How dumb can one company be?

January 10th, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in bbc, detox, references | 60 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian,
Saturday 10 January 2009

Obviously by now you can interpolate my views on detox: meaningless, symbolic, gimmicky shortlived health gestures with a built-in expiry date, when we could be reading about the NHS’s surprisingly useful website to help you stop smoking (do it now:, or lifestyle pieces on the joys of buying a bike, and making a genuine move to integrate exercise into your daily life for the long term. I’m not trying to bore you. But after a few months of concentrating on dodgy reporting in the media, I had genuinely forgotten how far out a proper fruitcake can get.

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The barefaced cheek of these characters will never cease to amaze and delight me.

January 5th, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, detox, nutritionists, onanism | 127 Comments »

Greeetings to listeners of the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. About 20 minutes ago I was on the show talking about detox nonsense. Nas Amir Ahmadi of denied the rather foolish contents of her own website, and confidently claimed that I must be thinking of the wrong company. I read a quote. She laughed and said I was mistaken.

The audio is here:

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I promised on air that I would double check and post on It will not surprise you to hear that she is completely wrong, and I am completely correct. Read the rest of this entry »

Bill Nelson wins the internet.

August 9th, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, badscience, detox, homeopathy, nutritionists, pseudodiagnoses, quantum physics | 66 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian,
Saturday August 9 2008

image Silly season is in full swing. At the Telegraph, their correspondent has gone for a bioenergetic health audit. “The resident homoeopath, Katie Jermine, quizzed me about my diet, stress levels and lifestyle. She then strapped on a wristband and plugged me into an electronic device called the Quantum QXCI, which scanned my system for vitamins, minerals, food intolerances, toxicity, organ function, hormone balance, parasites, digestive disorders and stress levels.”

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Blame everyone but yourselves

July 25th, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, BANT, dangers, detox, media, nutritionists, regulating nonsense, telegraph | 55 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian,
Saturday July 26 2008

image Like many professions who kill people with some regularity, doctors have elaborate systems for seeing what went wrong afterwards, and the answer is rarely “Brian did it”. This week the papers have been alive with criticism for quack nutritionism after the case of Dawn Page, a 52 year old mother of two who ended up being treated on intensive care, with seizures brought on by sodium deficiency, and left with permanent brain damage, after following the advice of “nutritional therapist” Barbara Nash. She denies liability. Her insurers paid out £810,000.

I will now defend the nutritional therapist Barbara Nash. Read the rest of this entry »

Rusty results

September 2nd, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in adverts, alternative medicine, bad science, detox, very basic science, water | 14 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday September 2, 2004
The Guardian

· Time for a Johnny Ball kitchen science experiment, I think. I could have told you from the start that “Aqua Detox” was a scam, and a popular one at that. Why? Because it is claimed to extract “toxins” from your body through the “2,000 pores in your feet” discovered by those ancient Chinese scientists. And because it’s so charmingly theatrical: you put your feet in a water bath, containing “natural organic salts”, with an electrical current that “resonates” with your “bio-energetic field” passing across it, and the water goes first tea-coloured, and then properly brown, with a sludge on top. You think I’m making this up, but it’s been in the Daily Telegraph, and innumerable other places. So it must be true. And this brown, the Aqua Detox people proudly tell you, is from the toxins coming out of your body.

· Thinking back to GCSE chemistry, it seemed likely to me that it was rust rather than toxins, since they have, after all, got a pair of metal electrodes in a salt water bath with a current passing across them. And so we set up, on a kitchen table, a bowl containing salt and water, with two metal nails attached to a car battery. And what do you know: our water goes brown too, with a nice sludge on top. Could this be the same brown as the Aqua Detox water?

· Bravely I sent along my friend Dr Mark Atkins to have himself Aqua Detoxed. He took water samples from the bowl, which we sent off to the Medical Toxicology Unit at New Cross, south-east London. You can only imagine our excitement, especially as they charged us £200 for the analysis. And so – triumphant music – the water taken out before they switched their Aqua Detox machine on contained only 0.54mg per litre of iron (probably from the metal spoon); but afterwards it contained … 23.6mg/l. Our water, from our kitchen table setup, contained 97mg/l (and it was a bit browner).

· But did it extract toxins? “Toxin” is classic pseudoscience terminology. Essentially, the Aqua Detox people are offering dialysis, through your feet. Urea and creatinine are probably the smallest molecules – call them “toxins” if you like – that your body gets rid of, in places like urine and sweat: if “toxins” were going to come out, anywhere, you’d expect those to come out, too. There was no urea or creatinine in the water before the Aqua Detox, and there was none in the water afterwards. Which means, I believe, that we win.

More than water?

January 22nd, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, detox, oxygen, water | 7 Comments »

More than water?

Ben Goldacre
Thursday January 22, 2004
The Guardian

· What is it with pseudo scientists and water? After last week’s cluster nonsense, Caroline Stacey was getting excited in the Independent’s Food and Drink section about Oxygizer water. “Oxygizer doesn’t just slake a thirst, it provides the body with extra oxygen too. A litre contains 150mg of oxygen, around 25 times more than what’s in a litre of tap water.” Handy. “This apparently helps remove toxins and ensures a stronger immune system, as well as assisting the respiratory system, so you recover better from exercise … cleverly they’ve added something to water that’s not an additive.”

· So, once more in the spirit of noble Victorian gentleman scientist self experimenters, I decided to put Oxygizer to the test. Back in the 60s, a scientist in New York managed to get mice breathing underwater, from a saline solution at six times normal atmospheric pressure, just like in that movie The Abyss – it takes a lifetime of popular science books to collect this kind of trivia. Unfortunately, the mice died after 18 hours, and I didn’t want to upset the animal experimentation lobby.

· So, I decided to drink the stuff after a three-mile run. I take in about 100ml of oxygen with every breath, or 150mg, and, like most humans, I only absorb about 30mg of that. That’s 300mg a minute, but after serious exercise it goes up to about 3,000mg a minute. To help myself recover significantly faster after my run, I figured I’d need an extra 20% of oxygen, or 600mg a minute. That meant drinking 40 litres of Oxygizer over 10 minutes, getting the stuff down me at the fearsome rate of one litre every 15 seconds, at a cost of £120, and almost doubling my weight, but it’s all in the name of science. Fairly soon my circulatory system was so overloaded that I was producing several pints of frothy sputum at the back of my throat. Then my abdomen burst open and my Versace running shorts were ruined.

· Needless to say, I was not best pleased. But there’s something rather exciting that I’ve just discovered about the Guardian website: our articles tend to come out right at the top of Google keyword searches so, as my final act of revenge, en route to the morgue, you’ll forgive me for using the word Oxygizer as much as Oxygizer possible just in case anyone Oxygizer ever looks Oxygizer up to buy some Oxygizer …

Our very own health scare

September 11th, 2003 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, dangers, detox, nutritionists, scare stories | 3 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday September 11, 2003
The Guardian

· Monday’s Daily Express gave details of an exciting treatment called “thalassotherapy”. Basically you sit in a bath of salt water, seaweed, algae and mud, and then… “because the seawater is at body temperature, mineral ions pass into the blood and encourage toxins to pass out,” says the paper. This is terrifying information. I’d always been quietly pleased with my skin, it being relatively impermeable since my ancestors moved out of the sea. But apparently not, and the implications are terrifying: does this mean all that time I’ve spent in the bath, things have been leaching out of me into the bath water? Or have I been sucking water in? No wonder I’m so big and puffy.

· But apparently it’s more than just ions: “All the vitamins, minerals and trace elements are at exactly the same level and [sic] concentration as they are in your body… by a process of osmosis, your body will take in any nutrients it needs from the seawater. It’s a highly effective treatment,” says Dr Christian Jost, “a consultant in thalassotherapy, from Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa Thalassotherapy Centre in West Cork, in Eire”. So if you want to lose weight without the Atkins, why not sit in a bath of pure water, and let the “nutrients” just seep out of you? Or help yourself to that extra serving of pasta, and then go for a walk in the rain to gently wash it all away?

· And as for the paper’s claim that “joint mobility and range of movement are 10 times easier in sea water?” I hold my head in my hands and wonder: what can that possibly, possibly mean?

· These tabloids are getting so lame at starting health scares, I’m thinking about seeding a few of my own. The Daily Mail can’t even manage to backtrack on its previous adulation of the Atkins diet without making claims like high fat diets double your risk of breast cancer, an assertion for which the data is famously conflicting. But I’m hunting bigger game. So here goes: one traditional Chinese herbal medicine has just been reported as having 11 sudden deaths attributed to it in just two years. But I’m not going to tell you which one. Until next week. Or maybe never. After all, with the stampede that doctors have to endure with every new health scare, I quite like the idea of a nation of hypochondriacs from the “natural means safe” school beating a path to the door of their local snake-oil salesperson to find out…