Prince Charles' Herbal Products Stir Controversy

The Truth Behind Detox

One thing that is clear about detox, however, is that it is a lucrative concept. In a herbal and nutritional supplement industry that reaps an estimated $23 billion in sales in the United States each year, "detox" is the new hot-button term. Celebrities openly adhere to and advocate a variety of detox diets, while treatments that purport to cleanse blood, liver and bowels line the shelves of supplement stores throughout the country.

Blumenthal noted, though, that Prince Charles may have come about his advocacy of herbal products honestly.

"Prince Charles and his whole family have been using homeopathy for three generations," he said. "Prince Charles grew up in a family in which natural medicine was the norm."

Indeed, detoxification is far from a new idea; Blumenthal added that the basic concept of flushing unhealthy substances from the body goes back 150 years or more. And in its purest form, Lee said, it is not an unhealthy proposition.

Detox Is No 'Get-Out-of-Jail-Free' Card

"Detox is about changing the diet, eating good food," she said. "It's a matter of how we frame it."

But Blumenthal and Lee agreed that all too often, people view detox as a "get-out-of-jail-free" card for indulgence in unhealthy behaviors. And, occasionally, an ill-conceived detox plan can be even more unhealthy than the behaviors that spurred it.

"Depending on how extreme [a detox strategy] is, there can be risks of that kind of approach," Blumenthal said, citing, for instance, one well-known "cleanse" plan in which an individual consumes nothing but a mixture of water, lemon juice and maple syrup for days on end.

"For some people, this may be totally contraindicated," he said. "People need to apply these things with common sense."

And he said this argument may have been what prompted the comments from Ernst, who, incidentally, was the 2006 recipient of the American Botanical Council's Norman R. Farnsworth Botanical Research Award.

"What he is saying here is that the notion that people might be able to detox as an excuse to continue non-healthy lifestyles is the wrong idea," Blumenthal said.

Still, many medical scientists in the U.K. are using the comments to launch an all-out attack on detox. Tom Wells of the Voice of Young Science network, which includes more than 300 early-career medical researchers, issued a statement on the group's Web site that further chastised the prominent royal's involvement in the product line.

"It seems outrageous for companies to be making money selling meaningless products, but for the heir to the throne to be doing so, at 10 pounds a pop, is even more inappropriate," Wells' statement reads. "We'd like to see an end to detox products on the British high street, starting with Prince Charles' detox tincture."

Voice of Young Science network has underscored its position by distributing "Debunking Detox" leaflets in London in the past week.

Simply Detox or a Healthier Lifestyle?

Lee finds fault with an all-out war on detox, saying the medical community should strive to be more open to dialogue with patients and the botanical community about legitimate detox strategies.

A Growing Divide Between Doctors and Detoxers

"I don't think that you can use a tincture for activity at the level of pharmaceuticals, but certainly there are animal trials that suggest that there is some activity there," she said. "This is not an entirely unfounded claim."

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