In the run-up to the new year, Prof Patrick Holford of Teesside University has been promoting his “9-Day Liver Detox”. More on that later, but I thought it would be nice to start with some holistic health advice – advice that treats the whole person, instead of just targeting particular symptoms or organs in isolation. As Andrew Wadge (the FSA’s chief scientist) notes on his blog, if you have overindulged over the holidays there are better options than ‘detox’ pills and diets:
First, drink a glass or two of water (tap is fine, cheaper and more sustainable than bottled); second, get a little exercise – maybe a walk in the park – and third, enjoy some nice home-cooked food. There’s a lot of nonsense talked about ‘detoxing’ and most people seem to forget that we are born with a built-in detox mechanism. It’s called the liver. So my advice would be to ditch the detox diets and supplements and buy yourself something nice with the money you’ve saved.
Sounds fair enough to me. But, then, Holford offers an ‘alternative’ approach:
9 Days to a New You!…In the 9 Day Liver Detox Patrick Holford uses scientific findings to show you how to detoxify your body in 9 days, and achieve astonishing results. If you want to lose weight, boost your energy levels, become clear-headed, recover quickly from excesses and give your skin a healthy glow then this book is for you.
Wow, scientific findings. Well, one wouldn’t expect anything else from a professor at Teesside University. I mean, I did think – and Wadge also believes – that the science shows that our liver can generally detoxify our bodies fine, but Holford clearly has access to alternative research. Oh well, if anyone comes across a copy of the book, I’d be interested to know how this great 9-day detoxification can be achieved.
Worryingly, Health Products for Life also sells and recommends the LiverCheck home test. They claim that “LiverCheck is a home finger prick blood test that allows you to check the health of your liver…Liver check tests specifically for damage to your liver cells by testing for two enzymes: ALT and AST.”
The Patient UK site offers an excellent account of what a thorough Abnormal Liver Function Test panel should cover. They argue that patients should “[i]n the first instance request the following: albumin, bilirubin, ALP, GGT, AST, ALT and INR.” In other words, a LiverCheck test – which just looks at ALT and AST in the blood – is not as thorough as one might hope.
Patient UK also points out that “Liver function tests are easily obtained”. Those seeking such a test are therefore left with a choice between seeing their doctor (either on the NHS or privately) to get a more thorough liver function test, or buying a less thorough LiverCheck test. Did I mention that Health Products For Life sells the LiverCheck test for £150, while NHS tests are free to patients?
If you were to have a LiverCheck test, there are also issues around interpretation. As Patient UK notes
many patients have asymptomatic abnormalities in liver function tests…It is important to remember that the “normal” values are within ± 2 standard deviations meaning that 2.5% of a healthy population will have abnormal liver function tests.
In other words, one might have non-standard test results that do not indicate a liver problem which will impact on one’s health. It is therefore important to have a qualified medical professional to interpret the results of these tests.
I should end by noting that, if your liver isn’t working properly, this is serious – see a proper doctor ASAP if you suspect that this is the case, or if you think you may have done something to damage your liver. Likewise, if you’re doing something that’s obviously bad for your liver – for example, if you’re drinking to excess – you probably don’t need to book a home-test of liver function, to tell you that this is a bad idea.
So, enjoy the rest of the holiday season. If you have overindulged, or will overindulge, there are any quick fixes – just try to follow a healthier lifestyle for the rest of the year… There aren’t any pills that bring the benefits of healthy diet, exercise and lifestyle, and even using ‘scientific findings’ isn’t likely to produce such a pill any time in the foreseeable future.