Wednesday, January 4, 2006

LONDON — Imagine forking out whatever it costs to rid your body of the nasty toxins accumulated during all that Christmas and New Year’s drinking and gluttony.

Forget it, say British scientists — you would be wasting your time and money on a scam.

One dietitian says the industry popularly known as “detoxification” is, in fact, a “marketing myth” designed to fleece gullible health fanatics out of millions of dollars spent on an array of tablets, teas, herbal remedies and other potions to try to remedy the effects of going over the top during the holidays.

Another scientist, a toxicologist, suggests that “detoxing” is a useless way to shed pounds picked up from lingering too long over the turkey and stuffing.

“The only thing that loses weight on a detox diet,” he said, “is your wallet.”

The comments are part of a 16-page condemnation of detox, the work of the dietitian, the toxicologist and nine other scientists asked by the British charity Sense About Science to examine concerns over “major misconceptions” about chemicals dispensed in the lifestyle market.

“The detox fad — or fads, as there are many methods — is an example of the capacity of people to believe in and pay for magic despite the lack of any sound evidence,” said Martin Wiseman, a visiting professor of human nutrition at England’s University of Southampton.

As holiday overindulgence grows, so has the market in purported remedies ranging from nettle root extract and “oxygenated” water to “detox” socks, footpads and body wraps. In fact, the scientists say, nature does the job far better at much less expense.

“Our bodies are very good at eliminating all the nasties that we might ingest over the festive season,” said Dr. John Emsley, a chemical scientist. The notion that the process can be expedited by “drinking fancy bottled water or sipping herbal teas is just nonsense.”

Alcoholic excess is a major target of the detox business, on the grounds that pills and potions bought over the counter at the local drugstore or supermarket will ease the agonies. Ridiculous, said Dr. Colin Berry, a pathologist at London’s Queen Mary Hospital.

“Even if you drink an almost lethal dose of alcohol, which I don’t recommend, your liver will clear it in 36 hours,” Dr. Berry said.

Water chemical scientist Kevin Prior said, “Ordinary tap water is as good as it gets.”

The professionals targeted several examples for concern, such as a 2.66-ounce kit claiming a 24-hour detox and containing among its ingredients papaya, oats, dong quai root, carrots, chickpeas and pineapple — “a very strange combination,” said British Dietetic Association dietitian Ursula Arens.

“It may be slightly diuretic,” she said of the $35 concoction, “but this is temporary and not real cleansing.”

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