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"Detox" foot patches - really?!

“Detoxification” claims are common in the natural products industry. But what do they mean?

The average person might assume that a “detox” supplement, beverage, tea or foot pad will help his or her body remove “unwanted toxins.” Toxins could range from cancer-causing pesticides, poisons and heavy metals to parasites, viruses or just nasty bugs, depending on what the person believes.

How are these toxins removed? Some supplements claim chelation (binding to heavy metals), but can this really occur effectively in the digestive tract? Beverages and teas help “flush” toxins through the urinary tract; this seems plausible if the kidneys (the primary detoxifier in the body) are properly stimulated.

But what about foot patches and foot baths?

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) lawyers filed a law suit against Kinoki, a foot-pad marketer, for deceptive advertising. The alleged deception includes “that use of the foot pads would remove toxins from the body.”

Kinoki must provide scientific proof that their foot pads remove toxins (i.e.: detoxify the body). It’s plausible the pads could remove some minor “toxins” from the dermis on the feet, but do they really pull toxins from deep within the body?

To prove this, the following scientific test for foot pads has been suggested by Anthony Almada:

1. A placebo pad and an active pad (from the same batch used for the clinical trial and selected by the research team) would be sent to an independent lab specializing in measuring the “toxins” of interest, to determine the baseline concentrations in the pads themselves BEFORE they are applied to any feet. The two types of pads would need to be made to LOOK, SMELL, and FEEL the same.

2. Then the subjects would be RANDOMLY assigned to place an active pad on the right or left foot, and the placebo pad on the opposite foot (these would best be applied by one of the research staff and the subject would need to stay in the research center). The intent would be to aim for equal distribution of each type of pad (active or placebo) for each foot (i.e. half of the subjects would have applied the active pad on their right foot).

3. The duration of time is up to the manufacturer; because one foot is a control to the other foot, it doesn’t matter.

4. Then the pads would need to be removed by the research staff and placed in an appropriate collection bag so as to minimize/prevent outside contamination from other sources.

5. These sealed samples would then be sent to the same lab that did the initial pad analyses and measured for the exact same “toxins.”

Mr. Almada suggests this randomized, controlled study could be done in about 3 months and likely for under $25,000 if done with 10 subjects. A 10 person study using two feet would be equivalent to a 20 person study using only one foot.

The FTC lawsuit against Kinoki is pending and involves many other serious, dubious claims.

Not all foot-pad marketers make egregious claims. But if the average foot-patch or foot-bath consumer believes that “detoxification” occurs in a way that’s more significant than simply sweating, then the natural question – can you prove it? -- needs to be answered. Really.

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