Detox practices–lemonade diets, oil gargling, sweat lodges–come in and out of fashion, as all fads do, but the core idea of detoxing never changes. We are all, say believers, walking around with mysterious substances known as “toxins” clogging up our colons, stagnating our livers and slowing our brains.
Where did the idea of mysterious “toxins” come from? It’s hard to say but most people who’ve studied the psychology behind “detoxing” culture believe it’s a holdover of the auto-intoxication theory that was popular in the 1800s. And that was likely based on an ancient Egyptian idea that said food essentially just rots in the colon and leads to disease if not purged regularly.
By the 1920s, most physicians knew better.
So why are we still being told such myths a century later? Well, look at who is making those claims. One of the best examples I can think of is the myth of mucoid plaque, which was created by a man named Richard Anderson. Anderson isn’t a physician but that hasn’t stopped him from claiming that we all have a thick build-up of something he calls mucoid plaque in our colons. Most doctors can’t find it, says Anderson, but he will happily sell you the stuff you need to get rid of it.
Websites promoting bogus detox practices don’t always have a famous face behind them but they’re making money off your fears nonetheless. About ten years ago I exposed what I believed to be a viral marketing campaign built around a nonsense practice known as oil pulling. (You can read more about that here.) To date, not a single representative of any website I mentioned in my articles has ever denied using “seeded” forum posts to drive traffic to websites that were designed to put online ads in front of as many people as possible.
Why are so many people fooled?
I’m not sure that there’s an easy answer to why people are so often victimized by fear mongers hawking remedies for problems that don’t exist. I think some possible answers include:
- We get so much conflicting information about what’s healthy and what’s not that it leaves us vulnerable to people who seem to have simple answers to complex problems.
- Charlatans are especially good at using medicalese to sound far more knowledgeable (and trustworthy) than they really are.
- Many herbal “detox” sellers understand and prey upon some of our deepest and most private fears–like being infested with intestinal worms or being sexually inadequate.
- Scammers know that a well done appeal to fear is a very effective way to turn people away from mainstream medicine (i.e. “Big Pharma”, and greedy hospitals) and toward remedies that harken back to a simpler, and seemingly more honest, time.
Today’s purveyor of bogus detox remedies is less likely to be the snake oil salesman with one foot propped on the tongue of his wagon and more likely to be the young mother down the street or the college student home for semester break. They may not even realize that the “knowledge” they’re sharing is based on a half-truth or a now-discredited medical theory.
But it’s bogus all the same.
Photo Credit: Pixabay user Qimono