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Five Lies You’ve Been Told About Detoxing

Can you sweat out 9/11? Should you suck out snake venom? Let’s find out the truth.

The world is full of lies, and it’s hard to get through life without taking a few on board. Luckily, we’re here to sort the fact from the fiction, and find the plankton of truth in the ocean of bullshit. This week: Detoxing! Do we all need to destroy our phones in saunas while pissing our troubles away?

Lie #1: “Detoxing” Is A Thing

What even is detoxing? Science doesn’t have an answer, because it’s not a scientific term. Detoxification is a valid process when dealing with substance addiction, but the “detox” industry we’re all familiar with — smiling people in yoga pants drinking green smoothies, or some dick you went to college with gallivanting off to a spiritual retreat for a six-grand weekend mental cleanse — isn’t really a thing.

Removing toxins from your body and not putting any new ones in, that’s the idea, right? The thing is, “toxin” doesn’t mean what people think it means. A toxin is only something produced naturally by a plant or animal — a poisonous chemical compound would be more accurately termed a toxicant. Roll around in poison ivy and you have an issue with toxins. Eat too much nasty 7-Eleven food in the night, and yes, you’ve got problems, but not with toxins.

This bears repeating, especially when reading health articles: Lots of things don’t mean anything. “Stop consuming chemicals” doesn’t mean anything, since everything on the goddamn planet consists of chemicals. To actually stop consuming chemicals, you’d need to adopt a concept-based diet where you only eat ideas, memories and light. You’re going to be really hungry, you dumb bastard. 

One article that includes advice to both avoid sugar and eat fruit involves a reasonable amount of willful dumbassedness about what sugar is, what fruit is and what fructose, the delicious sugar found in huge quantities in fruit, is. Millions of people that could benefit from useful, helpful advice about diet and lifestyle don’t, because they’re presented with snappy little stupid bullet points and buzzwords — like detoxing — that help nobody (except, well, scamming dirtbags). The hell with detoxing. Just take care of yourself better.

(You know what is a thing though? “DEET oxen.” Like, the strong insect repellent DEET, formulated for use on cattle. Deet oxen. It’s not called that, but it should be. Deet oxen. Thanks.)

Lie #2: Sweat All That 9/11 Nastiness Out

The idea of sweating all your toxins out, whether in a sauna, “sweat lodge” or laser sauna or cited as an additional benefit of exercise, has previously been described succinctly to MEL as “a load of hooey,” especially given the non-specific nature of the “toxins” in question. Sweating isn’t an excretory process — it’s a function that cools the body. Any amounts of pollutants that have been shown to leave the body in sweat are minuscule enough as to be essentially meaningless.

It remains a widespread idea though, and one organization that’s very into perspiration-based detox is the Church of Scientology, which set up “purification saunas” for public sector workers after 9/11. They claimed the EPA were lying about air quality, and that the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project was the best bet for everyone. Sweating, in conjunction with large doses of vitamins, was claimed to be the answer, with oddly-discolored towels cited as evidence of toxins seeping out of affected people. The scheme involved showing up for three to five hours a day for between three and six weeks. The cost? $5,200 per person — Tom Cruise and other wealthy donors covered it for rescue workers, while other clients paid for themselves.

However, the scheme was described as “hocus pocus” by the Poison Control Center, rejected as “difficult to believe” by the FDNY and summed up as, “they mean well, but it doesn’t work” by a bioterrorism expert. Nevertheless, some people claimed life-changing results.

Meanwhile, some other people got extremely ill due to being told to stop using prescribed medication and inhalers, and some had extremely bad times due to spending more than about 20 minutes in a sauna being a terrible idea.

Lie #3: [Insert Substance Name Here] Is Why You Aren’t Happy

If your life isn’t what you want it to be, it isn’t because there’s fluoride in your tap water, or the coating on your pans has more chemicals in it than you’d like, or some suspicious pesticides have been used on your fruit. BPAs aren’t good for you, and there are nasty-ass pesticides out there, but what actually feels good about giving things up isn’t that whatever wacky-named chemical isn’t entering your bloodstream anymore — it’s that you took control of something and changed it. You just, maybe, didn’t necessarily change the thing making you unhappy.

A nonspecific bogeyman that you can blame things on does, though, make it easier to change. As a 2017 piece in the Harvard Business Review states, “It’s here that scapegoating can be used to our advantage. By directing our anger and anxieties at an invisible they, the forces working against us seem more tangible, so we feel like we have more power to fight them.”

Battling against vague baddies can help people make positive changes to their lives — cool! But blaming everything non-optimal in your life on nebulous outside enemies kind of, psychologically, puts them in charge. Ultimately, you’re better off picking your battles. Basically, doing a really awesome job at cutting down on processed foods isn’t going to fix your relationship with your dad.

Lie #4: You Should Delete Your Account to Digitally Detox

Digital detoxing is super hot right now, the idea being that social media and smartphone addiction is such a serious condition that we need to cast it all aside (although obviously not without a pretty self-congratulatory Instagram post showing off about doing it, and keeping track of how it all goes for an “I totally lasted a month without a smartphone because I’m amazing” longread).

The effects of excessive social media use on mental health are well documented and pretty dreadful, but the word “excessive” is key here. Excessive anything is bad. That’s what the word excess means.

Used sensibly, social media is great. Seventy-three percent of millennials found their last job through a social network, and 94 percent of employers either already use social networking to find employees or are planning to. And smartphones are the incredible — actual maps are archaic bullshit, carrying a calculator in your pocket is for cartoon nerds and surely there’s something to be said for endless access to the sum of all human knowledge.

So you know what’s more practical and sustainable than digital detoxing? Moderation. Moderation is, however, hella unimpressive. Bold-ass statements are sexy. “I shall free myself forever from the wanton tyranny of social media, this amoral cesspit” sounds badass, as does, “You can have this phone when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.” On the flip side, “I might spend a bit less time on Twitter and unfollow accounts that stress me out” or “Maybe I’ll charge my phone in the kitchen overnight instead of my bedroom” sound a bit weaselly and pathetic, but — and this is important! — they’re more likely to stick, while still not requiring you to learn road names or math.

Lie #5: If Someone Gets Bitten By A Snake, You Should Totally Suck The Venom Out

We’ve all been there: Someone’s been bitten by a goddamned serpent, and ain’t no doctors less’n three days ride from here, and that varmint sure sank its teeth in good, and ain’t no hope now ‘cept suckin’ out that venom.

Don’t do it, excellent cowboy from the past: Sucking out the poison is both unlikely to work (given the speed at which venom enters the bloodstream) and likely to make the wound worse, as well as, uh, fill your mouth with snake venom, potentially doubling the amount of people in trouble. 

So if sucking is out of the question, what should you do? Step one is to get away from the snake, but if you can get a picture of it on your phone, do so, both for bragging rights down the line and to aid medical personnel. Step two: Call 911. Loosen tight clothing or jewelry if the area starts to swell, clean the wound and position it at or below heart level. And again: Don’t suck anything.

There are nearly three million cases of snakebite envenoming (real, extremely cool word) per year, leading to more than 100,000 deaths and half a million amputations. Sounds like the snakes are the ones who suck really!!!!!!! Hahahaha!!!!! But seriously, a lot of people die.