Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Quackery

More quackery promotion in the Chicago Tribune, only this time not by Julie Deardorff

Something must be wrong these days with the Chicago Tribune. I’ve complained about its recent tendency to publish credulous tripe about “alternative” medicine or sympathetic articles about alternative medicine, usually in the form of columns by the ever woo-friendly Julie Deardorff, but also in the form of a truly dumb (at least about medicine) columnist by the name of Dennis Byrne, who promotes bad science claiming links between abortion or birth control and breast cancer. Clearly, in the more than eight years since I lived in Chicago, things have gone downhill at the old Tribune.

This week, things have become even weirder. Julie Deardorff actually published a sensible, skeptical article about the “hydration kick” being pushed by Coke and other manufacturers of “fitness drinks” (like Gatorade and others), while another section of the Tribune, reporter Lauren Viera has taken over Julie’s usual duties of writing the fawning articles about dubious health practices, in this case, “The Master Cleanser“:

It sounds extreme, but spending the first week of January cleaning the pipes has become my healthy resolution of choice. A few years ago, a friend lent me her copy of a straightforward instruction manual of sorts on how to fast correctly and safely.

Named for the lemonade-like elixir derived in 1941 by dietary advocate Stanley Burroughs, “The Master Cleanser” (Burroughs Books, 1976) is a 50-page guide to ridding one’s body of all kinds of toxins — likely to be in excess just after the holiday season. It’s a how-to (and why), replete with recipes, for restoring the digestive system to visible repair, preparing it for a fresh start, and then easing it back into a healthy eating routine — ideally paving the way for a more nutritious diet and, ultimately, a healthier way of life.

As the brief recipe and description listed in the article reveals, The Master Cleanser is nothing more than an old-fashioned colon cleanse that is claimed to “detoxify” the body, and it’s about as useless:

Burroughs’ elixir, which consists of 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of Grade B maple syrup, a pinch of cayenne pepper and 8 ounces of purified water — should be consumed 6 to 12 times daily; plus a glass of sea-salt water each morning and a laxative tea each night. He advises sticking to the elixir/laxative routine for at least 10 days for the cleanse to be fully effective; then, ease back into healthy solid foods over at least three days, starting with fresh orange juice, then raw fruits and vegetables.

Yup. Nothing more than a colon and liver cleanse.

Naturally, as is mandatory for such shoddy journalism, there is the sole skeptical voice, this time in the form of a dietician named Dawn Jackson Blatner, who dutifully points out that fasting and existing on mainly lemon juice and maple syrup for days on end is not a good way to lose weight and that the body has a perfectly fine method of self-detoxification in the form of the liver, kidneys, skin, and lungs, thank you very much. Just as naturally and expected for this sort of “journalism,” the skeptical voice is discounted:

Then again, the Master Cleanser was never intended to be used as a weight-loss aid in the first place. It’s a fast, the purpose of which, Burroughs writes, is “to dissolve and eliminate toxins and congestion that have formed in any part of the body.”

None of which it does, as I explained ad nauseum before. Indeed, these sorts of cleanses are such obvious quackery that I even featured them in not one, but two editions of Your Friday Dose of Woo. It particularly resembles the “liver cleanse,” which frequently includes lemon juice as part of its constituents. But, hey, who needs to listen to those pesky scientists when you have testimonials, right? Testimonials such as one by the reporter herself:

Positive effects are noticeable. Burroughs derived the elixir to help cure minor (and some major) ailments, and I’ve experienced all kinds of perks, from clearer skin to sharper concentration. The negative effects? Hunger and irritability, but these tend to dissipate after about the third day. Thereafter, I’ve experienced an amazing sense of Zen: patience, serenity and peace of mind. And, of course, you will lose some weight during the Master Cleanser, most of which will return once the fast is broken, if you do it right.

Then again, the Master Cleanser isn’t about weight loss. It’s about starting the year off with a clean slate … in the form of a flushed digestive system.

Can you say “confirmation bias“? Sure, I knew you could. Can you say “credulous, stupid reporter?”

Sure, I knew you could.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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