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Matters of research

The food spas serve – and how it’s prepared and cooked – can help with detox too


Professor of complementary medicine, RMIT University


etox needs to be ingrained in the DNA of a company. Firstly, that means not toxifying your customers more –be conscious

about the use of petrochemicals in per- sonal care products, the water [used in pools and for drinking] and the quality of food. It’s already happening in some spas, but not many. There’s only half a dozen luxury spas worldwide, including Chiva-Som, Rancho La Puerta, Kama- laya, Como Shambhala and Gwinganna serving all-organic food: it’s hard to offer consistently and it’s expensive. The people who are seeking detox are

paying a lot for it and are generally highly educated. So, if a spa claims to specialise in detox and offers highly processed or non-organic food and drink then the clients will see right through it. As the need for more detox spas spreads and more facilities crop up in urban areas, air quality will need to be addressed also. Savvy managers will tailor solutions for local concerns like these by offering havens for clean air and treatments such as oxygen therapy. There are two main principles spas can

stick to when choosing treatments. The fi rst is to prevent toxicity to begin with. The second is ensuring fl ow and move- ment of toxins through the body. This involves supporting all the processes of elimination including the function of the liver, kidneys, bowels, lungs and sweat glands. Treatments that increase circula- tion without increasing the production of metabolic waste products, such as a sauna or hot tub session or lymph drain- age massage are fantastic because they

Spa Business 1 2014 ©Cybertrek 2014

help to fl ush out the body. Exfoliation of dead skin cells is a good thing, as is anything that supports regular bowel movement – whether you go to the extent colonics or just eat a healthy, high fi bre diet. Ayurvedic medicine, particularly the fi ve-stage cleansing process pancha- karma, is one of the only proven ways of removing fat soluable toxins, with research being performed in a spa rather than a hospital or clinic (see p38). Detox is not just something you do for

an hour, it’s a lifestyle. Ideally a spa would be able to accommodate customers over days or weeks and educate them on how to reproduce the experience at home. The challenge for the spa industry is to integrate this expert knowledge into a specifi c service as any area of detox could be a specialist fi eld in its own right. Opera- tors should begin with self-education and making it relevant to their own market. But they should avoid anything that’s out of their range of competency. Offering serious detox in spas is going to be a learning curve – we still even don’t know the best way to provide low-toxic food and air to a population as the area is so under-researched. The spa industry has a leadership role to play in this and it could serve as a catalyst for the whole global industry to move towards a more sustainable, toxin-free planet.

Cohen is one of Australia’s pioneers of integrative and holistic medicine and has made signifi cant impacts on its education, research, clinical practice and policy in the country. Details:

n obstacle spas face in offering detox is the lack of evidence that it works. Marc Cohen, professor of complementary medicine at

RMIT University in Australia is tackling this head on by co-ordinating more than 20 stud- ies at lifestyle retreats such as Gwinganna in Queensland. The studies focus on how eating organic food can help to reduce toxins. In Iowa, USA, The Raj spa (see p38) is

used as a testbed for federal-funded research looking at how meditation and ayurveda helps to detox the mind and body and prevent a number of diseases. Details of studies are on its website:

Moving forwards, Cohen “would love to see global standards for recording data in spas” to enable

them to carry out their own credible investigations

Moving forwards, Cohen “would love to see global standards for recording data in spas” to enable them to carry out their own credible investigations. Some tests research- ers are using may soon be accessible to spa consumers. Innovative online assessments, such as those provided by, can measure the role of toxins in dulling cognitive function. Meanwhile, tests by can analyse bacteria in the gut and determine your ‘enterotype’– via a stool sample – for as little as US$90 (€66, £54). Cohen says this is signifi cant as “we’re only just discovering that the bacteria lining in your gut is an important factor in the absorption of many toxins.” What’s really going to open up the possibili-

ties to spas, however, is customer recorded data thanks to the increasing number of sophisticated biometric measuring devices that can record a range of data from heart rate and blood pressure to oxygen consumption and environmental pollution levels. Cohen concludes: “If spas can demonstrate that their services can educate people and positively impact on such measures, then they could be viewed as offering an essential health service rather than merely a pamper- ing, luxury experience. ”

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