To those who use them, detox foot baths seem to be a medical marvel. First-time users are amazed to see the dark, rusty-colored water in the bath when they are done with the treatment. Practitioners claim that the junk in the water comes from the toxins that are drawn out of the body through the treatment, but scientists caution users against putting too much faith into these claims.
The spas and wellness centers that offer detox foot bath treatments claim that it will draw harmful toxins out of the body through the thousands of pores in the feet. Some claim that it will cure conditions such as arthritis, digestive disorders and even cancer. The technique involves submersing the feet in a tub filled with water, salt and an electrolyte. Two electrodes immersed in the water pass an electrical current through the water and the person's feet, and the water quickly becomes discolored, supposedly from the toxins seeping out of the body.
While the medical claims made by practitioners who use detox foot baths are often quite lofty, the actual claims of the manufacturers are much more conservative. IonSpa, a popular model used in the United States, is registered with the FDA as a nonmedical device. The manufacturer's vice president, Joel Constable, makes it clear that the company does not make any medical claims about the product. They claim that the foot spa provides nothing more than a "revitalizing effect" on the user.
The Scientific Evidence
Stephen Lower, former chemistry professor at Simon Fraser University, explains that the color of the foot bath water comes from electrolytic corrosion of the metal electrodes. The electrodes are made from iron, nickel and copper, which produce colored ions when they decompose in this process. The salts used in the bath intensify these colors, as do the lotions and soaps used on the feet prior to the bath. Electrolysis of the water also produces bubbles of chlorine and hydrogen, which create the foamy look of the water. Users mistakenly assume the bubbles, foam and colors are coming from their feet.
A Naturalist's Perspective
Proponents remind skeptics that scientists usually find fault with natural medicine and holistic practices. However, the doctors from Denver Naturopathic Clinic in Denver, Colorado, are also skeptical of the treatment. These naturalistic doctors caution patients about the claims of these foot baths. They state that chemicals can be rapidly absorbed through the feet, but pulling chemicals out of the feet is something that science has not yet shown to be effective. According to the clinic, any benefit that comes from a detox foot bath is from the electric current passing through the body during the treatment.
Patients who use detox foot baths claim that they feel great after the treatment. Some claim to sleep better and feel less stressed after the treatment. This is not surprising, since a hot foot bath has long been seen as a stress reliever. Is there any detoxifying benefit to these treatments? So far, medical science has not found any.