Hippie science is easy, and wrong

Doing a "cleanse" at the start of the year to "detox" your body is one of those modern myths of medicine

Laurence Fishburne's character Morpheus in the Matrix science fiction movies has become a popular Internet meme, this time warning about the belief that 'chemicals' are bad and can be avoided.

Did you do a “cleanse” to start the year? A diet or supplements to, you know, “detox” your body?

Please, if you did, I don’t want the details. I’m here to discuss the underlying assumptions of this fad. TV presenter Dr. Oz is a promoter of various schemes, soup diets and the like, but there are many books and consumer products being flogged.

“Supplements, tea, homeopathy, coffee enemas, ear candles and foot baths promise you a detoxified body,” writes Ontario pharmacist Scott Gavura, who treats cancer patients with modern medicine’s most potent drugs.

Frustrated by the pharmacy industry’s willingness to cash in on fake cures for nonexistent conditions, Gavura began contributing to ScienceBasedMedicine.org, where you can find his takedown of this notion.

Gavura traces the roots of purification rituals in religious and medical history, such as when patients were bled with leeches.

Actual “detox” is administered in hospital for those with dangerous levels of drugs, alcohol or other poisons. Credible physicians abandoned theories of “autointoxication” in the 19th century.

“Today’s version of autointoxication argues that some combination of food additives, salt, meat, fluoride, prescription drugs, smog, vaccine ingredients, GMOs and perhaps last night’s bottle of wine are causing a buildup of ‘toxins’ in the body,” Gavura writes. “And don’t forget gluten. Gluten is the new evil and therefore, is now a toxin.”

Gluten-free products now occupy whole sections of grocery stores, not far from the pricey “organic” produce that may or may not be tested for synthetic pesticides.

Living in the Lower Mainland 20 years ago, I noticed people lugging big plastic jugs to the grocery store to fill with water. Metro Vancouver is a rainforest, with some of the best tap water in the world, so I wondered what they were trying to avoid.

Discreet inquiries yielded similar answers. Aside from the odd superstition about chlorine or fluoride, they had no idea at all. They didn’t know about the Coquitlam reservoir, or ozonation, or what they were buying, which was essentially municipal water run through a filter. They had been convinced to pay $2 for water in plastic bottles, and this somehow led to the conclusion that their tap water is only fit for washing clothes and driveways.

Vaccinations? Don’t get me started. In the past year I have had an argument with a registered nurse at a blood donor clinic, annoyed that the health ministry denied her imagined “right” to infect frail patients with influenza, and with a veteran politician who only recently overcame a vague taboo against putting vaccines in her body.

It’s no wonder people constantly fall for enviro-scares like toxins from the Alberta oil sands that are actually concentrated in cities where all that fuel is burned, or the threat of genetically modified canola oil, or smart meters. The media are frequently part of the problem, lacking scientific literacy and preferring conflict over common sense.

Take Vancouver (please). The mayor rose to fame with a company that sold overpriced imported tropical fruit juice in single-serving plastic bottles. Calling it “Happy Planet” convinced a new generation of urban rubes that they’re doing something for the environment. Plus, there are “no chemicals” in it, to cite the central myth of hippie science.

At the risk of giving you too much information, I did a cleanse last year. It was for a screening colonoscopy, one of many that have taxed the B.C. health care system since a new test was added to the standard medical checkup.

Try that one if you’re over 50.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

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