In the same family we have 'gallbladder flushes', 'intestinal cleanses', etc. The process of the 'flush' generally consists of a few days of juice diet followed by drinking a large quantity of oil and something acidic (eg lemon juice/vinegar). If vomiting hasn't occurred, the health-seeker will then pass, it is claimed, 'gallstones'. Although it is possible for people to do these things without commercial help, we see companies charging vast amounts for products/programmes built around these practices.
We also see people recommending the eating of 'bentonite clay', which, it is claimed, will free 'mucoid plaque' (and photo's of what is claimed to be 'mucoid plaque' are presented to horrify us all - yes, surely 'better out than in'!)
In this article, I'm going to draw together information from various sources that I hope will persuade anyone tempted to part with their money, or even simply to carry out such 'cleanses' themselves, that they are nothing more than 'snake oil' - quack remedies.
John MacDougall MD: 'Many people believe this alternative therapy really works, but the 'gallbladder flush' is a myth.'
Raw food leader Frederic Patenaude: 'I believe this is one of the biggest scams running in the alternative health movement.'
I will also freely admit that a 'liver flush' was certainly on my 'to do' list in my first year of raw, and know lots of intelligent, savvy people who have been persuaded to do them. It's only because I'm an insatiable internet researcher (OK, and perhaps a natural sceptic!) that I discovered that these 'flushes' were not quite what they purported to be, and I share the results of my findings, conclusions and suggestions with you here.
I also feel that, probably, most of the people recommending them (and selling them) do genuinely believe in them themselves, and have others' interests at heart.
I will explain how I do believe that people do experience feelings of well-being on the 'flushes', and how the days spent on them can indeed change people's lives for the better, BUT that these phenonema are either the result of deception OR due to good things associated with, or that lead from, the experience of the flushes. If that doesn't sound clear, and I realise it may not, please read on.
I'll be discussing most the 'flushes' which have the common element of a juice diet for a few days, followed by drinking a cup (at least - often much more) of olive oil and a cup of lemon juice (or anything acidic, eg vinegar) over a few hours. Variations include ingestion of magnesium sulphate, herbs etc. I'll comment more briefly on 'cleanses' that involve eating clay.
I'll include quotes from raw food leaders, and also evidence from medics (some overlap between the two groups).
'THE XXX FLUSH IS FANTASTIC - I EXPELLED HUNDREDS OF GALLSTONES!'
Dr Douglas Graham (in Fresh Network 'Raw - Your Biggest Questions Answered'): 'The oils consumed are saponified by the body, meaning they turn into little beads that have a soap-like quality. True gallstones are made of either calcium or cholesterol, or a combination of the two. The 'stones' that are passed following a 'gallbladder flush' (sometimes called a 'liver flush') are no more than the oil consumed the previous day, saponified. If these 'stones' are left on the dashboard of a car in the sun, or any other warm spot, they will melt back into oil. The green and brown colouration in the stones is due to the presence of bile salts.'
Thomas Lodi, MD (also in FN book as above): 'When the stones that are passed after a 'gallbladder flush' are examined, they are not found to contain cholesterol, bile pigments, bile salts, calcium or any other constituents of gallstones, but rather residues from the oil ingested.'
(Note that Graham and Lodi differ on whether bile is present. I have heard people describe the 'stones' as very foul-smelling, and indeed bile is foul-smelling - bitter, sour, sulphurous.)
Frederic Patenaude: 'Here's what a pathologist has to say on the topic. The 'recipe' he's referring to is the gallbladder flush: 'Real gallstones are faceted polyhedra. What you'll get from the recipe are spheres. One of my correspondents describes a friend who saved the sphere and displayed them to his friends. Real gallstones hurt bad when they pass through the cystic and common bile ducts. Real gallstones sink in water. (As an autopsy pathologist, I'm very familiar with this.) The 'gallstones' you'll produce from this recipe will float, as the 'alternative thinkers' themselves point out. They claim that real gallstones float, too. Liars.' (Source: http://www.pathguy.com/)
Christian Sies (The Lancet, Apr 16, 2005): 'A 40-year-old patient with many 1-2mm gallstones underwent a 'liver cleansing' with apple and vegetable juice, followed by 600 ml of olive oil and 300 ml of lemon juice, taken over several hours. She painlessly passed semisolid green 'stones' with her stool. She brought them to her doctor, who examined them under a microscope and found no crystalline structures (as would be seen in an actual gallstone). Heating to 40 degree C for 10 minutes caused the 'stones' to melt. Analysis showed they contained no cholesterol, bilirubin, or calcium (like a real stone might have). Chemical analysis found the 'stones' were fat globules mostly from the olive oil. The investigators next made similar balls that looked like stones in their lab by mixing olive oil and lemon juice and then drying the mixture. Sometime later, the actual stones, which were made of cholesterol, were removed from the woman's gallbladder by a surgeon.'
Peter Moran, MB, BS, BSc (Med): 'The stones are merely bile-stained 'soaps' produced by partial saponification (soap formation) of the oil. A recent demonstration found that mixing equal volumes of oleic acid (the major component of olive oil) and lemon juice produced several semi-solid white balls after a small volume of potassium hydroxide solution was added. After air-drying at room temperature, these balls became quite solid and hard. When formed in the intestine, these objects absorb bile and become green. It has also been shown that red dye will appear in the interior of the 'stones' if consumed with the oil.'
Moran has also used ultrasound images showing the movement through the gallbladder of real gallstones to demonstrate that these 'stones' are not gallstones. He also points out that gallstones sink, and the 'stones' float. He adds: 'Supporters of the flushes claim that although some kinds of stones sink in water, cholesterol stones, being composed of lighter material, will float. That's not true. Cholesterol stones can display some buoyancy while in the gallbladder, but only by floating between the older, concentrated bile lying in the lowest part of the gallbladder and the fresher, less concentrated bile above.' (In other words - not in the toilet!).
So the 'gallstones' people have been so overjoyed to be 'free of' are simply spheres the body has created to deal with all the oil drunk!
EATING CLAY ('MUCOID PLAQUE')
As I've just shown that the evidence of 'cure' in 'liver flushes' is simply the result of ingesting the ingredients of the 'cleanse' itself, I'll show how similar applies with 'cleanses' involving the eating of clay.
The manufacturers claim that this frees the body of 'mucoid plaque'.
Is there such a thing as 'mucoid plaque'?
Dao Earl: 'No, and that has been proven by colonoscopy.
Dr Doug Graham: 'I have spoken to over a dozen surgeons that specialise in intestinal surgery..never once has any of them seen evidence of mucoid plaque.'
Frederic Patenaude: 'Practising physicians have dismissed the concept of mucoid plaque as a hoax. A pathologist at the University of Texas School of Medicine said that he has 'seen several thousand intestinal biopsies and never seen any 'mucoid plaque'.
What is it that comes out of people after these 'cleanses'?
Here's a forum contribution from someone who tried such a 'cleanse' (sorry - I have no name, so if you're reading, please let me know who you are!):
'I am currently on day four of the XXX herbs cleanse, and I have been producing stuff that looks like the 'mucoid plaque' described, for the past two days. I started this cleanse very hopeful and open minded. However, doubts have been creeping in, actually since the 'mucoid plaque' stuff has been coming out. This morning, about three hours ago, I mixed a sachet of the toxin absorber, which is basically psyllium husk and bentonite clay, in a little water and have let it sit. It is now exactly the consistency of the 'mucoid plaque' that I have been producing. This has convinced me it is a scam, to be honest. As far as I can see, the toxin absorber (bentonite clay) doesn't shift the plaque - it IS the plaque. It's right here, before my eyes, in this cup. I've decided not to continue with the cleanse. I'm feeling very bunged up and crampy today, and if I thought it was actual mucoid plaque shifting, I wouldn't mind, but I feel like I've just clogged myself up with clay.'
From raw food nutritionist Adam: 'I think the reason the photo's look convincing is because you take the average three-heavy-meals-a-day person whose elimination system moves pretty slowly. Get them to fast for a few days while taking the mucus-lookalike-producing sachets and then start eliminating what seems like tons of accumulated waste, whereas it's probably just last week's dinner plus the sachets. Fear sells. People don't always listen to those who 'make sense' because our whole financial system is based upon marketing (fake) 'solutions' for people's (fake) 'problems'.
Dr Doug Graham: '...if you eat clay, the clay must come back out of you. It combines with the mucus in your intestinal tract [by the way, he also says that the psyllium itself, as an irritant, would form mucus], forming a sludge. Wet clay is excellent for modelling, and readily takes on the shape of its container. Hence, when photo's are taken of the clay inside the intestines, it can appear to look like plaque. When it comes out of the body, it can look like old faecal matter. But it is no more than the clay you ate the day before. It seems people are very easily fooled. Almost, it seems, they want to be fooled.'
EDIT - I recently came across an excellent article on 'mucoid plaque', written in 2004, here.
SO WHY DO PEOPLE OFFER TESTIMONIALS TO 'LIVER FLUSHES', SAYING THAT THEY CHANGED THEIR LIVES?
(I'm returning to 'liver flushes' here, but some of the following would also apply to the 'eating clay' products.)
Because, in many cases, they did experience very pleasant feelings - physically and/or psychologically during the 'flush', and the days spent 'liver flushing' did change their lives, in a positive way, often hugely.
I'll suggest a few reasons why these things could occur:
When we ingest something toxic, there is a stimulant effect. The body goes on 'red alert', 'all systems go', marshalling all its resources to cope with, fight, eliminate the invader. That's why we feel stimulated initially (with 'pay-back' later...) when we ingest drugs such as tobacco, alcohol, coffee etc (and to some extent cooked food).
Oil is a fractionated substance that our bodies are fine with when it comes as part of nature's package, ie within whole foods, not so fine with when we have it alone, eg as a salad dressing, and VERY not fine with when we drink a whole cup (or more) of it! Fractionated, unnatural substances in large quantities are toxic, and our bodies will respond accordingly. The enormous energy that the body will muster as its systems rally to cope with all that oil will certainly feel stimulating and may even result in a euphoric 'high'. This can be very pleasurable, and will of course ensure that we make good associations with 'flushes' in memory. However, stimulant effects deceive.
I know what it's like in the first year of raw. We're pretty much on a 'high' anyway, and feel tremendously excited trying out all sorts of things! We're going to feel quite enthusiastic about doing the 'flush', be thinking quite positively, and, when we act 'as if' we're feeling good...we often do feel good! Also, if we've just paid £100 for the privilege, we will want to feel we're feeling good, and persuade ourselves that we are!!
If we believe the 'stones' are 'gallstones' we're going to be very elated when we see these things come out of our bottom! Closely related to the placebo effect.
Natural Hygienist Herbert Shelton: 'As the excess of oil has a laxative effect, the victim of this form of charlatanry and humbuggery often receives temporary relief from abdominal distress. This relief convinces them, also, that their 'stones' have passed.'
The juice-only diet in the days preceding the drinking of oil will in itself have a very positive effect on wellbeing, giving the body a much-needed digestive rest and freeing up energy for detoxification. Just two days freed from the standard diet (or in fact the digestion of any solid food) is a treat for the body.
Introduction to raw food
Often people who try these 'flushes' may, through trying them and similar 'treatments', stumble upon raw food sites, which of course are the real life-changers! (I suppose if I thought that every person on a standard cooked diet having a 'liver flush' would then discover and follow the raw food diet, I'd be saying 'Viva liver 'flushes'', but I'd also hope that they would soon discover articles such as this, and realise that, while they may have been part of an interesting journey to raw food, it's time now to give them the boot!)
LONG TERM USE OF 'LIVER FLUSHES'
I doubt there's any long-term problem caused by doing these things once or twice. A raw food diet can enable the body to bounce back from the various indignities we've subjected it to in the fast.
But I am concerned for those who do them over and over again, who haven't realised that they are fake 'remedies', and have become addicted to the short-term feelings (as described above) of well-being experienced on them.
I remember someone who had done several 'flushes', asking, if the flushes are fake, why after repeated 'cleanses', do fewer 'stones' come out?
Here's a Natural Hygiene explanation of why that might be. When our bodies first encounter a toxin, they will, if reasonably vital, react quickly and dramatically to deal with it. The most vital bodies will vomit out the oil, but the less vital will saponify the oil into balls to expel it. However, as with any toxin, the more we have, the more our bodies will be 'worn down' into 'tolerating' increasingly frequent doses of it, but at great price to our long-term health. Therefore, the ability of the body to quarantine up the oil into little balls will reduce with each flush. This will be enervating to the system, not to mention increasing the amount of fat in our bodies as the body is less able to expel, thereby increasing the chances of our getting real gallstones!
Drinking oil is not a good thing to do. Peter Moran, quoted earlier, has also said in his explanation of why 'liver flushes' are fake, that it is possible that a large oily meal (eg the flush) could stimulate strong gallbladder contraction and that a real gallstone might be expelled amongst all the fake ones.
(This sort of thinking is allied to the idea that if a herbal concoction promotes vomiting, or diarrhoea, or weeing, it is 'cleansing'. Natural Hygiene says that the vomiting, diarrhoea, and/or weeing is simply due to the body's efforts to expel the toxic irritant concoction itself and not 'healing' in any way, and is traumatic and enervating for the body.)
Also, Peter Moran says that even if the ingredients of the 'flush' did stimulate contraction in this way, those who do actually have real gallstones often have impaired ability of the gallbladder to empty anyway. (I'm not sure what the solution is, but it would seem daft to ingest large quantities of fat - the reason for the problems in the first place - in a misguided attempt to 'kickstart' the gallbladder into action.) So, if you do have real gallstones, they're unlikely to come out in a 'flush', and, if you don't have them, as explained - what you're seeing the toilet bowl aren't gallstones.
HOW TO CLEANSE WITHOUT BUYING SO-CALLED 'FLUSHES/CLEANSES'
Just remove the cause of toxicity and your body will do what's necessary to clean up. All by itself.
Liver/gallbladder problems will be due to the standard cooked diet. Raw food teacher Natalia Rose: 'I never recommend using oils therapeutically - there are much better ways to cleanse the organs. The gallbladder cleanses as the whole system cleanses...If you know you have a liver or gall bladder problem [my italics] you know that's from too many cooked proteins and cooked fats - not just in the liver and gallbladder but throughout the body. So you'd want to take a Pritikin-type approach and not only cut out meats and dairy but also limit nuts, seeds, avocados and oils dramatically.'
Herbert Shelton: 'Gallstones, kidney stones, liver stones, pancreas stones, etc, result from perversion of metabolism. The real cure is to restore normal metabolism. Normal metabolism will dissolve the stones. The tendency of an excess of oil is to further impair metabolism. Such treatment does not do good, but may do considerable harm.'
THE TWO ELEMENTS OF 'LIVER FLUSHES' THAT DO TRANSFORM HEALTH, ALL BY THEMSELVES, ARE:
- Fasting (no food at all), or (not as good as fasting, but quite good) a juice diet. And to cover myself, if fasting for more than 24 hours, seek advice of suitably-qualified professional etc etc!
- Positive thinking
Please don't drink oil or eat clay.