Mar 11 2009
If I tried to invent a product name that evoked the sense of patent-medicine snake oil from the 19th century I don’t think I could have done a better job. Duchy Originals detox tincture is just one more of thousands of snake oil products being marketed to the public with dubious health claims. Except this one is backed by the Prince of Wales.
The con is an old one – virtually random ingredients are put into a pill, elixir, tincture, or salve and sold with incredible hype but no science. So-called snake oil marketers have a long tradition of knowing their marks and the market. Claims are designed to appeal to the broadest market, to have maximal allure, and to be just vague enough to evade any pesky regulations that may be in effect. Claims also tend to follow recent fads, using the buzz-words that are hot, and often try to wrap cutting-edge sciency terms in the cloak of ancient wisdom.
Oh, and celebrity or pseudoauthoritarian endorsements help, too.
The company is marketing their product as a detoxifier. This is the latest buzz word for snake-oil. The claim is that such products help the body eliminate toxins. Of course, the specific toxins are typically not named, and no plausible mechanism for removing the unnamed toxins can be given. The body’s own detoxification processes, such as the liver and kidneys, do just fine without any help in most circumstances. When a real toxin cannot be handled by the body then real disease is usually the result, and treatments, when available, are specific. Vague references to toxins and detoxification, however, are pure nonsense.
Edzard Ernst, as reported by the BBC, is very critical of the claims made for their detox tincture by Duch Originals, and supported by Prince Charles. He says:
“Nothing would, of course, be easier than to demonstrate that detox products work. All one needed to do is to take a few blood samples from volunteers and test whether this or that toxin is eliminated from the body faster than normal.
“But where are the studies that demonstrate efficacy? They do not exist, and the reason is simple: these products have no real detoxification effects.”
Quite true. Ernst is an interesting character. He is the UK’s first professor of complementary medicine. He started out quite fond of the notion of complementary and alternative medicine and set out to study CAM modalities scientifically. What he found, however, is that no so-called CAM modality has been established by adequate scientific evidence, and many have already been disproven. He wrote the book Trick or Treatment: Alternative Medicine on Trial, with Simon Singh – a harsh criticism of CAM.
So despite his ideological leanings he was intellectually honest enough to listen to the evidence. I think Prince Charles could use of dose of Professor Ernst’s Miraculous Elixir of Honesty. If only such a product existed.
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