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Scientist critical of ‘detox’ dieting

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2008

LONDON — If you're eyeing a "detox diet" for salvation from the agonies of overindulging on Christmas banqueting and New Year's boozing, forget it.

In fact, says a top British scientist, "detoxing" is a load of expensive nonsense.

Actually, says Andrew Wadge, chief scientist for Britain's Food Standards Agency, you'd be better off sipping a few glasses of water — but only a few, mind you — and going for a stroll in the park.

It beats enriching the coffers of supermarkets, pharmacies and so-called health-food shops who peddle detox pills and potions this time every year.

"There's a lot of nonsense talked about 'detoxing,' " Mr. Wadge says in his formal advice issued during this Christmas-New Year's holiday period, "and most people seem to forget that we are born with a built-in detox mechanism."

"It's called the liver."

The scientist offers a few simple recommendations for righting all that wrong you have done to your body over the past 10 days or so:

"First, drink a glass or two of water [Tap is fine, cheaper and more sustainable than bottled.]

"Second, get a little exercise, maybe a walk in the park.

"And third, enjoy some nice, home-cooked food."

Then, he says, "Ditch the detox diets, and buy yourself something nice with the money you've saved."

As Mr. Wadge points out, all those detox packages and supplements don't come cheap.

One example is the "Five-Day Detox" kit retailed by one of Britain's leading chain of pharmacies at $27.

It claims to "battle against toxins and help protect from the dangers of free radicals, by-products of pollution and smoke."

Other detox kits, some of which are endorsed by celebrities, include tablets, body wraps, special diets and even special socks, shampoos, brushes and body "scrubs," plus various esoteric remedies such as nettle-root extract — many of which taste as awful as they sound.

Adds Jacqui Lowdon, spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association, "since when were celebrities qualified to talk about health and nutrition?"

One curious entrant in the detox sweepstakes this year is something called "oxygenated" water — curious because water, chemical formula H2O, already contains oxygen, one atom's worth to every two atoms of hydrogen.

Mr. Wadge is big on water, but even with water, there can be too much of a good thing.

According to a report in the Christmas edition of the British Medical Journal, two doctors in the United States have found that "drinking excess amounts ... can be dangerous, resulting in water intoxication, hypenatraemia [low salt levels] and even death."

Research by the two — Dr. Rachael Vreeman of the University of Indiana and Dr. Aaron Carroll, a professor of pediatrics — says the popularly held belief over the past 60 years or so that everyone should drink eight glasses of water a day is a myth, and a possibly dangerous one at that.