JAN 04, 2017 2:08 PM PST

Diagnosed: New Year Detox Scheme Lands Woman in ER

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

For those people who are considering a DIY new year detox or cleanse, a recent medical case report should serve as strong caution against these radical methods.

"Patients should be advised of the potential detriment done to their health of undertaking a new year 'detox,' especially if it involves consuming excessive amounts of fluid or alternative remedies," the report said.

In the study, doctors reported the case of a 47-year-old woman who landed in the emergency room after reportedly self-administering a detox treatment. The patient appeared to have signs of cognitive impairment, showing confusion and disorientation. She also had abnormal shifts in her behavior, and also collapsed and suffered a seizure.

Upon analyzing her lab test results, doctors noted that her sodium levels were dangerously low. In fact, they diagnosed her with hyponatremia- a condition where the body’s salt levels are abnormally low, usually resulting from drinking too much water in a short amount of time.  

Further investigation revealed that the patient had taken a concoction of herbal remedies along with a substantially large quantity of liquids. The herbals she ingested included milk thistle, molkosan, l-theanine, glutamine, vitamin B compound, vervain, sage tea, green tea and valerian root.

While any one of these herbs may be safe, doctors think the combination and the quantity that was ingested may have played a big role in the woman’s condition. Furthermore, they suspected that her hyponatremia may have been exacerbated by the combination of valerian root and excess fluids.

"Excessive water intake as a way of 'purifying and cleansing' the body is also a popular regime with the belief that harmful waste products can thus be washed from the body,” the authors wrote. However, people may not realize that  the reverse of dehydration – when the body has too much water – can also be lethal. "Being well-hydrated is a sensible strategy, but drinking too much water can be as dangerous as not drinking enough.

The doctors hypothesized that while the woman didn’t drink enough water to have brought on the hyponatremia alone, ingesting valerian root may have helped catalyze the hyponatremia process.

The patient recovered well after treatment. But doctors hope making light of experiences like these will deter others from potentially making the same mistakes. It’s great to aspire for better health at the new year (or any time, really), but a radical herbal detox may not be the solution. In fact, this approach may do more damage. To get on track with your health, doctors simply advise to practice the age-old wisdom of sensible diet and exercise.


Additional sources: BBC, Live Science

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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