lemon International Clinical Trials Day Scurvy

Cynical Trials: Detoxing (for Dummies?)

You’ve all heard this story ad nauseam. Christmas is a time to indulge and overindulge, and millions of people spend the early part of January trying to atone for all that merriment and undo the damage done by weeks of booziness.

wineAs I floundered my way through a quiet New Year’s Eve in the Yorkshire Dales, feeling sluggish, a bit bloated and rather achy all over, I thought – like millions of others probably did – ‘I need a change and a fresh start.’ I didn’t relish the thought. Then it occurred to me ‘I can write a blog about it!’ and I was suddenly much more resolute about my resolution!

Before the New Year’s festivities began, I started researching detoxes – how could I do one? What would it do for me? And what are all these toxins I’m purportedly full of, anyway?

One very enthusiastic site told me that a detox would help to cleanse my bloodstream by ridding the liver of impurities. It listed some tell-tale signs that my body might be crying out for a good detox-ing, including:

  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Irritated skin
  • Low-grade infections
  • Puffy eyes/ dark circles
  • ‘brainfog’ or an inability to maintain concentration

Wow! That pretty much describes me… it’s a pity I haven’t detoxed sooner! How do I get started?

The website listed a few things which I should cut out of my diet… including solid food for the next 3 – 5 days. Now, hold on – as keen as I am to lose a few pounds, gain a bit of energy, and write an entertaining blog post, fasting just feels like crossing the line to me. Over the last 30 years I have got to know my body pretty well, and taking on a ‘juice cleansing’ diet just feels like setting myself up for failure, and unleashing a very grumpy version of myself on my family. I read on, and decide to turn the web’s advice into a gentler plan which I actually stand a chance of following.

To give my liver a break, I should avoid cigarettes and alcohol. So far, so good – I will continue not to smoke, and as an occasional drinker I’m sure I can meet the challenge of a Dry January. I should also cut out refined sugars and saturated fats – I lock away the last remnants of Christmas feasting and vow to reach for fruit if I’m feeling peckish between meals.

And then there’s the real kicker. I will need to go without caffeine.

Okay. I can do this. I CAN do this… can I?

At times like this, I always think of our clinical trial volunteers – study restrictions mean they have to go days, sometimes weeks at a time without so much as a decaf. Hats off to you – it would be an absolute deal-breaker for me, and I’m inspired that so many of you are ready to do this without any hesitation!

The website also implies that my detox will be improved by taking a vitamin supplement or drinking some sort of herbal tea, and seeing as I’m bereft of tea and coffee, I decide I’ll go for the latter option. On New Year’s Day, I’m scanning the supermarket shelves and I discover that one of my preferred brands sells a Detox Tea – hurray!

milk thistleMy new tea contains lemon, verbena and milk thistle. Regular readers of the blog will know that I don’t shy away from drinking strange beverages, and this combination doesn’t sound half bad, so I’m not worried. Until I brew a cup and drink it.


I’m quite a regular drinker of herbal teas, and I know that I like both lemon and verbena, so I guess it must be the milk thistle that adds that ear-waxy aftertaste. Steeling myself, I drink to my health, and manage to polish off three cups before I go to bed.

On 2nd January, I wake up with a headache. It’s the kind of headache I associate with needing a strong cup of coffee. ‘Good!’ I think over the loud throbbing. ‘The caffeine is leaving my system.’ I sip some more detox tea over breakfast, and use Google to find out a bit more about my acrid new friend, Milk Thistle.

A company which sells health supplements suggests that it may help with symptoms of indigestion and stomach upsets, but is at pains to point out that this assertion is ‘based on traditional use only’. In other words, it has not been proven effective in clinical trials. I’m interested to learn that it is also traditionally used to treat toadstool poisoning, but once again I’m unable to find any studies or examples of this treatment being used effectively. As I delve further, one site tells me that milk thistle should be avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding, while another argues that it’s a great supplement for new mothers, and aids quicker milk production. I’m liking the stuff less and less.

The afternoon wears on, pain is blossoming through my head, and I’m still reading about detoxes. In a Guardian article, Dr Edzard Ernst shuts down the very idea of detoxing, stating ‘There is no known way… to make something that works perfectly well in a healthy body work better’. He argues that the only time when detoxing is a valid concept is if you are an addict purging drugs from your system.

What am I trying to get out of my system? Certainly nothing as harmful as an opiate or narcotic. Ernst goes on to say ‘If [toxins] were named, they could be tested before and after to measure effectiveness’ – it’s a compelling point, when I have read so much about toxins and they haven’t been named on a single site.

While I’m on Google, I do one last search for ‘how do I treat a caffeine withdrawal headache’. The consensus is that I should have some caffeine. Ha ha.

Instead, I opt to go back to bed for a few hours. When I wake up with a head just as achey as before, I am worried. I’m not at all prone to headaches, let alone ones which are so intense for so long. The pounding is made worse by anxious thoughts which rush through my brain… what if this isn’t related to my detox? What if I’m coming down with something? Or worse?

cuppaDeciding that enough is enough, my Mum nips into the kitchen and returns with 2 paracetamol… and a large, steaming mug of tea. Yep. I retoxed. And it felt great. Whether it was the pills or the caffeine that did it, my headache quickly subsided and it hasn’t been back since. And I think that maybe that’s because I’ve allowed myself just one cup of tea or coffee each day this week.

Did I do the right thing? Would pushing through the pain barrier and sticking to my detox have made all the difference to me? Maybe I should have gone the whole hog and tried a juice cleanse? I would love to hear what you think, but based on what I’ve read and how I’m feeling… I regret nothing!