This time of year, many people are embarking on a new diet, eating plan, or potentially even a “detox.” While the desired effects are usually feeling better, getting healthier, and maybe even losing weight, one British woman’s experience with an all-natural detox was anything but healthy. In a new case study published in BMJ Case Reports, the doctors who treated her explained her somewhat unusual and slightly worrying case. (Here, find out the truth about detox teas.)
The woman who was admitted to the hospital had been doing a harmless-seeming detox that involved drinking more fluids than normal, taking herbal remedy supplements, and drinking herbal teas, the doctors say. She was healthy and fit before starting the detox, but shortly afterward, she started showing symptoms that later led to more serious ones, like involuntary teeth grinding, excessive thirst, confusion, and repetitiveness. After she was admitted, she began experiencing seizures. Seriously scary stuff.
So what was the cause behind all of this? Doctors soon realized that the woman was suffering from hyponatremia, a condition where there’s a much lower level than normal of sodium in the blood. Hyponatremia is usually caused by drinking too much water (around 10 liters per day for a week), but it didn’t appear that she had been drinking quite that much on her detox. After doing some research, they discovered a similar case that involved one of the supplements the woman had been taking: Valerian root. (FYI, here’s more on what happens when you drink too much water.)
Valerian root is often used as a natural sleep aid and is a common ingredient in herbal supplement blends. While the doctors couldn’t be sure that it was the reason for the severe hyponatremia, they believe it could be related since neither the woman they were treating nor the man in the previous case had been drinking enough fluids to cause such extreme effects.
The takeaway of the case report: “Valerian root has now been suspected in two cases associated with severe, life-threatening hyponatremia and health-care professionals should be vigilant to this,” the authors say. “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.” Unfortunately, it’s possible to really overdo it on the “cleansing” and cause major health problems in the process. The authors also warn that although marketing may suggest otherwise, all-natural products sometimes have side effects. So when choosing a detox plan or supplement regimen, it’s a good idea to discuss it with your doctor beforehand, as they’ll be able to fill you in on any potential risks or warning signs to look out for. After all, these plans are meant to make you healthier, not sicker.