You can’t detox your body. It’s a myth. So how do you get healthy?

Dec 5, 2014

Photograph: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

By Dara Mohammadi

Whether it’s cucumbers splashing into water or models sitting smugly next to a pile of vegetables, it’s tough not to be sucked in by the detox industry. The idea that you can wash away your calorific sins is the perfect antidote to our fast-food lifestyles and alcohol-lubricated social lives. But before you dust off that juicer or take the first tentative steps towards a colonic irrigation clinic, there’s something you should know: detoxing – the idea that you can flush your system of impurities and leave your organs squeaky clean and raring to go – is a scam. It’s a pseudo-medical concept designed to sell you things.

“Let’s be clear,” says Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University, “there are two types of detox: one is respectable and the other isn’t.” The respectable one, he says, is the medical treatment of people with life-threatening drug addictions. “The other is the word being hijacked by entrepreneurs, quacks and charlatans to sell a bogus treatment that allegedly detoxifies your body of toxins you’re supposed to have accumulated.”

If toxins did build up in a way your body couldn’t excrete, he says, you’d likely be dead or in need of serious medical intervention. “The healthy body has kidneys, a liver, skin, even lungs that are detoxifying as we speak,” he says. “There is no known way – certainly not through detox treatments – to make something that works perfectly well in a healthy body work better.”

Much of the sales patter revolves around “toxins”: poisonous substances that you ingest or inhale. But it’s not clear exactly what these toxins are. If they were named they could be measured before and after treatment to test effectiveness. Yet, much like floaters in your eye, try to focus on these toxins and they scamper from view. In 2009, a network of scientists assembled by the UK charity Sense about Science contacted the manufacturers of 15 products sold in pharmacies and supermarkets that claimed to detoxify. The products ranged from dietary supplements to smoothies and shampoos. When the scientists asked for evidence behind the claims, not one of the manufacturers could define what they meant by detoxification, let alone name the toxins.


 

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43 comments on “You can’t detox your body. It’s a myth. So how do you get healthy?

  • Lots of little baddies can form a ‘little cage’ in your body. Tubercular bacillis comes to mind, as well as any number of parasites. I think the message of the article is that commercial products neither name their targets nor succeed in getting rid of them. They are simply calling up the meme of an organic pipe and sink cleansing agent, sort of like a yummy Draino.



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  • OP – If toxins did build up in a way your body couldn’t excrete, he says, you’d likely be dead or in need of serious medical intervention. “The healthy body has kidneys, a liver, skin, even lungs that are detoxifying as we speak,” he says. “There is no known way – certainly not through detox treatments – to make something that works perfectly well in a healthy body work better.”

    There is however a substance which can help detox you body!
    It is known as WATER, and drinking plenty of it, clears out toxins via sweat and through kidneys.



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  • Save dosh by doing some strenuous exercise regularly, followed by a session in the sauna for as long as you can bear, and ending with a cold dip, bucket or shower.

    The benefits of the first two go without saying, the third helps to relax muscles, ease joints, facilitate stretching and flexibility, stimulate capillary action, clear nasal tubes and help accelerate detoxification; and the last provides a gentle shock to the system, making you feel revitalized and gratified.

    Yes, it is impossible to completely detoxify the body, but the process, which is continuous anyway, can be augmented in an enjoyable way without financial loss; except to the peddlers of these junk products, and that in itself is gratifying.

    But then, I for one, usually ruin everything, by downing some wine before and during my next meal; but then, it’s only to be expected that all that effort will generate a healthy thirst and appetite.

    What?



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  • Ernst is less forgiving: “Ask trading standards what they’re doing
    about it. Anyone who says, ‘I have a detox treatment’ is profiting
    from a false claim and is by definition a crook. And it shouldn’t be
    left to scientists and charities to go after crooks.”

    …and now we take a break to insult your intelligence for ten minutes…

    detox

    homeopathy

    crystal healing

    aromatherapy

    online gambling

    astrology

    anti-aging

    loans

    …and now we take you back to the programme…

    Sport

    Cooking

    Spirituality

    Heroes

    Stylised warfare

    Threats

    Growth economics

    Multiculturalism

    British values

    Balanced views…

    Yada yada



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  • 6
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    Like!

    Oh and speaking of exploiting the ignorant, let’s not forget all this silly hype about toxic foods. How wheat is “poisonous” because it’s been “genetically modified”. Or soy… baaaad for you. But best of all: the latest “scientific discovery” : gluten, that diabolical food responsible for the worst of all ills: a large belly (gasp!!)

    Thanks to the great wisdom of those “scientists”, we now have a big fad of gluten-free products and many major food companies (who BTW couldn’t care less about our health) jumped on the bandwagon when they realized the sales potential. It’s all about marketing and people fell for it hook line and sinker.

    I’m not entirely sure all this horse manure can be called “insulting one’s intelligence” when it’s unlikely that there actually is any intelligence to insult in the first place.



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  • NearlyNakedApe Dec 6, 2014 at 11:45 am

    Thanks to the great wisdom of those “scientists”, we now have a big fad of gluten-free products and many major food companies (who BTW couldn’t care less about our health) jumped on the bandwagon when they realized the sales potential. It’s all about marketing and people fell for it hook line and sinker.

    It is not the scientists whose wisdom is at fault, or the labelling which helps those afflicted with Celiac Disease from avoiding allergic reactions.
    It is the quacks and media pseudo-experts who misquote the information and mislead the wider population.

    http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/digestive-diseases/celiac-disease/Pages/facts.aspx

    How common is celiac disease?

    Celiac disease affects people in all parts of the world. Originally thought to be a rare childhood syndrome, celiac disease is now known to be a common genetic disorder. More than 2 million people in the United States have the disease, or about 1 in 133 people. Among people who have a first-degree relative—a parent, sibling, or child—diagnosed with celiac disease, as many as 1 in 22 people may have the disease.



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  • NearlyNakedApe Dec 6, 2014 at 11:45 am

    Oh and speaking of exploiting the ignorant, let’s not forget all this silly hype about toxic foods. How wheat is “poisonous” because it’s been “genetically modified”.

    The problem with the ignorant hype put about by ignorant and disingenuous journalists/advertisers, is that the dangers of GM cereals are mainly to the environment and not toxicity affecting consumers.
    The toxicity to consumers comes from, insecticide, fungicide, and herbicide sprays, along with mercury etc. poisoning, if the wheat is grown down-wind of coal burning power-plants.

    http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/coalvswind/c02c.html#.VIM4cskR9Vk

    .Mercury: Coal plants are responsible for more than half of the U.S. human-caused emissions of mercury, a toxic heavy metal that causes brain damage and heart problems. Just 1/70th of a teaspoon of mercury deposited on a 25-acre lake can make the fish unsafe to eat. A typical uncontrolled coal plants emits approximately 170 pounds of mercury each year.
    Activated carbon injection technology can reduce mercury emissions by up to 90 percent when combined with baghouses. ACI technology is currently found on just 8 percent of the U.S. coal fleet
    .

    Other harmful pollutants emitted annually from a typical, uncontrolled coal plant include approximately:

    .114 pounds of lead, 4 pounds of cadmium, other toxic heavy metals, and trace amounts of uranium. Baghouses can reduce heavy metal emissions by up to 90 percent.

    .225 pounds of arsenic, which will cause cancer in one out of 100 people who drink water containing 50 parts per billion.



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  • This is the main take away statement from this article:

    ““There is no known way – certainly not through detox treatments – to
    make something that works perfectly well in a healthy body work
    better.””

    The word “detoxify” has unfortunately become a pejorative mainly due to its hijacking from charlatans much the way the word liberal (which, let’s not forget, simply means open minded and progressive) is now seen as a pejorative by many.

    The unfortunate title of this piece, which implies that in the absence of effective interventionist detoxification (which is a BS statement on its face given the fact that we are constantly detoxifying ourselves anyway) we can’t be healthy, is misleading based on my reading of it.

    There are many simple ways to get and stay healthy. I won’t patronize anyone by listing the ways in which this can be done. Others above already have. It’s just not that difficult. But as with almost everything else, education is the way to see the light.



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  • I’ve got 30,000 litres of rainwater that I put through filters down to E Coli. Almost an endless supply of near distilled water. If your passing, your welcome to fill your container.

    When it goes through my washing machine with low salt detergent, it goes on the fruit trees in the garden. Sky to roof to tank to washing machine to tree and back up into the sky.



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  • Why? I liked your comment about exercise, sauna, a shocking rinse, and wine. I believe in exercise, a whirlpool, and a good glass of wine myself! That and a good plate of spicy Indian food and a real “cleansing” is underway! 😉



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  • Yes, and massage is not going to get rid of these little baddies, either. I have heard people throw around the words massage and “toxins” often enough to make me wonder if they think metals build up in their shoulders and neck to make them suspend from a magnet like Wile E. Coyote! 😀



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  • 18
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    It is not the scientists whose wisdom is at fault, or the labelling which helps those afflicted with Celiac Disease from avoiding allergic reactions.
    It is the quacks and media pseudo-experts who misquote the information and mislead the wider population.

    Yes, that’s what I meant so I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I put the word scientist in between quotes: I was being sarcastic. I was talking about quacks like “Dr” William Davis and “Dr” Oz and others.

    Labeling a product for gluten content is fine. But if you don’t have celiac disease or any allergic sensitivity to gluten, then you have no valid reason to worry about gluten. But the food companies go far beyond labeling (at least where I live) and package their products in a flashy way designed to pander to the “gluten scare” propaganda. And that’s what bothers me about it: the bullshit.



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  • 19
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    … Pentheus, who I fear is quite a boring chap.

    Yes, being torn apart by one’s own family does tend to put a damper on one’s good spirits.



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  • I’m overweight because I eat too much. One way I pecan become healthier is to look at the picture above thus article every time I’m tempted by food. The queasiness the green sludge pouring out of that jar induces will surely do the trick.

    The message both here and in the Guardian comments section is that being and staying healthy does not require us to part with lots of money, damn there goes my excuse.



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  • Can not pecan, some kind of Freudian slip and inability to edit.
    Unless pecans are the new magic food that will cure all known diseases, bring about world peace and detoxify the bottom drawer in my desk.



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  • 22
    bonnie says:

    There is a ten minute window for editing/deleting, just below a post – ‘click to edit’ in blue.

    A friendly dispute over the pronunciation of pecan here in the states – peeecan vs. pehCAHN.

    Once saw a mechanical pecan shaker relieve the tree of its treasure in a matter of minutes. Walnuts are in my desk drawer, but I am horribly digressing, (just another comment from the peanut gallery).



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  • 24
    Steven says:

    I was sort of with you until you wrote that a cold dip, bucket or shower would “help accelerate detoxification.” Like the OP says, what are the toxins that are being eliminated on an accelerated basis from the body? How are they measured before and after so that we can quantify the effect of the dip/bucket/shower?



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  • No need to be embarrassed IMO, just because one person misread your post and challenged it… You are accurate in what you posted…a sauna helps us sweat more, and sweating is a primary way of excretion of wastes…which if built up would be toxic…



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  • Just as water is a poison (if you find yourself in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean – hey, give me some leeway here before we go into definitions), so to some extent all food is “toxic”. Organisms ingest and digest; some chemicals taken in we can use, the rest we hopefully excrete, some have deleterious consequences based on our genetically defined chemical pathways.

    Some people have genuine problems with certain food groups – that’s why the product information says “contains wheat/milk/egg” etc etc. Wheat is high in fructans, amongst other things, that can have unpleasant effects for some people. I am one of these people.

    Textured Soy is high in oxalic acid, as is raw spinach, which binds with all sorts of handy nutrients. Raw spinach you don’t want to make a major part of your diet, or kidney stones will come stabbing way sooner than you think. Counter-intuitively, raw spinach may also make you anaemic.

    Wheat has been hugely changed, generation on generation. If not for the work of Norman Borlaug et al in the 50s, global wheat yield would be way lower, and global starvation way higher. The wheat we eat now is not the wheat we evolved with. Many humans with Asian heritage have problems digesting milk. Indeed, for the rest of us, the cow milk we drink is not the milk we evolved with, say 8000 years ago.

    For the 1% who are Coeliac, gluten is naaaasty. But there is mounting evidence for some sort of gluten sensitivity in a wider spectrum of people. And to be more precise, it is the prolamines glutenin and gliadin, and avenin (in oats) that appear to be problematic for some.

    So… food is complex. Yes, there is marketing. Yes, there are gullible fools. Yes, I get a pain in my chest and worry it is a heart attack, then find it is really just indigestion – so who is the fool? Until my digestion gave up the ghost, I pitied the inhabitants of dodgy internet pages desperately seeking relief from their symptoms. Now I find that I, too, am one of them. I just refrain from making conclusions without solid evidence.

    But back to detoxing… yes, the language use is faulty!… And now, I’m going to have a glass of wine…



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  • 31
    John Gohde says:

    Maybe you cannot “detox your body,” but your Body certainly detoxifies itself. Splitting hairs over verbiage is largely a waste of time. In short, I help my body detoxify ALL the time. Now, you guys can simply deal with my choice of verbiage.



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  • I believe that when you eat healthy foods, breathe pure air, drink water, get sunshine, keep well rested, exercise, and keep fit mentally/spiritually, your body will work as it has been designed to do to purify/purge impurities it is exposed to as we live our lives. Some times, either from abuse, genetics, disease, or other factors, the body just cannot rid itself of toxins and begins to deteriorate. There are practices that do seem to help different individuals and I believe there to be some truth in many of these. It is unfortunate, however, that some have found fortune in making claims to have found the “cure-all” tonic or supplement. The following article seems to be well documented and explain how the body rids itself of toxins. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mark-hyman/detox-tips_b_1289488.html



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  • 34
    carolyn says:

    actually dr oz and dr davis are both doctors with real conventional medical training so you can leave off the “” “”
    you may not like them and you may not like what they say and perhaps you feel they’ve compromised themselves by becoming “celebrities” but “Dr Oz has been a professor at the Department of Surgery at Columbia University since 2001.[13] He directs the Cardiovascular Institute and Complementary Medicine Program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.[14] His research interests include heart replacement surgery, minimally invasive cardiac surgery, and health care policy”
    this position predates his television career.
    since you know it all, let me tell you that there is something called “gluten sensitivity” that falls short of full blown Celiac disease. you may call it bullshit but remember that thousands of actual Celiacs were misdiagnosed or told that they were crazy until the medical community came around and “discovered” a real condition that other healing modalities had long recognized.
    i have no idea if i have gluten sensitivity or not. i’ve never been tested. i do know that i have asthma and that it was getting worse over the years and required more and higher doses of medication to keep in check.
    i also know that many people told me to give up wheat and i poo pooed them. finally in desperation, i gave up wheat (all grains for that matter). it will be two years this february and i have taken the amount of medication in almost two years that i normally took in 2 months.
    placebo? i don’t think so. i know when i’m gasping for air.
    was wheat a “toxin” for me? do i have a mild wheat “allergy”- who knows? maybe it wasn’t the wheat at all but one of the other many grains i gave up.
    all i know is that i breathe better and i hardly ever need medication and who can argue with that?
    one more thing- in Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s 1825 book The Physiology of Taste, he remarked (i’m paraphrasing here) sure, go ahead, eat all those cakes and cookies and things made of flour and die fat and ugly and asthmatic
    he knew back in 1825 that flour had something to do with asthma. our modern doctors have unlearned it because they are only taught to reach for drugs as the first line of attack. high time to take off our western medical blinders and look at the whole world of knowledge out there. it all has it’s place



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  • Actually everyone needs to read more carefully, OP included. OP gave 3 steps, but referenced 4. “…the first two go without saying”; “…the third helps to..”; “…and the last…”. This is why you are confused. What OP vaguely described is the last step. Sure a cold shower can make you feel refreshed, but the reason people like athletes jump into ice buckets, or do cryotherapy, is to pull the blood from the extremities and into the core, essentially halting inflammation. OP is not describing it correctly if they intend to explain this functionality.



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  • I think it’s because Stafford wrote about a 3 step system and then referenced 4 steps in the breakdown, if I’m not mistaken. I’m not trying to embarrass you Stafford; everyone makes mistakes. There should at least be an edit function. You can always reply and clarify what you meant.



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  • Do you have a source for your claims about spinach causing anemia? If you are extrapolating that from the idea that oxalaic acid inhibits the body from absorbing some metals, than I would like to see the evidence, as reputable health websites recommend spinach for its iron content, to avoid anemia. Also, if what you say were true, it wouldn’t be counterintuitive. You should remember as well that so many foods contain oxalaic acid, from chard to almonds to kale. Many foods contain compounds that can be harmful in the right amounts or over time, but they are also very important for their antcancerous and antiandrogenic properties. It’s good to be informed of the potential negatives, but it’s irresponsible to explain it in this fashion.

    Also of note, more mature plants apparently have more oxalaic acid, so switching to baby spinach/kale etc. may be a good alternative if you are concerned about levels.



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  • 39
    carolyn says:

    gee, too bad for all those chinese acupuncturists who have been doing lymphatic massage for only the past 2000 years. so happy that “modern” science has debunked them in an instant. i guess all those people who were helped will just have to suck up and act sick again.

    as we all know, if it doesn’t come out of a pharmaceutical bottle, it can’t be feel- yeah, sure!



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  • 40
    carolyn says:

    i think that some people have difficulty with oxalaic acid and those people must take extra care. here’s what dr andrew weill says about it

    Oxalic acid is a natural product found in spinach and some other plant foods including rhubarb. (Levels are so high in rhubarb leaves that we don’t eat them – they’re poisonous). It imparts a sharp taste to beet greens and chard that I don’t like, especially in older leaves. Concentrations of oxalic acid are pretty low in most plants and plant-based foods, but there’s enough in spinach, chard and beet greens to interfere with the absorption of the calcium these plants also contain. For example, although the calcium content of spinach is 115 mg per half cup cooked, because of the interference of oxalic acid, you would have to eat more than 16 cups of raw or more than eight cups of cooked spinach to get the amount of calcium available in one cup of yogurt.
    However, the oxalic acid in vegetables is broken down in cooking and doesn’t interfere with the absorption of calcium present in other foods, cheese for instance, that you might eat at the same time. Calcium is available from many other food sources – in addition to yogurt, cheese and milk, it is also found in a wide variety of fortified foods including orange juice, soy milk and cereals.
    I certainly wouldn’t avoid spinach or other leafy greens because of the oxalic acid effect. Spinach has a lot to offer nutritionally: it’s an excellent source of folic acid, potassium and magnesium, as well as vitamin K, carotenes, vitamin C and lutein, important for healthy eyes.
    As far as calcium is concerned, I recommend that women aim for a total daily calcium intake of 1,000-1,200 mg per day from all sources, including supplements of 500 to 700 mg of calcium citrate in two divided doses taken with meals. For men, I now suggest aiming for 500 mg from all sources, and unless they are getting almost no calcium from food, men should not supplement with calcium – high intake has been linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer.




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  • carolyn Dec 12, 2014 at 11:02 am

    gee, too bad for all those chinese acupuncturists who have been doing lymphatic massage for only the past 2000 years. so happy that “modern” science has debunked them in an instant. i guess all those people who were helped will just have to suck up and act sick again.

    Nobody said massage and physio, do not improve mobility or make people feel better. But claims which do not stand up to objective testing are failures or just placebos, which discourage people who wishfully believe in then, from seeking effective treatments.

    Chinese “traditional” practitioners have also been feeding clients toxic herbs in unmeasurable doses for many years – as more recent analysis shows.



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  • 42
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    @Carolyn:

    First of all, sorry it took me so long to reply to your post. But I couldn’t let this pass (whether you read it or not is not important to me).

    Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s 1825 book The Physiology of Taste, he remarked (i’m paraphrasing here) sure, go ahead, eat all those cakes and cookies and things made of flour and die fat and ugly and asthmatic
    he knew back in 1825 that flour had something to do with asthma.

    First of all, Brillat-Savarin was a lawyer and a politician whose hobby was gastronomy. He was not a physician (although I will concede that physicians in those days were largely ignorant because the sciences of biology and medicine were in their infancy but still…). Most of all, he was not a scientist and his methodology was by no way scientific or empirical by nature.

    You accuse me of being a “know-it-all” and then claim that B-S (note: Brillat-Savarin, not bullshit) knew “that flour had something to do with asthma”. I hope you can see the irony of it and the fact that your statement is not one assumption but the juxtaposition of two assumptions: you assume that you know that B-S knew that (white) flour causes asthma. In fact, the inclusion of the word asthma in his sentence may be merely incidental and B-S himself may not even be saying that he thinks flour consumption is related to asthma. So your claim is actually quite a leap of faith.

    As far as I can tell, there is no correlation between the consumption of white flour and asthma. It is reasonable however to speculate that breathing flour dust may be a cause of asthma for people who work full-time in a bakery or even worse, in a flour mill. Now if you have some solid evidence that eating flour causes asthma, I’d love to see it.

    …our modern doctors have unlearned it because they are only taught to reach for drugs as the first line of attack. high time to take off our western medical blinders and look at the whole world of knowledge out there. it all has it’s place.

    Yes the good old notion that “doctors have unlearned” things and that ancient civilizations knew way more things about human physiology and pharmacology than we do now… This is exactly the kind of mentality that leads people to believe in pseudo-scientific quackery like acupuncture, Reiki, Chakras and Chinese traditional medicine (which BTW is responsible for the black market of rhino horns and their near-extinction as a species).

    I know something about “Western” doctors letting you down. Guess what… They did it to me too. But scientific medicine (Western medicine) is not the culprit. Don’t blame the medicine, blame the doctor!! And in this case, doctors like Dr. Oz (see?… I omitted the quotes just like you instructed), are especially to blame. His impressive credentials makes him even more a “putain”. He had a brilliant research career ahead of him and he gave it all up for the Holy Green… lots and lots of if.

    The root of the problem with many physicians nowadays is that even though their training is based on evidence-based scientific knowledge, very many of those doctors do not practice medicine with a scientific mindset.

    They don’t apply the scientific method of critical thinking and skeptical enquiry and THAT is why so many of them SUCK at properly diagnosing and treating illness.



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  • That sounds awesome! I’m going on a road trip from Houston to Vancouver next week, then coming back thru Vegas & Denver. Am I going to pass this awesome system of yours? Haha 😀



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