Debunking detox

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In January 2009 VoYS released The Detox Dossier, a report of their hunt for evidence behind the claims made about detox products and diets. After an initial survey, VoYS investigated 15 products that were sold in a range of mainstream supermarkets and pharmacies including foot pads, diet supplements and hair straighteners. The manufacturers were contacted to find out what evidence they had for the product claims and what they meant by ‘detox’.

The Detox Dossier (2009)

The VoYS evidence hunters discovered:

  • No two companies seem to use the same definition of ‘detox;
  • Little, and in most cases no, evidence was offered to back up the detox claims;
  • In the majority of cases, producers and retailers contacted by the young scientists were forced to admit that they are renaming mundane things, like cleaning or brushing, as ‘detox’.

The dossier concluded that ‘detox’, as used in product marketing, is a myth. More worryingly, many of the claims about how the body works were wrong and in some cases the suggested remedies were potentially dangerous.

In response to these misleading claims VoYS compiled an ‘anti detox’ leaflet explaining how the body is perfectly capable of dealing with most chemicals we encounter. ‘Detox’ has no meaning outside of the clinical treatment for drug addiction or poisoning. The leaflet promotes the liver and kidneys as a fantastic ‘detox’ system and explains why there is no need to spend money on expensive products and treatments.

VoYS members took to the streets of London, Manchester and Cambridge and distributed over 400 leaflets outside chemists. They explained that the best thing to do after an indulgent Christmas was to get a good night’s sleep and have a glass of water.


Harriet Ball, biologist and VoYS member: “Detox is marketed as the idea that modern living fills us with invisible nasties that our bodies can’t cope with unless we buy the latest jargon-filled remedy. Last year we investigated scientific claims that are plastered on everything from sandwiches to devices that supposedly protect you from radiation. Our new investigation into detox products has convinced us that there is little or no proof that these products work, except to part people from their cash and downplay all the amazing ways in which our bodies can look after themselves!”

John Emsley, chemical scientist and award winning science writer: “There is no scientific reason for people to waste time and money on so-called detox regimes, fancy diets, or expensive remedies, none of which can compare to the detox system that is already inbuilt into our natural system. This leaflet from the Voice of Young Science is a clear, sensible, explanation for anyone who wants to know how simple it really is to ‘detoxify’ our body.”

Jennifer Lardge, physicist and VoYS member: “Some ‘detox’ diets can have disastrous results, as shown in the recent case of the woman who suffered brain damage from a ‘detox’ diet. Often the people selling ‘detox’ products have no professional training and the substances on sale could be untested, potentially dangerous or even toxic.”

Sir Colin Berry, pathologist: “It’s easy to detox; just let you body use the great systems it has evolved over thousands of years to get rid of whatever is harming you. But if it’s booze, drink less as well.”