Being Modern: January detox


Blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm. Now, we know that's not what you want to be reading on a New Year's Day hangover, but that's what a lot of our Januarys will be based around, so don't go getting light-headed on us now.

To explain: those are the four humors – or the four bodily fluids if that conjures up a more graphic image for you – that affect our behaviour, making us sanguine, choleric, melancholic or phlegmatic if they are out of balance.

The theory was first posited by the Greek physician Hippocrates and was elaborated upon by the Roman philosopher-surgeon Galen. Not exactly modern, then. And, you might well say, what a load of nonsense – as if the lack of moisture in our mouths has anything to do with how miserable we feel rather than the gallon of alcohol we drank watching fireworks at midnight.

But what is modern is how we've adapted these theories. For while, by the early 20th century, it was only quacks who were still prescribing humor-related remedies, we've more recently rather adopted the idea as our own, "alternative" treatments. Not in the way they used to, of course, what with leeches and the like. Eurgh! Leeches! Yep, leeches. No, we don't use them any more. Not unless we're Bear Grylls. But we do have colonic hydrotherapy, don't we? We do, you say, if we're desperate to be in the public eye – eh, Richard Blackwood and your Celebrity Detox Camp chums?

OK, so we don't have colonics. But what about those quick fixes splashed all over the glossies? The ones that claim to detox us, but which scientists debunk as a waste of money – not least foot baths that use electrical currents to remove toxins via the feet, or hologram bracelets. And let's not even start on magnet therapy. Or how about those who suggest we drink only water spiked with lemon juice? Even Beyoncé got taken in by that one. That's not detoxing; that's starving.

Now, we're not saying you shouldn't make a resolution to be healthy this year. But surely the best advice would be not to get into that cycle of binge and purge in the first place.