On Friday, January 17th 2014, CBC’s Marketplace aired an episode called “The Detox Challenge”. Before you rush off to check it out, allow me to convince you first that watching it will be an exercise in confusion and frustration. Marketplace attempted to show consumers why detoxification programs are a hoax, an ineffective and painful exercise in willpower that is a waste of the consumer’s money and time. From a scientific standpoint, here’s what they did wrong:
First off, the experiment proved NOTHING because it didn’t follow the Scientific Method! For those of you who are a bit rusty on this procedure, it’s the only academically and professionally accepted way of doing research. Here’s where Marketplace really failed:
1. The sample size of the experiment was absurd. Eight subjects? Four of them followed the ‘detox’ and four of them ate whatever they wanted. That’s hardly a scientifically valid sample size. Compare this to the Nurses’ Health Study, which used a sample of over 238,000 participants!
2. The “detox challenge” participants consisted of eight healthy-looking university sorority sisters. That’s hardly a random sample. Once again, the scientific method has been violated.
3. Another major design flaw of the “detox challenge” in my eyes was that it was only 2 days long. The toxicologist (an M.D.) who took blood samples before and after the girls began the challenge said he could detect no differences between the blood samples between the two groups of girls. Well, it is no wonder because two days is not sufficiently long enough to show significant metabolic changes from 48 hours of dietary modification.
4. What were they looking for in the blood samples? We don’t know because Marketplace never told us! If they were testing for heavy metals like mercury, they were looking in the wrong place (these are not found in the blood as they get stored quickly in the tissues). Not only that, but the testing required to properly assess toxicity is not covered by OHIP (Ontario’s provincially funded health care plan). In fact, it’s darn expensive. A few years back when Wendy Mesley was diagnosed with breast cancer, they aired a program that included her participation in a comprehensive set of non-OHIP covered blood tests that measured her blood for over 300 toxins. It makes me wonder who paid for that test (which found hundreds of known toxins). Perhaps Wendy?
5. The detoxification support products that were purchased for the girls to take during their 48 hour detox challenge were designed to be taken over a period of 7 to 10 days. How can we expect any positive results in just 2 days? Although Marketplace was not specifically testing out the different brands used, once again, they are unfairly inferring that the products simply don’t work. In fact the viewer never hears anything about the products again after they are shown having been purchased. We only get to see the girls making smoothies, and listen to them emote about how tired, hungry and lazy they feel while eating the restricted diet.
I could go on and on about the lack of science, and bash Marketplace further, but I like the CBC. I really do. As I think about it, perhaps I should shift the blame to Dr. Mehmet Oz, whose “48-Hour Weekend Cleanse” inspired the theme of the Marketplace episode. I like Dr. Oz. I really do. However, he tends to over-simplify what shouldn’t be over-simplified in attempt to educate an under-educated audience. For example, his “48-Hour Weekend Cleanse” is not really a “detox”; rather, it’s a rest for the digestive organs. Looking at the shopping list suggested on his page it’s easy to see why someone couldn’t sustain it for more than a couple days. It’s just a few hundred calories a day—and therefore not sustainable for health reasons. However, it is true that resting the stomach, intestines, pancreas and liver by eating less should naturally feel better than eating 3000 calories per day!
As a practicing holistic nutritionist and nutrition program instructor I feel that airing this Marketplace episode does a real disservice to the public; because the whole concept of what a ‘detox’ is and does has been incorrectly conveyed through the media. By de-activating the individuals who are considering taking charge of their own health we regress as a society. Now to get a taste for what a good ‘detox’ program should do, follow me here.