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Health: true or false?

Hong Kong health professionals pour scorn on ‘detox’ footpads

There’s a lack of reliable data to support manufacturers’ claims the footpads can eliminate heavy metals, chemicals and other waste from our bodies. We’ve kidneys and a liver for that, one expert notes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 February, 2017, 5:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 13 February, 2017, 5:43pm

“Detox” footpads have been all the rage with people looking to eliminate toxins such as heavy metals, chemicals and metabolic waste from their bodies.

These adhesive pads, or patches, are said to be easy to use – simply stick them on the soles of your feet before you go to sleep, and, overnight, they go to work to draw out the toxins through the acupressure points in your feet. In the morning, when you peel them off, you will notice that the pads have turned a muddy brown or black on one side. This, according to detox footpad manufacturers, is proof that the pads have drawn out and absorbed the toxins that were present in your system.

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In addition to detoxifying your body, these pads, which contain some combination of vinegar, herbs and tourmaline, are also said to strengthen the immune system, boost energy levels, improve blood circulation, and even enhance mental focus and relieve arthritis and headaches.

If only detoxifying the body was that straightforward. Unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence that the pads effectively remove toxins from the body, or that toxins are even released from acupressure points in the feet.

According to Brock Healy, a podiatrist at Physio Central in Hong Kong, the discolouration of the pads is due to their reaction with moisture – in this case, sweat.

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“Your feet sweat a little more while you have the pads on,” he says. “The sweat reacts with the pads, turning their surface brown or black. But it’s the moisture, and not toxins, that cause the discolouration. In fact, it’s been shown that you can replicate the discolouration by applying water to the pads.

“As human sweat is 99 per cent water and one per cent salts, proteins, urea and ammonia, it’s unlikely that the pads have an effective detox mechanism. It’s well documented that sweating does not have a detox effect.”

Graeme Bradshaw, a homeopath and naturopath, and founding director of Integrated Medicine Institute in Central and Discovery Bay, agrees.

“Tourmaline, a natural gemstone, emits a mild, infrared warming effect,” he says. “If this ingredient is present in the footpad, the infrared rays it generates mildly heats the foot overnight, bringing extra circulation to the area. This causes some sweating, which moistens the pad. The pad looks darker as a result, but it turns out that any moisture does this. It’s not a sign of toxins; it’s just sweat.”

Bradshaw says: “As far as I know, there’s not been a significant scientific study to support the detox claim, and the few footpad samples that have been tested show no result worth further investigation. In fact, a trusted alternative medicine review group, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Natural Standard Research Collaboration, reviewed the scientific evidence for detoxification footpads for a Wall Street Journal article in 2010. It concluded that there was a ‘lack of reliable data’ to support the claims.”

On November 4, 2010, America’s consumer protection agency, the Federal Trade Commission, even warned advertisements by the marketers of Kinoki “Detox” Foot Pads were “deceptive”. The ads claimed that the pads could remove toxins from the feet as well as treat numerous illness and medical conditions.

“The human body already has an effective detoxification system, in the form of the kidneys and liver,” Healy says. “The liver metabolises the toxins and the kidneys excrete them. There certainly are toxins in the body, most of which come from medications, chemicals, food and alcohol. Therefore, if detoxification is a concern of yours, you should be more mindful of what you put into your body, instead of going for products like detox footpads that have no proven therapeutic benefit.”