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Doctors Warn About New Year "Detoxes"

Herbal remedy

Herbal remedies do not help "detox" the body. Fan jianhua/Shutterstock

Thinking of going on a teatox? Or how about a master cleanse to flush out all those toxins you accumulated over the festive period? Well, you might want to think again. Doctors have warned that New Year "detoxes" can have some very serious, and potentially fatal consequences.

Reported in the latest BMJ Case Reports, doctors at Milton Keynes hospital have been treating a 47-year-old woman who was admitted to intensive care after she took herbal remedies and drank excessive amounts of water to “detox” her system.


She was found to have taken a cocktail of herbal remedies, including milk thistle, molkosan, l-theanine, glutamine, vitamin B compound, vervain, sage tea, green tea, and valerian root, in addition to excessive water. This lead to her suffering a brief period of confusion before she collapsed and had a seizure. After being admitted to intensive care, she was treated with a hypertonic saline solution and calcium chloride, after which she made a full recovery.

“Despite marketing suggesting otherwise, all-natural products are not without side effects,"  write the doctors. "It is important that we as healthcare professionals look for their use in our patients and are aware of those side effects as well as interactions with prescription medications.” 

They state that more caution should be taken as more people embark on these kinds of "quick-fix" detoxes and that medical practitioners should be more aware of the consequences.

"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," they warn. 


The woman was actually treated for hyponatremia, which is caused by dangerously low sodium levels in the blood. It is effectively caused by having too diluted blood, meaning that water starts to enter cells causing them to swell perilously. While in many parts of the body this may not be too much of a threat, if the cells in the nervous system or brain balloon, it can cause very serious damage and can even lead to death.

The same condition was reported late last year from doctors in London, who had treated a 59-year-old patient who had taken the standard recommendation to drink more water when ill a little too literally. In that same report, they also mentioned another male patient who drank copious amounts of water when diagnosed with gastroenteritis, and eventually died as a result.

"There are no pills or specific drinks, patches or lotions that can do a magic job," the British Dietetic Association told the BBC. "The body has numerous organs, such as the skin, gut, liver and kidney, that continually 'detoxify' the body from head to toe."

"It sounds predictable," they added "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."


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