It’s Dry January and many of us are fed up with nursing the festive season hangover from too much of everything. For a few weeks at the end of the year, most of us say, “to hell with it” and behave like fevered animals, devouring calorie-laden, sugary and fatty foods in the name of Christmas and generally bingeing on the good life.
It will all return to normal in the new year, we tell ourselves, thinking that signing up for yet another gym contract, juicing, stocking up on detox meds and braving a colonic irrigation or two will do the trick. After all, pharmacies and health stores are stocked to the brim with liver tonics, milk thistles, dandelion flowers, weight-loss teas, alkaline powders, activated charcoal and detox foot pads, so they must work, right?
Even bodybuilding icon Arnie is into it: at the age of 71, the Terminator is now flogging health supplements and protein powder, but he admits: “There is no magic pill. There are no shortcuts. There are only reps, reps, reps. To be your best, you’re going to have to work your butt off.”
The gyms are certainly busier - it’s boom time for their sales departments - and there are myriad pills and potions to help you detox. Or part you from your money.
But while there’s no argument about the need to get more exercise in our lives, there really are no shortcuts.
To be clear, there are two types of detoxing. The first is a medical treatment for drug addictions. The second is the vernacular, mainstream use of detox - the idea that you can somehow flush your system of impurities or toxins that will leave your organs squeaky clean and your skin glowing with health.
Detoxing though, removed from its medical context, is a scam, which is sold to the public by savvy swindlers and other persuasive entrepreneurs.
It’s built around good marketing for a global multitrillion-dollar industry. The idea that you can somehow undo the damage done to your body or speed up the detoxification process through special potions and pills is not based on scientific evidence.
Most people’s liver and kidneys do the detoxing well enough, without any external assistance or interference. The liver processes what we put into our bodies; the kidneys filter it out. And there’s nothing that you can take that will enhance or speed up liver and kidney function.
As Dr Harris Steinman, a medical doctor and consumer activist devoted to debunking scams, pseudoscience and “voodoo science”, says on his Camcheck.co.za website: “’Detox’ is a legitimate medical term that has been turned into a marketing strategy - all designed to treat a non-existent condition. Real detoxification isn’t ordered from a menu of alternative health treatments or assembled from ingredients in your pantry.
“Actual detoxification is provided in hospitals under life-threatening circumstances - usually when there are dangerous levels of drugs, alcohol or other poisons in the body.”
He says there are no products you can buy in a pharmacy for personal use at home. “What you’re seeing promoted as ‘detox’ is using medical terminology, but only to give the perception of scientific legitimacy to medically useless products and services. Fake detox is built around a number of easily debunked premises. Once you can spot the flaws, it’s easy to tell fact from fiction.”
Why are pharmacies actively promoting such products?
Surely it goes against ethical standards that they’re stocking snake oils with no scientific backing? The answer: it’s a lucrative shelf item.
Steinman says detoxing, fitness, penis extension, weight loss and breast enhancement are all highly emotive subjects, which is why it’s so easy to manipulate easily taken-in consumers.
Instead, save your money - and then some - by taking part in Dry January.
The campaign, introduced to the UK by the charity Alcohol Concern in 2013, encourages participants to pledge giving up alcohol for a month. Doing so has proven positive benefits: lowering blood pressure; reducing weight, cholesterol and diabetes risk; improving liver function and skin clarity; it’s is a great idea for your health - and it can have dramatic effect on your health and wealth.
Going “dry” this January won’t work for everyone though: alcoholics should detox properly with medical supervision because it can be life-threatening, and if you’re a heavy drinker, you might have a dependency problem, which needs to be treated.
Alcohol Concern states on its website: “If you regularly drink more than the government’s recommended maximum of 14 units of alcohol per week, you may be alcohol dependent, and in this case, Dry January is not for you.”
* Georgina Crouth is a consumer watchdog with serious bite. Write to her at [email protected], tweet her @georginacrouth and follow her on Facebook.