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Investigation after Belgian woman dies during detox treatment

Detox drink
14:30 12/04/2022

A 35-year-old Belgian woman died in the Netherlands after undergoing a detox treatment, according to various media reports. 

The Public Prosecutor's Office in the Netherlands confirmed it was conducting an investigation – including a toxicological examination – into the death of a Belgian woman after a detox treatment in the Dutch village of Heesselt. 

The woman underwent the treatment on 27 March, but afterwards became unwell and was then put to bed, where she died a few hours later. It’s still unclear what treatment was involved.

The police are investigating why she died and whether a crime was committed. A woman who was reported to have been with her at the time of the incident was detained for several days, according to Het Laatste Nieuws.

The Dutch regional newspaper De Gelderlander said that two people had been arrested in the house where the woman had died, although both were later allowed to return home pending further investigation. They were reported to be the occupant of the property and a woman with no fixed residence.

The woman who died had apparently undertaken a number of detox cures and this was the third time she visited the practice in Heesselt. She was buried in Belgium on Saturday, and the investigation is expected to take several months.

Detoxing can be dangerous for health

Detoxes – often marketed as a way to lose weight or cure illnesses – are becoming increasingly popular thanks to celebrity endorsements. But medical professionals warn that they are often ineffective or can be damaging to your health. 

Detoxifications can take the form of a diet of juices or tea or involve ingesting laxatives or substances like activated carbon. 

“Detoxing is not necessary at all,” Ann Meulemans, professor of human nutrition at the KU Leuven, told De Standaard.

“The liver and kidneys do a fine job of eliminating all the substances we want to get rid of through stools and urine.”

There is little point in 'stimulating' the liver to be more active, she says, and fasting will not do that anyway, as it sends the organ into rest mode.

There is no scientific evidence that detoxing works, and studies that reported favourable effects are described as inadequate.

“A weekend of feasting on juices does not normally kill anyone,” said professor of nutritional biology Renger Witkamp from Wageningen University in the Netherlands. 

“There is a placebo effect at work here. After a weekend with lots of exercise and being outdoors, you feel better.”

But detoxification cures can also go wrong, for example, when certain herbs or substances are consumed: “When you take clay or activated carbon, you are probably doing more harm than good,” said Meulemans.

Allergic reactions and potentially dangerous interactions with medicines can also occur. 

“People with underlying conditions, such as diabetes, or who are undergoing serious treatment should therefore be very careful with these kinds of cures,” said Meulemans, adding that if in doubt, people should consult their GP.


Written by Helen Lyons