Clinical Reviews

With Comments from Lynn Keegan, RN, PhD, HNC, FAAN

Effects of Detoxification in Disease-Free People

Source: MacIntosh A, Ball K. The effects of a short program of detoxification in disease-free individuals. Altern Ther Health Med 2000;6:70-76.

Context: Some health philosophies, such as Ayurvedic medicine, yoga, and naturopathy, consider removal of toxins from the body an integral part of achieving and maintaining good health. These health belief systems accept the premise that symptoms of poor health may be related to toxin build-up and that these symptoms can occur in people who are free of disease as well as those who have been diagnosed with an illness. Detoxification generally conjures up the idea of an alcoholic or drug addict "drying out" however, some health systems use the process for many other conditions.

Objective: This pilot study explored whether a seven-day detoxification program could improve well-being and enhance activity in liver detoxification pathways.

Methods: In this patient-outcome-focused, noncontrolled clinical intervention, 25 disease-free participants were recruited. The 25 subjects, ranging from 23 to 40 years old, were naturopathic medical students recruited from a second-year nutrition class. Pre- and post-intervention measures were taken using the Metabolic Screening Questionnaire (MSQ) as a subjective assessment of well-being, and drug challenge tests (using caffeine) to assess hepatic detoxification capacity. The detoxification program consisted of consuming a specific hypoallergenic diet and at least two quarts of filtered water daily. Participants made no other changes in their diet or exercise program. The changes in well-being were assessed using the MSQ, a short symptom questionnaire concentrating on symptoms that might be related to toxicity. Laboratory assessment was done on saliva and intestinal permeability.

Results: The MSQ scores reflected a significant (P < 0.011) reduction in total symptomatology over the seven-day period for a statistically significant 47% reduction in the MSQ scores. This improvement in patient-assessed health occurred concurrently with a 23% increase in liver detoxification capacity, as reflected by the caffeine clearance measure. There was an increase in the urinary sulfate to creatinine ratio after treatment, indicating a trend toward improved liver function.

Conclusion: This simple, subject-administered detoxification program resulted in significant reduction in participant symptomatology. The tendency toward improvement in liver detoxification measure is consistent with the hypothesis that improved liver detoxification capacity contributes to well-being.

Comment: This simple pilot study has merit in that it provides a refresher of information about the importance of periodic fasts and cleansings and offers a study mechanism to build upon. Without a control group and a more varied sample it is not possible to make generalizations from this study. The almost self-selected sample of naturopathic students, already committed to the concept of dietary cleansing, is a decided weakness in the study; however, the objective tests of blood and urinary chemistries are strengths. An enthusiastic nurse researcher could easily build on this study by selecting a non-biased sample, adding a control group, and perhaps increasing the length of the study to two weeks. Other potential variations might include doing the study in subjects with varying chronic disease diagnoses and building in another dimension, such as exercise, to the detoxification program in non-ill subjects.