Detoxification Patches, Foot-baths and More: What Really Works?

Published on May 15, 2012 by Dr. Traj Nibber

Who remembers the famous "detox foot-baths" that were the talk of the industry around ten years ago? The detox foot-baths were precisely that, a foot-bath with warm salt solution that had two electrodes connected to a battery. One would place both feet inside the water and the battery was turned on, after ten minutes or so the color of the salt solution turned brown and emitted the distinctive odor of chlorine gas.

The enthusiasts would shout “Eureka!” while simultaneously pointing to the color and odor as sure signs that the body, which had undergone years of toxic insults through the improper diet of soda, processed foods, laden with high salt, fats, sugars as well as the consumption of the dreaded pharmaceuticals, was slowly but surely fighting back by releasing these toxins into the solution. Moreover, the chlorine odor was a confirmation of the detoxification process of the body.

The detox foot-baths sold like hot cakes and everyone was taken in, many a naturopath had these in their clinics and one had to pay ridiculous fees for a 15 minute treatment.

Science is a pleasurable profession, it is dynamic and vibrant and yet simple and transparent and open to testing by all. That is the beauty of science; every theory is ready to be disproven. That is how science progresses; it evolves by testing the current theory through countless experiments and this involves getting your hands dirty and perspiring a lot! Remember, science is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. It irks me to see that many of the so-called nutritional or health “experts” who have rarely done any scientific experiments short of high school science are nevertheless extolling the virtues of such phenomena as detox foot-baths, which have little or no scientific basis.

There is no detoxification process operating in the detox foot-baths. Rather, it is a simple case of electrolysis; the process which occurs when an electric current passes through salt solution via the battery. The brownish color is due to the iron electrode releasing iron ions (sorry about that) into the solution just like corrosion of iron. Since iron is a brownish/reddish color, that is the color imparted to the solution. What about the chlorine odor? Again, there is a simple chemical explanation. The salt solution is composed of sodium chloride, another name for salt, and electrolysis causes the sodium and chlorine (more accurately called chloride) ions to separate from each other with the chloride ions ending up at the positive terminal of the electrode and forming chlorine gas! End of mystery. No science, no detoxification, only charlatanism operating here.

This is just one example, but there are others like the detox “patches” or “slimming patches” which are all unscientific. Yet they continued to be sold without question. How does this portray our industry in the eyes of the regulators or the scientists and medical doctors?

Detoxification is a perfectly scientific process that can aid the well being of an individual, but this requires change of life style, one’s diet, regular exercise, living in a stress and pollution free environment and of course nutritional supplementation. The best way to detoxify is by getting the cells, more specifically, the liver and kidney cells, to be invigorated or stimulated.

The liver is the major organ for detoxification, it breaks down toxic substances and stores substances or metabolites. The kidney cells are also important because they are the key organ for excretion and getting rid of toxins before they can build up and cause damage.

Another tissue involved in detoxification is our digestive tract. Not only does the digestive tract break down, lubricate and provide digestive enzymes, the large intestines or the colon harbors vast reserves of bacteria, some good and others harmful. It is imperative that care is taken to ensure that the friendly bacteria greatly outweigh the not so friendly bacteria. This can be achieved through selecting a probiotic that has been clinically tested. Many products on the market are kitchen-sink formulas with a bunch of friendly bacteria thrown together. These combinations are often never tested and may not be able to survive the stomach acids, bile salts. There is also the danger that the bacteria are not compatible with each and can ‘cancel’ each other out.

Another key aspect of detoxification involves stimulating the phase II enzymes, a large family of multifunctional enzymes that virtually act as the gatekeeper to the cells’ health. These enzymes quickly act by adding various groups (like methyl, glucuronide or sulphate etc) to any chemical they encounter both foreign as well as native or endogenous compounds like hormones, making these compounds more soluble and thus removing them from the system via the kidneys. A number of natural products can powerfully stimulate these enzymes but the most potent are the isothiocyanates which are derived from cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale and bok-choy and are further converted in the body into sulforafane, the most  known and potent stimulator.

It is only through the application of scientific principles applied to the field of nutrition that one can genuinely achieve detoxification, not through some hokey, quick-fix approach.

You may also be interested in: "Natural Health Products: Hype, Promises & Lies"

Image by © 2014 hammett79 via DollarPhotoClub

Dr. Traj Nibber is the Director of AOR, he has a degree in Pharmacy, a Masters in Toxicology and a PhD in Pathology. Dr. Nibber founded AOR to clear the misdirection prevalent in the nutraceutical world, and provide people with highly effective, research backed products.

  • Deiter

    Very inciteful, Dr. Nibber. Unfortunately many people look for these "hokey, quick-fix" approaches in one too many aspects of their health and wellness. The multi-billion weightloss and beauty industry exemplifies such impatience and results-oriented obsession. I appreciate you taking the time to disspell these common misconceptions and look forward to reading future posts and recommending your site to my patients. 

    • Trajnibber

      Thank you Dr. Deiter, your comment about result-orientated obsession is completely true and leads to an abundance of unscientific products and worse, a lot of misleading information.

  • Sophia Lorenzo

    What are your thoughts on commercial detoxification regiments that are sold in health food stores? Can you recommend a product that you feel checks all the boxes for regular detoxification for individuals who aren't interested in taking multiple pills or medical fomulas? I realize this is a quick fix, but in my experience people are less apt to taking supplements if they have to plan them out through the course of their busy days.

    • DR_TRAJNIB

      @Dr. Sophia Lorenzo :

      “Virtually all of the commercial detoxification products being sold have no clinical studies to back their claims. Except for regular fasting and/or significant calorie control regimens there is little that can be achieved in terms of detoxification. The focus of effective detoxification ought to be the cells at the front line of toxic insults like the intestinal, liver, kidney cells. The most plausible approach is to stimulate the endogenous phase II enzymes widely present in such cells. While many nutrients, particularly many of the herbs are capable of stimulating these enzymes, unfortunately, few will have clinical significance. The most potent substances are sulforaphane, phenethyl and benzyl isothiocyanates.”

  • Detox Patch

    I think detox patches are good alternative for that. They are very easy to use and you do not have to give any extra time for detoxification as they can be used in the night. Detox patches are really very effective in body detoxification. There are some pressure points on our feet that are linked to major basic organs in the body, thus scientists believed that the toxins in these organs could be taken out through these pressure points in the feet and based on this concept, detox patches were developed.

    • Trajnibber

      I respectfully disagree. There are no studies on detox patches as an effective detoxification program. This is just a marketing ploy. Since these patches are easy to use, most people feel this is an easy way to detoxify without putting in any effort. But that is not the case. Simply stating that there are energy meridians or chakras and placing patches at key points will cause detoxification is unscientific. I would stay far away from such fictional gimmicks.

      • Detox Patch

        Its your thinking. Detox patch is an scientific invention and it is proved that they are farmost effective in body detoxification.

        • Trajnibber

          @Detox patch, please cite the research on detox patches?

  • Amanda

    Thank you for this article. As I am very interested and invested in helping people take control of their health and wellness with a holistic approach of proper nutrition, exercise, meditation, and supplemental support. During my path to this approach, I worked in a health and wellness centre that offered ionic foot detox. I was very skeptical, but decided to try it myself. I have to admit that I did find I felt better and notice a variety of changes in the colour of the water throughout the treatments. I too was wondering if the water did change without feet, and I conducted my own experiments. As mentioned, the water did change regardless. So knowing this, I still observed the clients who used the service, often reported wonderful results from using the foot bath, particularly those using it for Arthritis, joint pain, injury. I noticed that each person's water, did not end up the same, and did produce different odors than the chlorine smell. Some people would have more orange or green water, some would not change much, and some would have water that was completely black, and some had different white particles that either foamed or not, or lots of bubbling. This would be from the same water used in the same day. I have heard people make some extreme claims over what ionic foot bath detox does. But, just because of this experience I had with it, I would be curious, and appreciate, your input on these observations. Thank you.