Detox

I've been tempted to order those ridiculous detoxifying foot pads, just to see if they really do pull anything black and scary looking out of my skin the way they do on the commercials. But my general opinion mirrors Orac's:


"Detoxification."

Whenever I hear that term, I'm at least 90% certain that I'm dealing with seriously unscientific woo. The reason should be obvious to longtime readers of this blog or to anyone who has followed "alternative medicine" for a while, because "detoxification" is a mainstay of "alternative" treatments and quackery for such a wide variety of diseases and conditions. Of course, toxins are indeed a bad thing, and we close-minded reductionist "allopathic" physicians do indeed use detoxification when appropriate. What differentiates us from "alternative" medicine practitioners is that we have this extremely annoying tendency (annoying to alties, that is) to want to know exactly what toxins we are dealing with, to verify that they are present in concentrations that can cause problems or damage before instituting any sort of treatment for them, and then to tailor our therapies to remove the specific toxins causing symptoms and to verify that we are successful. Not so for the "detoxification" as practiced by so-called "complementary and alternative medicine" (CAM) practitioners. CAM "detoxification" most often does not specify which "toxins" are being "detoxified," or when it does it is intentionally vague about them. Occasionally, they will get specific (mercury as a cause for autism), but the problem with specifying a "toxin" as a cause for a disease is that doing so allows for falsification; it also allows scientists who know something about the disease to assess the specific toxin as a cause for a disease for biological plausibility. Not surprisingly, rarely is the mechanism biologically plausible.
Presented by

Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

Why Principals Matter

Nadia Lopez didn't think anybody cared about her middle school. Then Humans of New York told her story to the Internet—and everything changed.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A History of Contraception

In the 16th century, men used linen condoms laced shut with ribbons.

Video

'A Music That Has No End'

In Spain, a flamenco guitarist hustles to make a modest living.

Video

What Fifty Shades Left Out

A straightforward guide to BDSM

More in Business

Just In