HUNDREDS of elderly people have fallen for a new craze of electric shocks to 'purify' their blood, but medical experts warn that the treatment is unscientific and useless.
Social workers say one company in particular has been setting up short-term chain stores in a number of districts to provide free sessions to the elderly.
Supervisors in the shops claim their machines give out strong static electricity and dissolve blood 'impurities', including cholesterol and fats.
The machines are connected to seats, where the elderly sit to receive the fad treatment, which originated in Japan.
Some participants said the shops initially provided free therapy but then asked them to buy the machines. A number of customers have paid $15,000 for a small machine and $30,000 for a large one.
Shops have been set up in Wong Tai Sin, Shamshuipo, Tai Kok Tsui and Tsing Yi Island. Most only open for a few weeks before shutting down.
One regular customer said: 'I go there every day to get electric shock treatment for my legs for 20 minutes. I do not know how it works. They just tell me it's good for me and many of my friends also go there.' Medical experts have issued a strong warning against trying the bizarre therapy.
Raymond Liang Hin-suen, a professor of haematology at the University of Hong Kong, said there was no scientific evidence to show such a procedure could clean the blood.
'What do they actually mean by purifying the blood? It seems that they do not know what they are really talking about,' Professor Liang said.
'We do not encourage people to try such therapy. If you want to reduce cholesterol and fat in the blood, the best way is to have a proper diet, and in some cases medicine can also help.' Dr Tso Wung-wai, chairman of the Hong Kong Association for the Popularisation of Science and Technology, said static electricity had no healing effect.
'There is no therapeutic effect unless people love that feeling of being charged.
'It is a kind of non-specific stimulation, but such stimulation leads nowhere. If we assume that it could make our blood flow faster, having a hot bath may have the same effect.' Fok Tin-man, of the Society for Community Organisation, said his group had been warning the elderly not to try the treatment.
'The Government has no regulation on those products. The people who sell the products are not professionals and some people may use it in improper ways.' A spokesman for the Department of Health said the electrical appliances were not under the department's regulation.
But she said the department could take action under the Undesirable Medical Advertising Ordinance if the products claimed to treat certain conditions such as cancer, hepatitis and venereal diseases.