By Kimball Chatfield L.Ac., O.M.D.
Wouldn’t it be great if all we had to do to reduce heavy metals, pesticides, and other toxins from our body is to just soak our feet in a special water bath? Detoxification or ionic foot baths are said to do just that. Place your feet in a special small tub of water that has an electrode in it that emits ionic frequencies and this is said to draw toxins out of your feet and into the bath water. If you have ever tried it you will know the after a few minutes the once clear water will turn brown and look pretty nasty. These are the toxins coming out of your body and seeping into the water, you’re told. Looks pretty impressive. But are those really toxins coming out of you and into the foot bath water?
As someone who has taught environmental health at the graduate school level and received my doctorate researching the treatment of pesticide poisoning, I was very interested in knowing more about this foot bath detoxing. The best place to look for the truth in science is to perform a search on the website Pubmed. Pubmed is the National Library of Medicine online published by the National Institutes of Health. It contains over 15 million citations, original research articles, and research reviews. If there is published research on detox foot baths, it would be found in the National Library of Medicine. It turns out there has been research on detoxification foot baths.
The Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine analyzed foot detox water before and after use as well as urine and hair samples of the subjects receiving the foot baths. The researchers did not find that the foot baths eliminated any toxins from the body. And the brown water? The water turns brown because the electrodes in the water that emit ionic frequencies are actually oxidizing the metal of the electrodes, and the water is brown from the machine (it’s rust!) and not from the person. For example, researchers tested water before and after running the ion machine without feet. What they found was that the metals in the electrodes were shed from the electrode surface and leaked into the foot bath water. Chromium went from about 4 parts per million (ppm) pre-foot bath being turned on, to over 23,000 parts per million after a few minutes of operation. It’s important to note that this is hexavalent industrial chromium, which is a genotoxic carcinogen. Iron went from 32 parts per million (ppm) before turning on the footbath, to 116,000 parts per million after the machine was turned on. Same for copper, increasing 600%. Manganese went from undetected to 1,500 ppm. All this without a person using the footpath at all. Other studies have also shown that the water will turn brown without putting your feet in it.
Some companies that make foot baths report that they have scientific research to back up their claims that these foot baths really do eliminate toxins from the body. But when you look at the research it is always completely uncontrolled and significantly biased. Some of the claims are impossible, such as one author stating that fats and mucus are removed from the body by foot baths. So the bottom line is there is no scientific evidence detox foot baths work at all in removing toxins from your body. There is one study, by the Center for Research Strategies, that is often touted as evidence that ionic footpaths work. What people who cite this reference don’t mention is that the study group was also given a broad spectrum nutritional powder that is loaded with antioxidants and other nutrients that have been known for over 60 years to breakdown and eliminate a variety of toxic chemicals that we are exposed to in food and our environment. That is called confounding data. That is, adding a nutritional supplement completely eliminates the chance of objectively measuring the foot baths results because you have loaded up on nutrients.
There is something else to consider here. The “metal water” created by the machine could potentially be toxic itself and instead of removing metals in our bodies we actually will be exposed to them by the machine, and the opposite can happen. That is, the machine could be poisoning you. The Canadian College scientists summarized their research as follows: “Contrary to claims made for the machine, there does not appear to be any specific induction of toxic release through the feet when running the machine according to specifications.”
Ionic footpaths are completely different from just soaking your feet in warm water and feeling the therapeutic gains of that simple pleasure. There is actually good research on how nice it feels to have your feet warmed up. That has a gentle relaxing effect on us all. So if that’s what you are going for, then by all means enjoy a relaxing (but not detoxifying) foot bath (with epsom salts if you like) in your own bathtub.