The anatomy of a detox scam


It is surprisingly easy to sell snake-oil. I know, because I’ve done it. In 2014, I helped create and sell The Right Detox. This was a bogus detoxification program that purported to improve anyone’s well-being and perhaps, cure disease. I was the face of the scam. I launched The Right Detox at a spring-time women’s health expo in Tucson, Arizona.

I kicked off my sales-pitch in front of a small audience with an inspirational story about curing myself of psoriasis using natural remedies and diet changes like those promoted in the The Right Detox program. My presentation began this way:

Processed foods, pesticides, and other toxic chemicals are making us sick. We encounter these toxins everywhere. In order to be healthy in today’s world, we must detoxify.

Early in my life, I learned how food and chemicals can affect my health. As a teenager, I was diagnosed with psoriasis. Almost every surface of my body had unsightly plaques. My dermatologist prescribed steroids to use for the rest of my life. When I asked about alternatives, he said, “This is it.”

I refused to accept this. Instead, I researched natural therapies on my own. I began eliminating toxic foods and chemicals. I started to rebuild my digestive health with probiotics and enzymes. I took cod liver oil to reduce inflammation.

Without steroids, my skin improved and so did my health. My amazing recovery inspired me to become a naturopathic doctor.

I designed this program, The Right Detox, based on my experience and confidence that you will benefit from natural medicine.

The Right Detox approach uses our bodies own detoxification systems, making our program safe and effective.

I am excited for you to use The Right Detox to achieve your health goals. Welcome to the beginning of the rest of your life!

My story was powerful, and I milked it. I quickly realized that convincing women that they too could be just as healthy and natural as me was easy. All they needed to do was follow the step-by-step instructions in the detox manual. Health, happiness, and enlightenment would surely materialize if they just tried hard enough and spent enough money.

How to sell a detox scam

Watch how my former naturopathic clinic promoted the detox program in this local TV ad:

Would you buy The Right Detox?

Detox programs are created with one goal: make money. I am not generalizing here. I’ve helped create detox programs at more than one clinic. In each instance, the decisions to include specific detox supplements, protein powder shakes, or therapies were based on profit margins.

Detoxers doing The Right Detox could purchase different “tiers” of the program. The scheme was simple. The “deeper” the detox, the higher the tier, and the more expensive the package.

There is no such thing as a “deep detox.” The entire concept of detoxification in alternative medicine is bogus. There are absolutely no health benefits to be gained from detoxification diets or therapies. Our organs do not need a break from their physiological activities. If we are talking about the treatment of erectile dysfunction, then detoxification is not a substitute for generic Viagra. Drinking special shakes or taking certain herbal supplements is not going to help any organ “work better” or more efficiently. Our body does not need to be “supported” with mega-doses of vitamins and minerals. We don’t need enemas or laxatives to clean out our colons. Needless to say, The Right Detox was not based on any kind of credible scientific evidence.

Instead, products and services were packaged together based on marketing terms and aesthetic appeal. Price points were set based on a standard mark-up. But to make the top tier programs, named “Gold” and “Platinum,” seem more exclusive, we marked up the price even higher.

We pretended that patients could save money by buying supplements in bulk or by starting the detox program with a group of friends. We were hoping to increase business by luring customers into becoming long-term patients. It worked. They would come to the practice ready to invest more time, energy, and money into their healthcare regimen. We were ready to sell them false promises and false hope in the form of supplements and naturopathic therapies like intravenous vitamin drips, enemas, and far-infrared saunas. The detox program did not help patients achieve their health goals.

The emotional harm of detoxing

I recently had a flare-up of psoriasis after some time of being free of plaques. I mentioned to a  colleague that I wanted to get a little extra sleep to help with stress. He suggested that I begin eating a Paleo Diet. While well-meaning, this advice is not supported by evidence. And, it could be emotionally dangerous.

For years, I bought into the idea that I could achieve perfect health by controlling my diet and my immediate environment. When flares occurred, or when I got sick, I blamed myself for not eating right or not trying hard enough. Naturopathic students were told over and over in school to “walk the walk” of our medicine. We needed to embody healthfulness. If we looked ill, or were overweight, patients would not take us seriously.

I took this advice to heart. I wanted to exude well-being. I subjected myself to numerous detoxes and naturopathic therapies in the name of healing myself. When these therapies failed, as they do, I added more treatments to my regimen. Instead of becoming healthy, though, I made myself physically and emotionally sicker than I had ever been. I developed an eating disorder. My periods stopped. My hair fell out. My auto-immune symptoms worsened.

I have finally learned that I cannot change the fact that I have psoriasis. My recent psoriasis outbreak likely has nothing to do with what I am or am not eating. It has nothing do with the supplements I am not taking. And it didn’t happen because I haven’t done a detox since I left Seattle in 2012.

It is deceptive to promote the notion that any measures beyond the basics of wellness, i.e., sleeping enough, exercising regularly, managing stress, and eating well-rounded meals, can dramatically alter the course of complicated diseases. Naturopaths are selling lies.

The harm for patients is not just wasted money and time. Naturopaths bring their patients emotional damage by endlessly treating health problems with detoxes and other gimmicks. This harm builds on the inherent risk of using the unregulated “natural” products that naturopaths believe are safe and gentle medicine.

Detoxes do not empower patients or provide them with the tools to take charge of their health. The detoxification fad depends on patient guilt. If the patient doesn’t invest in completing the detox, it is her fault that she is sick. If she does complete the detox, but still does not get better, then the patient needs to do more detoxing.