulating treatments, it creates a purification experience like no other.

While PK is based on age-old understanding of toxic buildup, it may address the more modern variety as well. Preliminary research has shown that its treatments can mobilize and remove toxic, fat- soluble pesticides and agrochemicals from the body.2

A final word

So as you can see, an authentic detox is nothing like downing an energy drink (which the FDA is now warning are actually toxic themselves). A major benefit to following any of the authentic, natural approaches is that they make you slow down and take time to focus, relax, and rejuvenate. No one has figured out how to put that in a bottle just yet.

As former Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop used to tell me, sometimes the “tincture of time” is the best medicine of all.

If you need help finding an Ayurvedic practitioner near you, try the National Ayurvedic Medical Association at www.ayurvedanama. org. Their website has a directory of practitioners.


Can you overdose on vitamins?

Toxins aren’t the only things that can build up in fat and other body tissues: So can seemingly innocuous vitamins.

Water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin C and the Bs are simply eliminated in the urine.

Fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, and E, on the other hand, are stored in fat and can accumulate in the liver. So it’s theoretically possible to “overdose” on them. This is also the reason vitamins A, D, and E are best absorbed when they’re taken with dietary fats or oils—and why fish oils are often high in these vitamins as well.

But even though vitamin overdoses are possible, they’re as rare as hen’s teeth (especially compared to the hundreds of thousands of drug poisonings every year). In fact, the Recommended Daily Allowances for vitamins may be too low to even get a “real” dose for purposes of health and wellness. The doses I outline in Insiders’ Cures are optimal and do not pose an overdose danger.



1. “Alternative therapy produces intriguing results in some heart patients but many questions remain.” American Heart Association Late-Breaking Clinical Trial Report. November 4, 2012.

2. Micozzi, MS, Fundamentals of Complementary & Altenative Medicine, 2010, Elsevier Health Sciences