Here in the grocery store, I have choices for lunch: a delicious salad or those chicken wings, dripping with sauce. Self-control, meet 10 millions years of evolution; I’m sure you will get along fine. Our ancestors lived in a feast-to-famine environment; they never knew when the next meal would come. Calorie-dense foods such as fats could mean the difference between life and death. Evolution favoured those with a craving for calorie-dense food, hence my current interest in those chicken wings. This biological imperative does not play well when we are surrounded by food. I still crave those wings even though I will have no trouble fulfilling my caloric requirements for the day. It is not surprising, then, that some people have trouble maintaining a healthy weight. There is also no shortage of scams out there that claim ways to lose those extra pounds. There is so much misinformation out there that I automatically disbelieve any “weight-loss” claim on principle, unless compelling evidence is presented.
U Weight loss Clinics is a Canada-wide franchise claiming to offer individualized nutrition plans to lose weight. I don’t know why anyone would pay U Weight Loss when the Canadian Food Guide does this at no charge. I guess they are hoping that people will forget we have government funded health care, and medical doctors are very much interested in their patients maintaining a healthy weight. What caught my skeptical eye when I was browsing the U Weight Loss website was their “3 Secrets” to weight loss. I am aware of only two secrets: eat less and move more. Their secrets were Detox and Cleanse, Hormonal Balance, and Increase Metabolism. The first of these falls in the deep, dark, den of quackery; I will discuss this in more detail below. Hormone balance is also rife with quack products and “increasing metabolism” is just a strange way of telling people to exercise.
Detoxify or Die
Detox is a legitimate medical practice if you need to eliminate the effects of heroin, alcohol, or other drugs of choice. A patient is kept alive while their body works hard to clear the poison. Heavy metal toxicity is treated by chelation: a chelating agent is injected in to the blood stream, this agent binds to the metal and the body is then able to clear the chelator and the metal.
I am assuming, or at least hoping, that U Weight Loss customers are not blissed out on heroin or suffering from heavy metal toxicity, in which case they should be in the hospital, as opposed to normal people with weight issues. Why, then, do they need to go through detox? The U Weight site claims to have to the weight of clinical evidence behind their product. I will quote directly from their website:
“The U Weight Loss® doctor-formulated nutrition program has been researched and developed by a team of health practitioners including a medical doctor, naturopath and registered nutritional consultant, ensuring that your health is of utmost importance.”
This appears to be an exaggeration; on the very next page there is a list of so-called experts and not one of them is a medical doctor. As for their research, I ran the name of one of their experts (Susan Walker, ND) through Google Scholar and found zero publications. The ND should not be confused with MD, or Medical Doctor; ND stands for Naturopathic Doctor, or the more accurate Not a Doctor. I had to use Google Scholar to search; despite all their claims of “doctor-formulated” and “clinically designed” procedures, there is not a single link or reference to any supporting publications. I tried a search for “detox and change in BMI”, which does return some papers, but none are authored by Walker, and they follow true detox patients – the ones going through drug withdraw, not U Weight Loss customers. So despite their big claims, U Weight Loss provides no evidence. (There are some anecdotes; we will get to those later.)
So why detoxify? U Weight Loss has this to say:
“We live in a toxic environment; this is quite clear. Our environment is bombarded with chemicals in the air, water and food. The accumulation of these compounds in the body in some individuals can lead to a variety of metabolic and systemic dysfunctions, and in some cases cause disease. With this understanding it is no surprise that toxins can also hinder weight loss by impairing key processes involved in metabolism and fat-burning.”
We do live in a toxic environment; it does not take too many instances of munching on random plants to realize that nature is pretty poisonous (PSA: Do not eat plants at random – many of them are toxic!), but this is the environment in which we evolved. Evolution, the very process that got us into this situation, developed a sophisticated method of removing toxins from the body. Real detoxification takes place in the kidneys and liver; a breakdown of this process results in severe illness or death. Anyone with an accumulation of toxins in their body would be desperately ill and needs be in a hospital, not a weight loss clinic. Trying to make of sense of any of their detoxification claims would be greatly helped if the site bothered to name the toxins. What are these toxins? Cyanide causes metabolic and systemic dysfunction, but you are unlikely to encounter it unless you eat too many apple seeds.
U Weight Loss would have us believe that everyone has a problems eliminating “toxins”, yet they present no evidence. Toxins to naturopaths are what miasma were to 18th century physicians, ubiquitous, amorphous undetectable, and somehow harming people. No wonder Ben Goldacre, MD said “Toxin” is classic pseudo-science terminology.”
Detoxification the Naturopathic Way
Naturopathy come from the Latin “Naturo” meaning early painful death, and “pathy” meaning the road to – Dr. Mark Crislip, MD.
To rid yourself of evil spirits – er, toxins – there are a variety of options: detoxifying teas, juices, vitamins, saunas and – this last one is important – fasting and exercise. At last, a tenuous connection to weight loss is revealed! Exercise causes the body to sweat, and that sweat – according to the naturopaths – is a part of the detoxification process. Sweating – according to everyone else – evolved as a thermal regulation mechanism , or in other words to keep cool. Sweat consists mostly of water with a small amount of dissolved materials (less than 1%) such as sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Unless Naturopaths want to claim these essential minerals are “toxins”, then the body is not “detoxifying” by sweating.
Fasting is done by switching to a liquid diet for a period of time. This site describes the Master Cleanse, a truly horrific regime of drinking only a concoction of water, lemon juice, cayenne, and maple syrup. This is accompanied by 6 to 12 glasses of lemonade a day, plus water. The body does not need that much water, so the inevitable occurs. The excessive urination and defecation is “proof” that process is working. This is really getting gross. The author also provides some handy tips to drink one whole litre of salt water without vomiting. If what you are drinking is causing you to vomit, then it is time to put down the beer or salt water. Sweating, urination, and defecation are things the body does naturally without any help; it seems like the Naturopaths and Master Cleansers are taking credit for normal body functions. I also must point out that the Master Cleanse has no science to support it, but we should not be surprised at this point. What should comes as no surprise is the weight loss that would accompany such a liquid diet. The lemons, cayenne pepper, and syrup are not going to provide necessary calories the body needs to maintain its weight. This diet, which is indistinguishable from going a round with the Norovirus, is actually touted as being helpful! Personally, I would rather take my chances with the mythical toxins.
The only evidence offered for these detoxification regimes is anecdotal. Without a control group, ten anecdotes are no better then one. It is true that many people take their detoxifying tea and may feel better, but these stories need to balanced with the countless others who never been through the detoxification process and are perfectly healthy.
The testimonials on the U Weight Loss site are interesting in that they do not mention “detoxification” at all. The people that were helped by U Weight Loss mention learning about proper nutrition and exercise. It seems that the three secrets of weight loss are really just two secrets: eat less, and move more. The detox is just a distraction.
Skepdic: Detoxification Therapies
Quackwatch: Detoxification Schemes and Scams