Complementary and alternative medicine Friday Woo Medicine Quackery

Your Friday Dose of Woo: These boots were made for detoxifyin’

I tried not to write about the altie obsession with “detoxification” again. Really, I did. It gets repetitive, and I don’t want Your Friday Dose of Woo (YFDoW) to become to repetitive. Of course, a certain amount of repetitiveness is unavoidable, given that there are only a few major themes running through medical woo. First, there’s the belief that “toxins” (rarely specified and almost never with any hard evidence linking them to any specific diseases) are causing disease and that you–yes, you!–need to be “detoxified,” whether this “detoxification” is supposedly accomplished through enemas, chelation therapy, “liver flushes,” or whatever. Another major theme is that “natural” is always “better.” Never mind that strychnine and curare are both very “natural”–and very deadly. Last week, I managed to cover yet one more major theme of alternative medicine woo, mainly the idea that water can somehow be affected by “thoughts” or, as in the case of the granddaddy of all water quackery, homeopathy, can be remember the properties of a substance after that substance has been diluted to an unmeasurably small concentration. I was looking forward to moving on to one of the other major themes of alternative medicine, namely the concept that “energy” or “bioenergy” can be manipulated to heal (as in Reiki therapy).

Then a reader sent me an example of detoxification woo unlike any that I had ever seen before. I knew I had this week’s target. After all, all that energy woo will be around for my perusal anytime. There are more than enough targets to keep YFDoW going for many, many weeks. So what form of detoxification was so strange, so intriguing, that I just had to take a look at it this week, rather than next week or later?

Easy. Did you know that you can “detoxify” through your feet with Miracle Patches? These ain’t your father’s Dr. Scholl’s foot pads!

Of course, you must realize just how many toxins you’ve accumulated:

Everyday, our body is exposed to all kinds of different chemicals; the exposure to the harmful components of these chemicals is a major contributor to toxic build-ups which occur throughout our body. After years of exposure our body can no longer keep up with elimination processes needed in order to effectively deal with these substances, and eventually they are circulated into the bloodstream, causing many problems throughout our bodies and some effects can be severe. The toxins can be stored in the various parts of the body but is also more worryingly stored in the Liver.

In addition to these toxic build-ups, our body can start having serious problems in many different areas. For instance; our gastro intestinal tract can develop microscopic ulcerations, pH imbalances, imbalances in bacteria and fungus, all leading us to feel unwell for long periods of time. Also, deposits of fatty acids in the liver and the liver cells can begin to deteriorate; bile flow can become inhibited making digestion of fats difficult. This can have very serious consequences. Same thing goes with other organs and tissues throughout the body, depending on the degree of toxic residue.

Where have we heard this sort of thing before? Any guesses, anyone?

What’s unique about this product is not the same old “detoxification” patter, but the method proposed to achieve this “detoxification.” But first, why the feet? Here’s why:

I believe that the secret of our energy lies in the sole of our foot. Infact the sole of our foot acts as a second heart. The reason why is, that the foot contains the largest number of capillary vessels in the entire body. In both Oriental medicine and Western medicine, according to a new theory disclosed by the German scholar Williams Fitz, “the foot is the source of health”. Man’s internal organs are related to the sole of the foot and the sole contains reactors to the internal organs.

First off, I’m pretty sure that the soles of our feet do not have the largest number of capillary vessels in teh body. More importantly, I’m absolutely certain that the feet do not “act as a second heart, nor are they “the source of health.” True, if you’re a diabetic, you’d better take damned good care of your feet, or you’ll risk all sorts of disgusting and potentially limb- and life-threatening problems due to infected ulcers. However, if you’re healthy, routine care is sufficient. All of the above sounds rather like the woo known as reflexology. But, leaving that aside, what, exactly, are these “miracle patches”? Easy:

A Detox Pad, or more commonly known as foot pads or sap sheets, is made from totally natural tree and bamboo extracts. It is the culmination of centuries of knowledge known to the Japanese, and has been passed down through the generations.

It is reputed to relieve fatigue, joint pain, headaches, skin rashes and many other health problems. Apply our Detox Pads on the bottom of both feet, before bed, and experience better sleep and wake feeling totally refreshed the following morning.


Our Detox Pad works just like the osmosis pressure in a plant. Tree roots transport water to other branches utilizing its semi-permeable membrane. The heat from the Detox Pad helps absorb perspiration from the bottom of our foot.

The bottom of the foot is the location where most of the nerves in our body end. Therefore, the Detox Pad is best used on the sole of the foot to clean out waste and toxic materials that are expelled in the form of sweat.

Ooh boy. Can anyone spot the multiple fallacies in the above “literature”? Of course you can, but this is YFDoW, which means I have to have a little fun at their expense. Let’s see. First of all, for osmosis to work, there has to be a semipermeable membrane. Does the sole of your foot look like a semipermeable membrane? I think not. In fact, thanks to the layer of cornified epithelium (made up of dead squamous cells and keratins), it’s mostly impervious. Yes, you can absorb some drugs through the skin, but usually they have to have some measure of lipid (fat) solubility for absorption to occur. Perhaps you think that maybe this could work, that maybe this is just the reverse of transdermal absorptions of drugs.

There’s just one problem with that concept. Sweat only comes out from your sweat glands. You don’t, in general, exude substances through the skin in the same way that you can absorb drugs. So their analogy to the plant is toast right off the bat. It is true that some substances will find their way into your sweat, but there’s no way on earth that you could get rid of all your “toxins” (even if the alties could tell you which toxins they mean) through your sweat. That’s the job of your kidneys, specifically the individual filtering units of the kidneys known as the nephrons, not your skin and particularly not your feet. Do your feet look like a nephron? No!

But if you’re still not convinced, consider this: The kidneys receive the highest blood flow of any organ per gram of weight and in fact receives approximately 20% of the entire cardiac output (about 1.2 L/min in the prototypical 70 kg man). There’s a reason for this: The kidney’s prime function is to filter the blood, with excess electrolytes, and your kidneys do so at a rate of approximately 125 ml/min in men, around 10% less in women, and you produce around 1-2 L of urine per day or more depending on your fluid intake? Certainly you can sweat that much if you do heavy exercise, but that’s counting your whole body. The bottoms of your feet only make up a few percent of the surface area of your skin; you’re not about to sweat liters out of your feet, much less the bottoms of your feet. In any case, sweat, particularly when you’re sweating a lot in response to exercise, doesn’t really regulate much of anything; it’s nearly like a pure ultrafiltrate of plasma, with nothing excreted or absorbed.

Naturally, you can order one of several pads. For example, if you want the best , you can order the Gold Edition TRMX-2, which contains something called Tourmaline, which, if you believe the literature, “exerts a cleansing and liberating energy upon our entire nervous system with a clearing and stabilizing effect.” Still not enough for you? Well, then, consider that “Tourmaline is best known as one of the only minerals to emit far infrared heat and negative ions. It is also known to be able to increase an alpha wave in our brain. Alpha brainwaves are conducive to creative problem solving, accelerated learning, mood elevation and stress reduction.” In fact (well, not really “in fact”; I was using that as a figure of speech, given that characterizing these claims as “facts” strikes me as a bit dubious), the TRMX-2 “emits negative ion on average of 1300 ion/cm3.” Let’s see. 1,300 ions/cm3? It sounds impressive, but what does it mean?

Not much.

Let’s look at a common unit of current, the ampere. It represents 1 coulomb/second, or 6.24150948×1018 elementary charges (like electrons) moving past a boundary per second. That means one milliamp would be on the order of 1015, one microamp on the order of 1012, one nanoamp ,109. And for that little charge (basically, approximately 2.1 x 10-16 coulomb), 1 cm3 is a pretty big area. In other words, this is basically a meaningless number that sounds impressive. What they are probably referring to is the fact that Tourmaline is often piezoelectric (which means it can develop a voltage in response to mechanical stress) and pyroelectric (which means it can develop a voltage in response to heat). Of course, how it would do any of this when broken down into what must be a dilute powder and placed in an aqueous gel is never explained.

In any case, what can the TRMX-2 do for you? Well, if you believe the company literature: A lot. For example, its makers claim that it can treat Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, heavy metal poisoning, fatigue, headache, double vision, blood pressure, arthritis, rheumatism, skin problems,stress, slow learning, hot flashes due to menopause, and mood swings.

Wow. Pretty amazing for a bit of goo that you tape to the bottom of your foot, eh?

Of course, they offer the Blue Edition, the Red Edition, the Green Edition, the Grapefruit edition , the Enhanced Grapefruit Edition (with 12.5 times the grapefruit!), the Quick Edition (heads up, Abel, this one contains milk thistle, one of your areas of interest!), and, of course, the Green Tea Edition. I think my favorite of the three is the Green Edition, because it so nicely combines this most bizare form of detoxification woo with gemstone woo:

The green editions pads are the only detox pads in the world with first grade vinegars and with the combination of Tourmaline & Amethyst. The combination of these gemstones produces the highest amount of far infrared and negative ions. Tourmaline is known to be able to increase an alpha wave in our brain. Alpha brainwaves are conducive to creative problem solving, accelerated learning, mood elevation and stress reduction.

You know, I have to contest the claim that Tourmaline can increase one’s intelligence. I argue that just reading about it in this way has probably knocked a couple of points off my IQ. I only hope the damage is reversible. After all that woo, I know what you’re thinking. You just can’t believe that putting a couple of gooey patches on the soles of your feet for 8 hours a day can achieve all these miraculous results. O, ye of little faith! That’s why God made testimonials:

I purchased the gold detox pads recently for my family’s use. My husband has had great results from it! He uses it for lower back pain. After only a couple of uses, he has found his pain to be decreased immensely. The pads are so DARK in the morning when it takes it off—-we just know that lots of toxins are being removed! I’ve also used the detox pads and feel healthier knowing that all the “bad stuff” is being drawn out of my system. My mother has also used them for overall health and loves your product. Thanks for offering these at a great price. I was paying more than 4x the amount for another brand! I recommend using these to everyone I know!

The darkness of the pads tells her that lots of “toxins” are being removed? Of course, the darkness of the pads has nothing whatsoever to do with wearing a gooey pad on the soles of his feet all night after having walked around all day and presumably gotten his feet dirty, does it? Perish the thought; it’s just one more nasty skeptic questioning. I mean, by the same criterion, when I wear white socks all day and they get really dirty, does that mean I’ve “detoxified” through the socks?

Of course, here’s the testimonial with the most authority:

As a Reiki master I have found the QUICK QU-1 and RED EXA-2 to be an excellent enhancement to a reiki treatment. The patches are extremely easy to use, and results can be seen in a short amount of time. It is a great product. I know because I am using it myself. Thank you!

Yep, that’s just the authority I’d listen to: Someone who believes that she can manipulate “energy fields” that no scientist can measure. It is, however, about the level of authority who would actually take seriously this most amusing bit of woo.

Finally, no “detoxification” program can be complete without a little dubious laboratory testing, and the sellers of these pads are no exception:

HealthMarvels has arranged a special opportunity with CTS Originals for testing of used detox foot pads. This may be of interest to those users who want to see what actually is extracted during the detoxification process and absorbed into the pad.

CTS Originals offers Syncrometer™ testing of used detox foot pads. The test results will show whether or not used foot pads contained any of the following 15 potentially harmful substances

Sound familiar? I bet you can guess what some of those substances are. Actually, it makes me wonder whether some of these substances are just in the pad from the beginning, so that people can “see” what sorts of stuff get removed from the pads.

Maybe I’m just being too cynical.

But not as cynical as the company selling these pads.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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