’TIS the season to detox … or so an assortment of commercial providers would have us believe.
If you were slothful over the holidays, if you consumed too much Christmas pudding or sparkly alcohol, you may need to absolve yourself from your sins through the healing powers of any of a myriad “herbs, minerals, fragrances, aromatics, unctions, perfumes, baths …” you can find online.
Oh, whoops, those are actually some of the tools employed by Reformation-era exorcists to drive out demons, but hey, you get the idea …
The belief that we can be colonised by malevolent foreign forces that are the root cause of all our problems seems to be deeply entrenched in the human psyche.
Where once the invaders were demons or spirits, they are now the much more sciencey sounding “toxins”.
The obvious advantage of such external agents of doom is that they allow us to avoid facing the real causes of our ill health or unhappy lives.
It’s not the stressful job, the junk food, or the absence of exercise that’s the problem. It’s those scary – though never identified – toxins.
“Toxins are everywhere,” says one website. “They’re in the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe. As such, it’s crucial that we help our bodies detoxify.”
That particular site offers “wisdom” for a healthier life, to be achieved with products such as Telomere Boosts, Bulletproof Brain Octane Oil, and the Improving Poop Squatty Potty.
To be fair, many “detox” regimes incorporate perfectly sensible recommendations about healthy eating and regular exercise. Sadly, though, these often sit alongside unfounded claims about arcane rituals or magic potions (sometimes known these days as “superfoods”).
“The four essential ingredients to detoxing your body are spirulina, milk thistle, cape jasmine and amino acids (from rice protein),” says another website, adding that in some cases it may also be necessary to fight negative thoughts by reading positive affirmations.
Contemporary exorcism does not come cheap. You can snap up 120 capsules of Life Extension brand milk thistle for just $42.55, which works out at around $170 a kilo (including the container).
If I’m going to spend my money on overpriced superfoods, I might get some truffles instead.
I’ve written before about the range of shamanistic rituals that gather under the detox umbrella: everything from having water propelled up your bum to baths and poultices for sucking out the toxins that have accumulated in your feet (because, gravity).
The coffee enema is a perennial favourite, its use documented in ancient Egyptian medical texts, according to the purveyors of the Squatty Potty mentioned above.
As “one of the best ways to remove toxins”, the coffee enema has been used historically to treat ailments ranging from cancer to depression, the website says, going on to list the “10 incredible benefits” of taking your espresso through a less usual orifice.
The site, which helpfully sells home enema kits and packets of organic coffee, recommends using a dark roast, and includes some useful safety tips (“Let The Coffee Cool Before You Put It Up There”).
I couldn’t find any mention of the other well documented risks of colonic irrigation, which include septicaemia, rectal perforation and potentially fatal electrolyte imbalance, according to one systematic review.
Those researchers found no evidence supporting enemas as a means of promoting general health, which I guess makes the online spruikers’ description of the “incredible” benefits remarkably truthful.
“Colonic cleansing … has been around for centuries and will likely continue to be used by uninformed and suggestible individuals, often in response to commercial inducements involving questionable claims of health benefit,” the review’s authors wrote.
Perhaps it’s time we exorcised our brains instead of our bums: “Get thee gone, milk thistle!”
Jane McCredie is a science and health writer based in Sydney.
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