Detoxing for the new year: the holistic approach

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.



Filed under health products for life, liver, patrick holford

34 responses to “Detoxing for the new year: the holistic approach

  1. Rachel

    I was just wondering whether the person/people who wrote the article actually have any nutritional qualifications.

    Nutrition is a controversial topic and there are many people who claim to know about Nutrition but haven’t have actually classes.

    It is my belief that if you find an eating plan that is healthy and works with your body then who is to criticise. No two bodies are identically the same!

  2. Yes – had you followed the link and, you know, read the text, you would have discovered that Andrew Wadge is replete with appropriate qualifications. As for us…you do realise nutritionist as a term has no legal standing?

  3. Rachel

    Wouldn’t you find it more constructive to utilise your time by helping with the research of the increasing numbers of nutritional problems within the country and their prevention and cures?

  4. All of us do a range of other (constructive, I’d like to think) things with our time: this blog is just one of our activities. That said, if we choose to use some of our spare time to run this blog, what’s wrong with that? Criticism of bad ideas is a valid and important part of debate – so I would argue that showing what’s wrong with Holford’s bad science is useful in and of itself.

  5. ……and buy yourself something nice with the money you’ve saved………

    would that be a Burger King, a bar of Dairy Milk Chocolate and a can of coke by any chance ????

  6. superburger

    what possible harm could munching on the odd burger king, washed down with coke and a bar of dairy milk possibly do?

    I mean, as a once a month treat, not as an everyday diet choice – that would be a bit silly.

  7. By the way, if ‘Nutritionists, London’ had followed the link to Wadge’s blog, they could have seen that Wadge suggested spending the money saved on music.

    Perfectly healthy, I think.

  8. superburgermuncher

    Why would anyone consider a burger king ‘a treat’

  9. superburgermuncher

    Yes – had you followed the link and, you know, read the text, you would have discovered that Andrew Wadge is replete with appropriate qualifications. As for us…you do realise nutritionist as a term has no legal standing?

    Listen to the arrogance of this person. This is not the way to speak to people. Come on now sort this out.

  10. LeeT


    Have you got a favourite type of burger? I have the misfortune to work across the road from a Macdonalds. At no point have I been tempted to try a BigMac. They just look so unappealing. Perhaps I need to seek out a Burger? Or possibly you have a recipe for the perfect burger that you want to share with us. I tried some Quorn burgers recently and was pleasantly surprised …


  11. SBM/Jezza/Jazza/whomever – by and large, when you are commenting, yes it is helpful if you have read the text. It is a shame that whatever education path you followed didn’t persuade you of that. Accuracy can sometimes help to establish your credentials as a serious commenter – just a hint.

  12. UKdietitian

    well, London Nutritionists and Rachel –

    I’d guess Holfordwatch people to have some background health knowledge as they show a superb understanding of nutrition that deftly shows the grossly inadequacies in Mr Holfords grandoise comments.

    But if they have no formal qualifications in nutrition recognised within the UK then they are on equal par with you ‘Optimum Nutritionistas’ – and Mr Holford himself.

    Now its 2008 I think I’m due a Professorship.

    Right. Done. I’ve loads of friends who know nothing about nutrition but are really impressed that I appear to do so – just like Mr Holfords cultivated friends at ‘School of Law and Social Sciences at Teeside’

    and now, I even have a Publisher certificate to prove it. Oh, and I didn’t award it to myself. My colleagues recognised my superior dietetic intellect.

    Funny how the Health Professions Council – that body that regulates ‘proper’ complementary practitioners, has been ahead of the game on certificate printing…

    hereby I intend to be called ‘Professor Dietitian’ and will remind everyone everytime I comment of my now superior status.

  13. Pingback: Common Myths « Holford Myths: what is the problem with Nutritionist Patrick Holford?

  14. UKdietitian – you shall henceforth be referred to as Professor UK dietitian or Professor Dietitian in accordance with your recent request.

    May I be the first to congratulate you on this long overdue declaration of superior status.

  15. Professor UKdietitian

    Many thanks for your kind words of congratulations, dvnutrix.

    I considered dropping the ‘UK’ bit when I graciously accepted my new title, but in accordance with the parallel world of Holfordesque grandiosity I MUST keep the full name with the prefix and insist on the full title everytime anyone refers to me.

    I haven’t yet decided where my professorial affiliation lies, but as soon as I b*llshit some intelligent people who have absolutely no knowledge of nutrition but are arrogant enough to think they do, then I’ll affiliate.

  16. Vegjuicer

    Regarding liver function and toxin removal…
    If you drink a pint of fresh veg juice on a daily basis your skin really glows and looks great. Your energy levels really increase and you feel bloody great. This must be improving liver function right?
    So if the liver is working fine then why does this improve things?
    This Andrew Vadge guy mmmmmm im not to sure about him!

  17. Not that I would know from personal experience, but aren’t recreational drugs supposed to increase energy levels and make you feel great? I doubt that they improve your liver function. Ditto alcohol now I come to think about it.

    Can not sustain your hypothesis. Slightly more confidence in Andrew Wadge’s opinion than yours on this matter.

  18. Vegjuicer

    What kind of comment is this! Are you really comparing weed and mdma etc with fresh vegetable juice.
    Drugs tend to make you feel like shit the next day, especially smack and crack

  19. Vegjuicer

    Try drinking a pint of fresh veg juice everyday for a week without changing any other part of your diet and get back to me with the results.
    go on try it for yourself and then you would have a better idea.
    I can always give you some combo receipies if you like.

  20. “Try drinking a pint of fresh veg juice everyday for a week without changing any other part of your diet and get back to me with the results.”
    Vegjuicer – I actually did this once and I have to say I didn’t notice the difference. Does that actually prove anything, though? I don’t think so. It’s only anecdotal, after all. The reverse also applies, of course. If I had noticed a difference, it wouldn’t have proved your hypothesis.

    Here’s a link to my favourite piece of nutritional advice:

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