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.
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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.

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