Respectful Insolence

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.

Comments

  1. #1 Joe
    October 13, 2006

    You can also buy an electric pan that detoxifies through your feet. Add some tap-water, sit with your feet in it and plug it in. You will see reddish toxins drawn into the water (very impressive!).

    To a skeptic, it looks like an imperceptible trickle of electricity corroding the iron electrodes in the water.

  2. #2 JohnA
    October 13, 2006

    This was right up there with HeadOn and the other absorptive woo that’s out there these days. You’d think our bodies were porous for all the ways they are trying to pass things through our skin!

    I bet Spongebob would love this stuff.

  3. #3 Bronze Dog
    October 13, 2006

    The combination of these gemstones produces the highest amount of far infrared and negative ions.

    Last time I checked, simply having something attached to your warm feet for a while will make it emit high amounts of FIR.

  4. #4 tim gueguen
    October 13, 2006

    You have to wonder how many of the promoters of such products claim they’ll heal anything under the sun because they actually believe it, and how many do so simply to increase their customer base.

  5. #5 TheProbe
    October 13, 2006

    Well, I know that if my feet hurt, I feel rotten all over. An epson salt foot bath usually does it for me…

  6. #6 clone3g
    October 13, 2006

    If these pads can correct ‘slow learning’ how long before you realize you’be been had?

  7. #7 MJ Memphis
    October 13, 2006

    “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?”

    Does this mean we will see “Dr. Orac’s Detox Socks” in local health food stores soon?

    Sad to say, you could probably make a lot of money that way.

  8. #8 James Taylor
    October 13, 2006

    It really bugs me that people take advantage of someone with Crohn’s disease. Some will do anything for a buck and mock the debilitated.

  9. #9 Garrett
    October 13, 2006

    But what if you don’t have any feet?

  10. #10 MJ Memphis
    October 13, 2006

    “But what if you don’t have any feet?”

    That’s when you need the tourmaline-laced purifying underwear! After all, the gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the body, so it is kinda like a… umm… third heart, I guess.

  11. #11 alphabitch
    October 13, 2006

    I’m thinking duct tape would work just fine.

  12. #12 Opiwan
    October 13, 2006

    The most hilarious part of all the gemstone woo is that they claim that “ions” are “emitted” from them. I mean, yeah, tourmaline’s got a gaggle of ions in it (Si +4, B +3, O -2, Ca +2, Fe +2/+3, Na +1, OH -1, etc.), but the very fact that it’s a ceramic crystal means that those ions aren’t mobile in the classic sense. They certainly wouldn’t be “emitted” from the surface like molecules evaporating from a pool of liquid or some nonsense. Hilarious. If they were being emitted like that, they’d be doing some serious damage as they attacked whatever happened to be in the vicinity. I find it amusing that the woos get all hung up on “toxins”, which one would assume would include the “free radicals” everyone’s up in arms about these days, but having “ions” emitted from something is a good thing. What do these people think “free radicals” are, anyway? Hmmm, charged species maybe??? Feh!

  13. #13 Ruth
    October 13, 2006

    ‘Tourmaline & Amethyst’ are most effective in altering my mood when placed in an 18K gold setting, in a velvet-lined box.

  14. #14 Blake Stacey
    October 13, 2006

    @Ruth:

    “Wa wa wee wa! Is nice,” to quote Borat, like my friends do incessantly these days.

  15. #15 ArtK
    October 13, 2006

    … or more commonly known as foot pads or sap sheets

    Truth in advetising from an altie? “Sap” pretty well describes anyone who would fall for this!

  16. #16 John Best
    October 13, 2006

    I just want to see if you are honest enough to publish this link about some success with a severely autistic child.
    http://hatingautism.blogspot.com/2006/10/hallelujah-more-progress.html

  17. #17 Brendan
    October 13, 2006

    The only “healing” properties I’ve ever heard ascribed to Tourmaline came from the Tourmaline Cubeoctahedron Ioun Stones my roommate and I made up for our D&D game. They confer a +2 dodge bonus, which, while it does stack with anything, does not improve your health in any way, other than “not getting stabbed/shot”

  18. #18 David Harmon
    October 14, 2006

    Well, “naturally” some sort of foot accessory would be needed for Complete Woo Coverage. Having achieved Complete Woo Coverage, you can then go buy the MetaIsotopic Quantum-Spirit Woo-Scraper, to get all that sticky woo off your body….

    Or you could just stock up on Mental Floss. :-)

  19. #19 Rosie Redfield
    October 14, 2006

    A weight-training coach once cautioned me against wearing dark coloured socks to the gym. He assured me that, when your feet sweat, the toxic dyes in the socks will dissolve in the sweat and be absorbed through your feet into your circulation.

  20. #20 guthrie
    October 15, 2006

    Hey, your coach might have been correct….

    130 years ago. When they were in the early stages of artificial dyes, a fair number of people were making and using cheap dyes which still contained arsenic and other nasties, which naturally got onto the skin of the wearers under the correct conditions.

  21. #21 Sastra
    October 15, 2006

    What are those somewhat creepy commercials which show athletes drinking the product and sweating rivers of color from their bodies? Gatorade?

    I suspect some people think this is how our skin really works, if we could just see it under the proper conditions or with the right instruments. I wonder if these popular commercials have increased the market for this kind of product. Interesting that someone was paying “more than 4x the amount for another brand.” There’s another brand??

  22. #22 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    October 16, 2006

    More woo for you:
    Man arrested over Viet war telepathy claim

    VIETNAMESE police and army officials said today they had arrested a fraudster who claimed to be using telepathic powers to locate the remains of soldiers missing in action since the Vietnam War.

  23. #23 anonimouse
    October 16, 2006

    How long until the mercury militia figures out a use for detoxification footwear? (and how to make a buck to support their drug company lawsuits)

  24. #24 The Loony Bassoony
    October 18, 2006

    Opiwan -
    “I find it amusing that the woos get all hung up on “toxins”, which one would assume would include the “free radicals” everyone’s up in arms about these days, but having “ions” emitted from something is a good thing. What do these people think “free radicals” are, anyway? Hmmm, charged species maybe???”

    Chemistry has never been their strong suit. I don’t think they really know what ions are. Or free radicals, for that matter, since so many of them will talk about the scourge of free radicals while touting the benefits of oxygen bars — or even of actively dangerous chemicals like ozone and hydrogen peroxide.

  25. #25 ebohlman
    October 18, 2006

    Loony: the most transparent example of the compartmentalization you’re talking about is the reaction of some woos to evidence that some Ayurvedic medicines contain genuinely toxic levels of lead and mercury; they assert that they’re not a problem. As far as I can tell, the “reasoning” is that such potions come from the Good Guys whereas vaccines and the like come from the Bad Guys, and that whether or not some compound is harmful depends on the purity of its purveyor’s intentions, not on its chemical properties or its concentration.

    IMHO, a lot of woo is actually based on a tendency to personalize; woos tend to evaluate the credibility of an assertion based on their personal opinion of the person who makes it, with charisma being highly valued.

  26. #26 S.o.G.
    December 3, 2006

    Wait a minute. There are competing brands of detoxifying foot pads?

  27. #27 Evan Eberhardt
    January 27, 2007

    So, I take it the author of this piece didn’t even try the product he is slamming. Hmmm, now that is real scientific. To openly mock a product without even trying it is arrogant and rather annoying. I have tried the product being gutted here out of curiousity and was intrigued by what happens to the pad after being worn during sleep. It goes from a white powdery substance to a dark goo, and not because my feet were dirty (such a lame explanation there). And not a little goo either, but as much as the pads can possibly hold. The pads weigh probably 4 times as much after being worn. It is a bit disgusting actually. I read this piece to see if the author thought if this goo is just sweat reacting with the powdery substance throughout the night, but instead he didn’t even TRY IT so now I don’t know. Could it be toxins removed from the feet that have accumulated there for years? I don’t know, and apparently no one here does either since they have all dismissed it with a wave of the hand. While I agree with much of the views on this site, I take a much more open approach with medicine as modern medical care has failed miserably with treating degenerative illnesses with drugs, poisons, and surgery. Current doctors are such a joke all worried about cholesterol and salt intake (both of which are vital to good health by the way – you are being scammed if you take statins and are putting your health at risk). I am amazed at how sure these people are of modern medicine when disease is literally rampant among western cultures. All the while ignoring knowledge of ancient peoples findings to stave of illness because it is now viewed as superstition. Some Native Americans treated blindness by eating trout eyes. Sounds like some old odd myth, until someone did a little research and discovered that trout eyes are the richest source of vitamin A in its body. And a deficiency in vitamin A leads to blindness. Hmmm, not so backwards after all. Anyway, please at least try a product before you totally dismiss it, at least to be thorough.

  28. #28 Suzanne
    July 8, 2007

    Okay, I’m a serous skeptic and tried a detox footpad because “why not?” I was having some health issues and had been on a lot of medication, so I wanted to do a liver detox and see if my nausea reduced. My nausea is lessening over time; it’s hard to say if the footpads are playing a role with the August 05, Dec 05, and June 06 detoxes. But explain to me why my feet hurt a lot (and I”m talking A LOT) less for several months after a series of 20-30 nights with the footpads. Even my husband was laughing at me until I had him put on a footpad, and he said after an hour (took it off) that his foot did feel different, better. So I throw my $100 at this supposed silliness ever 5-6 months because I can walk like a normal person afterwards.

    I do not know if I believe my system is “cleaner,” but like Evan E., I wonder how they work in terms of amount of goo produced. And, nausea and “cleansing” issues aside, why do I feel less pain in my feet? Seriously curious what you think.

  29. #29 Suzanne
    July 8, 2007

    Okay, I’m a serous skeptic and tried a detox footpad because “why not?” I was having some health issues and had been on a lot of medication, so I wanted to do a liver detox and see if my nausea reduced. My nausea is lessening over time; it’s hard to say if the footpads are playing a role with the August 05, Dec 05, and June 06 detoxes. But explain to me why my feet hurt a lot (and I”m talking A LOT) less for several months after a series of 20-30 nights with the footpads. Even my husband was laughing at me until I had him put on a footpad, and he said after an hour (took it off) that his foot did feel different, better. So I throw my $100 at this supposed silliness ever 5-6 months because I can walk like a normal person afterwards.

    I do not know if I believe my system is “cleaner,” but like Evan E., I wonder how they work in terms of amount of goo produced. And, nausea and “cleansing” issues aside, why do I feel less pain in my feet? Seriously curious what you think.

  30. #30 jen_m
    December 28, 2007

    I saw these advertised on TV during my local morning news, and had to see if you had already posted them. Apparently so!

    I must add something here to justify the comment, so I will contribute another company’s website, which has not only the fabulous claims the Health Marvels people make for the product, but also animated diagrams, nifty thermographs and before-and-after lab result sheets! Hully gee.

    http://www.kenrico.com/sapsheet.html

    Suzanne, your relief from foot pain probably arose from that increase in far infrared rays – i.e. a nice warming effect – relaxing the musculature across your soles. I suspect the mechanism of the increase in the pads’ weight and texture is exactly the same as that of any hygroscopic gel pad, such as an “ultra-thin” maxipad. The feet sweat from having an insulating layer taped to them all night, and the pad absorbs the fluid, expanding the solid matrix to its gel form. I suspect the reason for the color change is a pH indicator (foot sweat is pretty acidic, and could easily protonate methyl violet, for example.) Probably the reason that the pads get paler and less gooey as time goes on is that you adjust to the temperature increase by sweating less.

  31. #31 M Garland
    December 30, 2007

    EE: I don’t think good science means having to try everything when there seems no credible mechanism by which it can work. One of the pad’s claims is that is uses far infrared radiation to make negative ions. If your pads contain sources capable of ionizing atoms at any level, they would be truely dangerous. Since no one using these items has mentioned their appendages turning black and falling off, I must assume the sellers have no idea as to what they are talking about, and further more, no basis for their miracle claims.

  32. #32 foiler
    January 3, 2008

    Wow. I never knew that the 4 Japanese scientist that spent 25 years developing the chemical formula for these detox pads where so stupid. Imagine investing all that time for nothing. Oh well, I guess acupuncture is a scam too. I’ll be sure to check here for what the ‘woo’ is on that. After all we know that the FDA and the American Medical Association are a bunch of idiots to endorse acupuncture after 53 years of scoffing at the very idea.

  33. #33 jen_m
    January 3, 2008

    “4 Japanese scientists that spent 25 years developing the chemical formula”? I thought it was “the culmination of centuries of knowledge known to the Japanese, and has been passed down through the generations.”

  34. #34 Prometheus
    May 26, 2008

    God DAMN you people are gullible. And ignorant. If a cure is “all-natural”, “ancient” and so forth it doesn’t mean it is better than modern medicine or that it works at all. Enjoy your superstition and scam. While you’re at it, go back to remedial science class. Wearing radioactive footpads is NOT good for your health, assuming it does radiate ions and isn’t just a collector of dead skin with pH-indicator on it.

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