Doctors issue new year detox health warning


woman holding a water bottle

Doctors have issued a warning about the potential harms of undertaking a radical new year detox.

They highlight the case of a woman they treated last year who became critically ill after taking herbal remedies and drinking too much water.

The 47-year-old needed intensive care at Milton Keynes hospital.

She recovered with treatment, but her story is a reminder of the dangers of drastic detoxing, the medics say.

While it may be tempting to cleanse yourself of the excesses of Christmas, the concept is not necessarily healthy and is not backed by medical science, they report in the British Medical Journal Case Reports.

The woman they treated had taken a cocktail of herbs and alternative remedies including:

  • milk thistle
  • molkosan
  • I-theanine
  • glutamine
  • vitamin B compound
  • vervain
  • valerian root

Her partner said she had also been drinking lots of water, green tea and sage tea over the few days before she became ill.

Shortly before being admitted to hospital, the woman collapsed and had a seizure.

Medical tests revealed she had dangerously low levels of salt (sodium) in her body.

Researching the herbal remedies used by the patient, her doctors discovered the case of a man with a history of anxiety who had had seizures due to a low sodium level.

His symptoms developed after consuming a large amount of a herbal remedy that contained:

  • valerian root
  • lemon balm
  • passion flower
  • hops
  • chamomile

“The complementary medicine market is very popular in the UK and the concept of the new-year ‘detox’ with all-natural products is appealing to those less concerned with evidence-based medicine and more with complementary medicine,” say the medics in their write-up.

“Excessive water intake as a way of ‘purifying and cleansing’ the body is also a popular regime with the belief that harmful waste products can thus be washed from the body.”

However, they warn that “despite marketing suggesting otherwise, all-natural products are not without side-effects”.

The British Dietetic Association says the whole idea of detoxing is nonsense.

“There are no pills or specific drinks, patches or lotions that can do a magic job,” a representative said

“The body has numerous organs, such as the skin, gut, liver and kidney, that continually ‘detoxify’ the body from head to toe.

“Being well-hydrated is a sensible strategy, but drinking too much water can be as dangerous as not drinking enough.

“It sounds predictable, but for the vast majority of people, a sensible diet and regular physical activity really are the only ways to properly maintain and maximise your health.”