A word (or two) about ionic footbaths

When I decided to develop a detox program at my office I had no idea that “detox” centers would spring up all around town like wildfire!

All these centers only offer so-called “ionic footbaths” and claim that these are a way to remove toxins from the body and reestablish health. Basically these footbaths use salt water in a small tub in which a mild electric charge is run between two metal electrodes. People put their feet in the tub and over a period of approximately thirty minutes the water changes color to a rusty brown, which is supposedly unquestionable evidence of toxins leaving the body. These centers appear to charge around $50 for each thirty-minute session although they run special offers.

Two things seemed strange to me right off the bat. First, that the feet would be a good conduit to detoxify the entire body. We know that the liver and the kidneys have the primary role of detoxifying the body. The skin can also do so, as for example in a sauna, but feet offer relatively little skin and are quite remote to areas where toxins might be stored.

Second, why would toxins in the body have this rusty color? I would have thought they might be mostly colorless, but if they had a color, then wouldn’t it be different for every person?

I checked out the website of one of these local centers. Their literature says that the program is “science based”, so I immediately checked out their science pages. The first one of these offers a “study” showing bathwater analysis. However, there is no explanation of how the study was performed, who were the participants, or anything else for that matter, just a series of almost illegible bar charts with no suggestion as to what they mean. OK, so I thought that maybe the next science page might be more informative.

However, it was only downhill from there as the remaining pages only offered “studies” performed using muscle testing or bio-meridian analysis, two clearly subjective methods. It’s pretty much like someone doing a study, but then using intuition instead of a lab test to find the results. Besides, I am sure that people will recognize that intuition (or muscle testing) can be swayed easily with the right type of incentive!

Next I went to the site of a manufacturer of these ionic footbath machines. It’s not that I was so impressed I wanted to buy a unit; I just wanted to see what type of studies they might be offering. Find the site here: http://www.aquadetox-international.com/research.html.

It seems that the manufacturer has a bit more at stake and doesn’t want to be caught making blatantly false statements, so on this site there is no mention of toxins coming out of the body and into the water. The best study I could find on this page is one that used a “heart rate variability indicator” (whatever that is) and showed that after the footbath people had less variability in heart rates. I got it: the bath helped them relax!

However, the idea of the water changing color was still bothering me. After searching around a bit I found that it bothered other people as well. Apparently these baths originated in England, but let’s not blame the British too quickly. It appears that the inventor of this machine has a mail-order degree as doctor of naturopathy (ND) from a US institution!

I found that the London newspaper The Guardian has a “bad science” editor (as opposed to a bad “science-editor,” of which we have many outstanding examples right here at home). Apparently it didn’t take this “bad science” guy long to figure out the trick behind the color change. He ran the machine with no feet in it, and lo and behold the color changed all by itself! As it turns out the color change is a result of the metal electrodes reacting with salt water. Of course dirt and dead skin on people’s feet can add different tones to the water, which I understand is quite the topic of conversation at these “detox” centers. You can find the article at http://www.guardian.co.uk/life/badscience/story/0,12980,1294819,00.html.

Here’s my bottom line: take the footbaths if you find them relaxing. Myself, I’d rather see a good movie and have a glass of wine!

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