New York Times pushes pseudoscience: detoxing!

Most of you probably know that the concept of “detoxing”—taking various nostrums to purge your body of supposedly retained “toxins”—is a scam. Our body doesn’t retain toxins (except for things like ingested polonium fed you by Russian operatives); and the “purges,” ranging from drinking lemon juice to taking coffee enemas—do nothing. (Thanks, Gwyneth!)

Despite that, as the following Slate article notes (click on screenshot), the New York Times implicitly endorses detoxing by devoting columns to it without debunking it.


 

A short excerpt showing how the Times deals with this stuff, and how it exculpates itself when questioned:

Given that scientists, doctors, and nutritionists have united in rejecting the very idea of a “detox,” it’s a bit head-scratching to read the New York Times’ T Magazine’s My Detox column, featuring attractive “creative people” sharing “the homemade recipes they count on to detox, cleanse—and refresh.” In a recent installment, the model Alek Wek recommends a Sudanese okra stew; she “adds a glass of detoxifying lemon juice” to her recipe when her life is about to get especially busy. In the column before that one, the rapper Junglepussy (Shayna McHayle) describes how she makes a lemon-scented body oil at home. “McHayle is choosy,” the writer Coco Romack notes, “about where she sources her beauty products, which she prefers chemical free.” (“Chemical-free,” like “detoxing,” is not really a thing.)

. . . According to the Times, My Detox should be exempt from evaluation on the basis of scientific validity. “ ‘My Detox’ is a column that is not essentially about science,” Jordan Cohen, a Times spokesman, wrote in an email. “It’s a subjective column meant to introduce T readers to interesting people and the personal stories of their own routines. As the tagline reads, T is simply putting a spotlight on the homemade recipes they count on. ‘My Detox’ pieces are not meant to serve as instructional stories.” (Though, if these “personal stories” are “not intended as instructional stories,” why include recipes?) Cohen added: “The Times’ science and health editors regularly offer guidance on relevant subject matter for sections when necessary.”

Well, that lame exculpation reminds me of this:

There’s more from the Times: author Onion reports on visits to clairvoyants, crystal healers, and acupuncture, without even a token disclaimer. And it’s not limited to the Times: Onion reports that Bon Appétit has published essays on “detox” recipes and diets. And of course over at Goop, Paltrow regularly touts the benefits of detoxing. There are none, unless you want to get a caffeine high from putting java into your fundament.

Onion suggests that the popularity of “detoxing” may reflect a new political view of humans as polluted with chemicals, or simply be a synonym for “becoming healthy”. But my own reading of this sleazy literature is that yes, it often suggests that we retain toxins throughout our body that need to be purged.

It’s time to stop writing this kind of nonsense, as it’s fodder not just for quacks, but also for some apparently credulous readers of the New York Times.

60 Comments

  1. Curt Nelson
    Posted June 14, 2018 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    I feel a need to detox after seeing Fox News, which is usually on where I sometimes go to eat my lunch — and it gets into my eyes.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted June 14, 2018 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      Watch either “Network” or “The Front Page”.

  2. sensorrhea
    Posted June 14, 2018 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    This reminds me of a bizarre book by very smart guy, but obstreperous climate change denier, Michael Crichton. It’s called “Travels” and is sold as autobiography.

    Half of the chapters detail his adventures in the physical world, like swimming with sharks & climbing Everest. The others describe his adventures in various wildly New-Agey psychic realms: channeling, auras, even spoon-bending with a supposed NASA scientist.

    The dilemma is that either Crichton believed he had some crazy, empirical-reality-exploding experiences, or he is just straight up confabulating and calling it truth.

    Both are interesting, but I suspect the latter given the fantastical nature of the bulk of his oeuvre.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted June 14, 2018 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      This Crichton, the author of “Andromeda Strain”, “Jurassic Park”, and “Rising Sun”??

      • Posted June 14, 2018 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

        He wrote a dodgy novel about global warming.

        • Posted June 14, 2018 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

          And his science in all those was dodgy*.

          *A polite word for “crap”.

          • Christopher
            Posted June 14, 2018 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

            Crap science? More like a sh!tstorm on a turd planet!
            He didn’t really bother any more with science than those old but charmingly terrible 1950’s B-movies with radioactive giant insects or whatever. Entertaining? Somewhat, if you turn off your internal bullish!t detector, but why he got so much praise for weakly sciencey-sounding ( but actually anti-science) plots I’ll never know!

          • sensorrhea
            Posted June 14, 2018 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

            He was never a research scientist of any kind, but he did go to Harvard & Harvard Med School.

            He never practiced as a physician because his writing career took off.

            • Posted June 14, 2018 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

              Harvard med? Then he has no excuse.

              • sensorrhea
                Posted June 14, 2018 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

                It’s part of what makes his claims of paranormal experiences so weird. I think he was delusional on some level

      • sensorrhea
        Posted June 14, 2018 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

        That’s him.

  3. Posted June 14, 2018 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Our body doesn’t retain toxins (except for things like ingested polonium), and the “purges,” ranging from drinking lemon juice to taking coffee enemas—do nothing. (Thanks, Gwyneth!)

    Got to wonder what line of thinking leads to someone pumping beverages up their bumhole.

    • Barbara Radcliffe
      Posted June 14, 2018 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

      There is a bloke here in OZ who runs a ‘clinic’ for cancer sufferers where they are treated inter alia with coffee enemas! A friend of mine went there to be treated for breast cancer. She declined the coffee treatment but did the diet and ‘think positive thoughts’ things. Fortunately she also had the standard treatments and survived.
      I gather the proprietor makes good money from his ‘clinic’.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted June 14, 2018 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      About the time that I was stopping the serious diving, the Group was discussing what equipment to “pre-place” in caves with major diver-trauma potential. In amongst fairly obvious things like including dental superglue (it’s hard to grip your air supply “gag” if your teeth keep falling out – the “China Shop lesson”) were more esoteric questions of cave-temperature storage and the difficulty of getting a large-bore needle into a vein for an medically untrained diver. The conclusion was to include kit for rectal fluid replacement.
      Think about how you’d feel if you regain consciousness to find that you’re being stabilised using that technique. And that your day is going to go steeply downhill from here.

      • Adam M.
        Posted June 14, 2018 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

        I’m curious what thought actually went into it, but I imagine that concoctions that are absorbed by the intestines but which would be destroyed by the digestive processes of the stomach could be reasonably administered rectally as opposed to intravenously.

        Not that I think caffeine is one of them. Even if it could cure something, it’s successfully delivered orally all the time…

        • Adam M.
          Posted June 14, 2018 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

          Meant as a reply to Speaker to Animals…

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted June 14, 2018 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

          It’s more a question of, how do you get fluids into an unconscious body, rapidly, with untrained personnel who are also under severe time pressure to alert the rescue services. Your badly injured diver (multiple fractures and internal injuries from a fall being the scenario considered) is going to be untended for hours to days until any rescue arrives. Or they recover sufficiently to attempt self-rescue.
          A guy had survived and self-rescued (6 back-to-back dives separated by flat-out crawls) with a broken arm, leg and jaw, with multiple broken teeth, so the question of emergency provision had gone from “you’re going to die” to “what do we do about this?”
          The rescue diver was absolutely bricking it as the team entered the cave, and was unbelievably overjoyed to hear this clanking groaning smashed up horror crawling towards him.

  4. Posted June 14, 2018 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    I have a feeling these ‘celebrities’ just sit around thinking up insane things and see how many people will fall for them. I mean seriously who needs a coffee enema. One cup of coffee and I’m already at the end point of one of those!

  5. XCellKen
    Posted June 14, 2018 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Detox only works on the intestines. You’ll need bleach to wash out your eyes

    • XCellKen
      Posted June 14, 2018 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      Was supposed to be a reply to comment #1. Sorry

  6. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted June 14, 2018 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    The detoxers never really say what exactly these toxins really really are. (One exception is the Church of Scientology’s bogus detox program for smoke inhalation.)

    Some detox programs address over-drinking, but the only remedy for the latter is time, as the California Drivers Ed manual emphasizes. This is often posed as a question on the California Drivers’ Ed test.

    • Posted June 14, 2018 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      I tried to pin a de-tox advocate down on that once. I asked her; “ok, so what exactly are you trying to get out of your body”? She stared at me like a collie starring at a fan.

      Then we moved on to Qi and acupuncture. She doesn’t like me anymore.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted June 14, 2018 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

        Sorry mate, but, “She doesn’t like me anymore.” made me laugh out loud!

      • Craw
        Posted June 14, 2018 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

        One woman I know thinks cucumber water is incredibly healthy. Healthier than drinking water and eating cucumber. I pointed out this means that that means most of the cucumber — the part not leached out into the infused water — must be unhealthy.

  7. Randall Schenck
    Posted June 14, 2018 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    The old Java fundament. Have you heard the term having your head up and locked? I think this detox is pretty close. Now that we are warehousing foreign children down on the boarder by the thousands we can lower ourselves to this stupidity.

  8. Christopher
    Posted June 14, 2018 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Not gonna lie, the okra stew sounds pretty good, though how it’s supposed to balance and detox me I haven’t the foggiest. And one thing I can say that’s a benefit from coffee enemas… no coffee breath! I am routinely amazed at the nonsense people, even somewhat intelligent people, will fall for. Maybe that’s the key to their happiness? I’m as skeptical as hell, and just as miserable. If I start drinking a pumpkin spiced latte with my ass, spend $150 on $2 worth of crystals, wear magic magnets on my junk, or grazing some nasty wheat grass like a cow, will I be as blissful as everyone else? Will essential oils shock my chakras and reorientate my aura? Save me, baby Jesus, Save me, Tom Cruise!

    • Posted June 14, 2018 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      Years ago I worked in a lab looking into epidemiological issues with HIV. One of my colleagues was an MD-PhD recently from USF where she was a resident and still had a practice. One day in lab she got a call from one of her AIDS patients saying he was admitted to a hospital after giving himself a basil and hydrogen peroxide colonic to “cleanse” himself. In the middle of the lab, Laurie screeched out laughing and shouted over the phone; “Oh My God. You gave your self a pesto enema?!”

      • Craw
        Posted June 14, 2018 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

        Those pine nuts gotta hurt.

    • Posted June 15, 2018 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      Yeah, exactly. Why are these people ruining good foods (like okra) by using them stupidly/ignorantly?

  9. Ken Kukec
    Posted June 14, 2018 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    … unless you want to get a caffeine high from putting java into your fundament.

    Never tried it yet myself, but I ain’t knockin’ it till I do. Lemme know when Starbucks starts offering half-caf macchiato high-colonics.

    • Christopher
      Posted June 14, 2018 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      “Blimey, Basil, this coffee smells like sh!t!”
      “It IS sh!t, Austin.”
      “Oh, then it’s not just me. It’s a bit nutty…”

      • loren russell
        Posted June 14, 2018 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

        Surely the best detoxing would be with “cat poop coffee” from Indonesia. Said to be the most expensive coffee in the world, the coffee berries pre-processed by palm civets. Of course Gwyn and friends would probably want their own stable of palm civets and coffee trees to ensure authentic potency. Or insist that the beans pass directly civet-ass to new-age-ass without outside contamination.

        This system would likely move on to close the detox loop by recycling the human poop coffee to civets who looked purely and needed a detox themselves.

        • loren russell
          Posted June 14, 2018 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

          “poorly”

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted June 14, 2018 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

          Or insist that the beans pass directly civet-ass to new-age-ass without outside contamination.

          The potency of the civet-cat-poop-fecal-transplant is drastically damaged by exposure to that highly potent toxin, oxygen.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted June 14, 2018 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

            Glad you mentioned oxygen. It is in fact an extremely reactive, dangerous and toxic chemical. If it wasn’t so common and we weren’t inescapably addicted to breathing it, its production and use would be controlled like any other highly hazardous substance.

            Along with its incredibly corrosive hydrogen compound, water.

            😉

            cr

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted June 15, 2018 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

              JBS Haldane – he of the comment about “an inordinate fondness for beetles” damaged his spine permanently during bouts of oxygen poisoning during research into the physiology of diving in the run-up to world war 2. Most people who encounter oxygen toxicity in diving die in the experience. The LD50 for humans is at a partial pressure of about 1.8 bar, with symptoms typically coming on within under a minute.

              Lovely stuff oxygen. Handle with care!

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted June 15, 2018 at 4:18 am | Permalink

          Doing a detox enema with coffee that’s already passed through the alimentary canal of a civet seems kinda “meta.”

          • Merilee
            Posted June 15, 2018 at 9:38 am | Permalink

            “Seems kinda meta”
            +1

  10. GBJames
    Posted June 14, 2018 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    I think I’ll go detox with a pint of proper ale.

    • wiseape108
      Posted June 14, 2018 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

      Does puking not count as detoxing?

      Mine’s a guiness. Cheers.

      • Christopher
        Posted June 14, 2018 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

        Guinness did spur my first legal “detox”. Five pints on an empty stomach was clearly an amateur move, and thank Bacchus and Aegir that it didn’t put me off my brew!
        I’m currently toxing myself with Mother’s Lil’ Helper Mid-coast IPA from Springfield Mo.

  11. notsecurelyanchored
    Posted June 14, 2018 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Toxin is just another word for what the old timers called original sin.

  12. Posted June 14, 2018 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    I had a version of detox most people would envy: Last week I lost eight pounds in six hours. Food poisoning at a restaurant in AZ while on travel. Both my son and I were purged clean. Beat that Gwyneth!

  13. Roger
    Posted June 14, 2018 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    “All the News That’s Fit to Print. Plus Extra Bonus Stupid Stuff!”

    • mfdempsey1946
      Posted June 14, 2018 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

      Or Mad Magazine’s version: “All The News That Fits We Print.”

  14. BJ
    Posted June 14, 2018 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Maybe the NYT will soon have a Saturday issue Goop section.

  15. darrelle
    Posted June 14, 2018 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    Reading these comments made me laugh more than any comedy movie I’ve seen in a long time.

  16. Merilee
    Posted June 14, 2018 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    Sub

  17. Posted June 14, 2018 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    The body absorbs toxins, some accumlate and harm health and there are well-established procedures to assist with detoxification. Lead, mercury arsenic, cadmium, and chromium are some of the common toxins involved. Interventions include fasting and chelation therapy. This is all tremendously well-established scientifically.

    • Posted June 15, 2018 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      Chelation *therapy* is bogus. Emergency use of chelating agents for acute heavy metal poisoning is, apparently, sometimes indicated.

      • Posted June 15, 2018 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

        Check with common definitions of “chelation therapy”. It means exactly what it says – namely: therapy with chelation agents.

  18. Adam M.
    Posted June 14, 2018 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    There actually are toxins accumulating in our bodies, like the various endocrine disruptors. Unfortunately, coffee enemas don’t help.

  19. John Coelho
    Posted June 14, 2018 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    Bull shit. Detoxing is a valuable way to strengthen the immune system

    • GBJames
      Posted June 14, 2018 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

      Hop-boy.

    • Posted June 15, 2018 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      What are you getting rid of? why do you not use your kidneys and other body parts ‘for the purpose’?, why do you need to strengthen your immune system anyway? how do you avoid autoimmune diseases?

  20. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted June 14, 2018 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    I have never ‘detoxed’ so I am now presumably lethally toxic. I live in hope that any wandering tiger (or shark) will take the hint.

    🙂

    cr

  21. Diane G
    Posted June 15, 2018 at 1:44 am | Permalink

    The “T” magazine has always been a load of BS from really flakey people who are beyond full of themselves. Can’t imagine anyone would read it at all, let alone take it seriously. Personally, I’m glad to have all this crap stashed there, out of the way…

  22. Ben
    Posted June 15, 2018 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    I always finalize my ‘detox’ process with a healthy dose of micturation…


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