Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Quackery

These boots were made for detoxifyin’

i-e7a12c3d2598161273c9ed31d61fe694-ClassicInsolence.jpgAs I mentioned on Friday, I’m in Chicago right now attending the American College of Surgeons annual meeting, where I’ll be until Wednesday afternoon. If there are any of my readers who happen to be surgeons attending the meeting, drop me a line and maybe we can get together. In the meantime, here’s a blast from the past from the past. This post first reared its ugly head almost exactly three years ago; so if you haven’t been reading at least three years, it’s new to you.

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]

16 replies on “These boots were made for detoxifyin’”

foot pads…what nonsense! Remove your toxins with Master
Cleanse! Lemonade and pepper is all you need!
“DON’T WORRY, and remember that all the calories and nutrients you need for the day are in your juice.”

or not……

“Does the sole of your foot look like a semipermeable membrane? I think not.”

Dude, I ran around barefoot constantly as a kid (it was the rural Deep South, and we were trashy). I took up running and modern dance as an adult. I was broke during my 20’s and walked everywhere. Not only do my soles not resemble a membrane, they don’t even look human. At this point I’d say they don’t even resemble organic material. I could step on a carpet tack or hornet and feel nothing. NOTHING. And yet substances are supposedly leaching out of them?

Didn’t the debunkers of this figure out that the black goop you saw on the pads after wearing them was just sweat and dead skin cells? I figured these sold well because (a) the Japanese fell for them, so that gave them the “mystic Eastern medicine” aura that some people worship, and (b) people figured no harm, no foul, because unlike other forms of woo, the only possible thing these could hurt is your wallet.

CTS Originals offers Syncrometer™ testing of used detox foot pads.

Wait a minute — isn’t “Syncrometer™” the name that the late unlamented Hulda Clark gave to her “zapper?”

The goo could also be like ear-candle goop*…just a compound that reacts with sweat or reacts when oxidized to turn black.
* for those who hadn’t read this before, ear candles are paper covered in wax. The wax burns yellow. So when when you put it on your ear, and set the end on fire, the wax on the inside melts and leaves all sorts of messy yellow wax which believers claim is earwax. Anyone with a sharp eye can figure this out, yet you can still buy these damn things.

“Man’s internal organs are related to the sole of the foot and the sole contains reactors to the internal organs.”

So what are woman’s internal organs related too?

Yea, Like Kimberly, the part where you walked around constantly barefoot as a kid seems seems almost death defying.

For that totally refreshed feeling having your dog lick your feet works wonders as well.
And for you females, this gives some scientific basis for allowing men with foot fetish issues have at your feet.

A friend of mine knows a Hippie down the street that walks around barefoot all the time. His philisophy is that you need to always remain grounded. I have no data on that yet but I will get back to you after the next electrical storm.

I used to run around barefoot as a kid. Then I stepped on a bee. Do you have any idea how DEEP the stinger goes when driven in by the full weight of even a five-year-old at a run?

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?

I don’t know, I guess that would depend on whether the discoloration was on the inside or the outside surface.

Either way, I’m pretty sure that when you take them off you’ve been “desoxified.”

Are you seriously telling me that I can’t detoxify myself by slathering my feet in mud and vinegar and then taping Kotex to them? What if I give myself a coffee enema first, that’ll make it work, right? And eat only carrots?

As for the socks issue, I raised four kids and I long since gave up trying to figure out if the dirt came from inside or outside the sock.

It looks like the folks at HealthMarvels borrowed most of their “science” from the folks at Ion Life. (headquarters in Korea with research and manufacturing in Japan) You can check out their web site at:

which calls tourmaline “Nature’s source of Far Infrared (FIR) and Negative Ions”.

Of course, Far Infrared, which they define as 8 to 14 micron wavelength, is really light photons which have no charge. Since infrared radiation spans roughly three orders of magnitude (750 nm to 100 µm), that’s at the low end of the infrared spectrum, which is pretty wimpy.

To actually knock electrons loose from their atoms requires the photoelectric effect and to achieve that we usually have to go to very high frequency visible light or ultraviolet (100 nm to about 1 nm).

For instance, sodium requires 5eV per electron (about 200 nm) to ionize the first electron and it takes more energy as each successive electron is freed from its atom (or molecule). And, sodium likes to get rid of that first electron. Electronegative elements like chlorine take a lot more energy.

If Far InfraRed could actually create ions, it’s hard to imagine what such a world would actually be like, but we would probably be walking around in something like a cross between a lightning storm and the corona of the sun. (If we even had bodies that could hold themselves together.)

Also, 1 cm3 is not an area, it’s a volume. Their website really does say ions/cm3. If that is divided across the surface of a 1 cm cube, then you are down to 113 ions/cm2.

And, since they don’t tell you what the time period is or what the charge is on each ion, you don’t have any idea what the current is. If you assume it is one second and each ion has one electron equivalent charge, then the current is a whopping 35 attoamps!
(10^-18) amp

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.

Sure it does. It regulates body heat. 😉 (Or rather, is part of heat regulation.)

That’s the main “toxin” shed by sweat. Heat. The majority of sweat is actually vital to the body (water and salt) and of course excessive sweating can make you seriously ill by depleting these chemicals. But sweat is stinky and nasty, so it *must* be all toxins, right? Right?

John H. wrote;
“For instance, sodium requires 5eV per electron (about 200 nm) to ionize the first electron and it takes more energy as each successive electron is freed from its atom (or molecule).”

According to my X-ray microanalysis perodic table its 1.04 eV to release the first K alpha energy band?

Uncle Dave,

Thanks for the comment. We really don’t differ that much. It’s mostly a matter of definitions, which are a bit fuzzy in dividing up the electromagnetic spectrum. These are a hodgepodge of history, perception and our understanding of physics. So, let me try to clarify it and excuse me if I get a bit pedantic.

X-rays and gamma rays weren’t discovered till near the end of the 19th century. The main difference is that X-rays are emitted when electrons give up energy, while gamma rays are emitted from transitions within the atomic nucleus.

From that definition, anything resulting from quantum transitions in electrons would be x-rays. However, some of those transitions produce light that doesn’t have the main property of x-rays. It doesn’t pass through ordinary matter! It may be ultraviolet or even visible. That is how we get sodium vapor and neon lamps.

So, for most purposes, it is more convenient to split the spectrum according to wavelength (or frequency or energy).

Based on that, infrared has a wavelength from 750 nm out to 100 micrometers (100,000 nm) or an energy of .0124 eV at the low end (really Far IR). That is a range of over 2 orders of magnitude.

Visible Light has a wavelength of 380-750 nm or roughly 1.6 to 3 eV in energy.

Ultraviolet has an energy of 3 eV to 124 eV.

X-rays range in energy from about 120 eV to 120 KeV.

Gamma rays have energies from 100 KeV and on up.

Now, the K alpha energy band comes from transitions from the L energy band (principal atomic number 2) down to the K energy band (principal atomic number 1). This is not enough energy to produce complete ionization, which technically is the energy to push the electron all the way out to infinity.

The difference between an orbital transition (1eV) and ionizing that electron (5eV) is trivial compared to the 2 and a half order of magnitude difference between visible and Far IR.

Anyway, it’s been too many years since I seriously messed around with these things and most of my primary sources are buried away. So, I relied on a couple of references from wikipedia with some miscellaneous cross-references:

For Calli:

As I recall, sweat is actually pretty much odorless and colorless when it’s excreted. It’s essentially just saline after all. It’s when the microfauna on your skin gets to it that it becomes stinky and nasty!

I also seem to remember someone having a go at debunking these things the same way they debunked those foot baths. Seems the mixture of ‘all natural ingredients’ in these things will turn brown and icky whenever exposed to heat and moisture. Just a simple chemical reaction in the pad masquerading as ‘leached toxins.’

And like a couple of others who’ve commented, I spent a lot of time barefoot. In college I did martial arts and modern dance at the same time. Back then, you couldn’t have leached anything through the horn-like soles of my feet using a shop vacc, let alone ‘osmotic pressure’!

In my experience, the Japanese are huge
consumers of woo – kampo (Japan-ized
“TCM”), kombucha, reiki, shiatsu…
and I can’t begin to list the huge variety
and large quantities of woo-full goods
sold on the “health” floor of Loft, in
Phiten (various) shops or Nikken (magnets)
emporia, among other places. It’s
incredibly popular, and quite faddish.

Supplements are extremely expensive,
and usually sold in small amounts (package
size and dosage) so I’ve not seen much
for sale. I have never seen any
homeopathetic products for sale – maybe
there’s some hope…

All the nerves in the body end in the feet? Please. I guess Paccinian corpuscles are just toxic residue waiting to filter down to the feet.

On a quick scan of the comments I did not see if anyone else suggested this, but a little starch and iodine in the pad will make a wonderous yucky black mess if wetted. This reaction is a time honored clinical test for sweating. Perhaps someone has read the booklet closely enough to find mention of starch and iodine among the ingredients in the product. Even without citation it wouldn’t be surprising to find something like that if independent analysis were done.

Not to mention whether any of the claimed ingredients could be identified. That is if anyone knew what to test for to identify say, oak vinegar powder.

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