In the recent magazine, You, dated 26 February 2009, an article by Hannelie Booyens examines the claims being made for Detox foot pads. With the kind permission of the author and the editor of You, we reprint the article.
By HANNELIE BOOYENS
JUST minutes after Hannes Potgieter put his feet in the detox foot spa a sales agent had brought round to demonstrate he was speechless – the clear salty water turned dark, then reddish brown and eventually almost black.
“The salesman told me it was the result of toxins escaping through my skin in the 20 minutes I held my feet in the water,” Hannes says. “I got the fright of my life. Like many people I don’t exactly lead a healthy lifestyle and you realise all those cigarettes and drinks and unhealthy food are beginning to take their toll.”
The nearly R8 000 he spent on the detox spa was an investment in his health, he thought. At his home in Cape Town the salesman told him doctors had tested the machine and research showed it was effective in ridding your body of all kinds of poisons and heavy metals.
“The guy used impressive-sounding scientific terms and spoke about how the spa supposedly activates the negative ions so they resonate throughout your body to stimulate the cells to restore energy levels and release toxins.” But after he’d used the machine a few times Hannes wasn’t feeling any better and decided to perform an experiment: he switched the machine on but didn’t put his feet in the water.
To his great surprise the water still went dark and eventually turned black. “I began to realise I may have been sold a pig in a poke.”
Then he read an article in our sister magazine, Huisgenoot (21 Augustus 2008). warning consumers against dodgy detox products. The article also referred to detox foot spas and plasters. Like many other readers Hannes wanted to know: how exactly do these detox aids you see advertised everywhere work? What’s fact and what’s fiction?
THE manufacturers of foot spas and detox plasters want people to believe your body is like a giant magnet that attracts toxins. Their argument is, your body’s natural defences aren’t adequate to detoxify your colon, liver, kidneys and lymphatic system and that you need extra help to get rid of surplus “poisons” – especially if you eat too much rich food, drink too much alcohol, smoke or are exposed to pollution. The detox spa is supposed to cure just about everything – from headaches, water retention, gout, acne and skin rashes to eczema and aching joints – and the manufacturers claim conditions such as cancer, heart disease and arthritis can be prevented by giving your immune system a boost with a foot spa.
When you put a detox plaster on your feet at night it’s white – and when you remove it the next morning it’s brown and has a bad smell, supposedly as a result of the “toxins” that have been removed from your body. The manufacturers say the tourmaline and wood vinegar in the plaster cause “a resonance in the body that vibrates at the same frequency as water and this has a stabilising and cleansing effect”. The negative ions’ “Far Infro Red Rays” cause a reflex that stimulates blood circulation, resulting in a “homeostatic balance”. This is said to relieve stress, improve brain function, boost the immune system and help with arthritis and insomnia.
The converted swear the detox plasters cure just about any ailment including serious conditions. The list of poisons the plasters and foot spa are supposed to remove from your body includes benzine, alcohol, aliminium, copper, lead, mercury, arsenic and asbestos. Because the skin on your feet have so many sweat glands it releases the toxins more readily than any other part of your body. But medical experts disagree. Skin specialists say it’s very, very difficult for any substance to penetrate the skin.
Much research has been done to find ways to administer medication through the skin and it’s even harder for chemicals to seep through the skin from inside the body, Professor Jeanette du Plessis, an internationally renowned pharmaceutical expert and head of North West University’s medical research unit says. “I haven’t found any evidence that a plaster can make toxins leave your body through the soles of your feet, which in any case has the thickest skin of any part of your body,” she says.
If you wanted to expel chemicals in your body through the skin it would make more sense to do it where your skin is thinnest – such as behind your ears or on your forehead or genitalia, Cape Town dermatologist Professor Jak Cilliers explains.
To protect the soles of your feet the upper layer of the skin, the stratum corneum, consists of 15 to 20 layers of dead skin cells. When you sweat you mostly lose water – very few other substances leave your body through the skin. If you had such a high concentration of toxins – such as arsenic, lead and mercury – in your body that they escape through the soles of your feet you’d be so badly poisoned you’d be dead, Dr Gerbus Muller, a toxicologist at Stellenbosch University’s department of pharmocology says.
One of the substances the plasters are said to draw from your feet is asbestos – and that’s physically impossible, Gerbus says, because there’s no way asbestos fibres can move through your body to your feet.
“The discharge of poisons and trace elements through sweat and saliva is so minimal that medically speaking it’s of no consequence,” Gerbus explains. “Your body rids itself of unwelcome substances through the liver, which changes the chemical structure of those materials so your kidneys can remove the impurities from your blood and expel them through your urine or faeces.”
He believes the whole idea that it’s possible, or desirable, to detox yourself is a con. “To think you can cleanse yourself using detox plasters or foot spas is a myth. You simply can’t boost the body’s purification processes in such a way.” Gerbus is convinced the fact many people claim the plasters and foot spas have helped them is due to the placebo effect – your brain tells you you’re feeling better even if the treatment or medication is fake and doesn’t have any healing effect.
“Many alternative medicines are aimed at ailments that don’t have any easily identifiable causes or can’t be measured, such as aches, inflammation and exhaustion. The brain is a very powerful organ. If you use something you believe will make you feel better you probably will feet better.”
BECAUSE the plasters and the water in the foot spas change colour and sometimes smell bad many consumers see it as proof these products do remove toxins from your body. But the easiest way to determine whether this is really the case is to perform a simple experiment: Put one plaster on your feet, immerse another one in water and leave both overnight. The next morning both are the same brown colour, even the one that wasn’t in contact with your skin. The carbohydrates in the starch content of the plaster causes it to get sticky and develop a bad smell. The water in the foot spa turns brown because of oxidation and the plasters change colour because the wood vinegar is highly absorbent and turns brown when it comes into contact with moisture.
In April last year the American TV network ABC broadcast an insert exposing these products in the show 20/20. The manufacturers of the plasters and foot spas refused to be interviewed for the programme and couldn’t supply any scientific proof that their products work. When the plasters worn by eight volunteers were tested none of them showed any significant amount of heavy metals or toxins. Kinoki, one of America’s biggest manufacturers of detox plasters, is currently facing several legal actions regarding “misleading and false” claims in its adverts as well as accusations it abuses the American Food and Drug Administarion’s stamp of approval.
The company’s South African distributor also puts this stamp on its products. The manufacturers of detox plasters and foot spas have endless documentation of tests they’ve carried out as well as explanations of how their products work in theory. But when you take a closer look you see most of the tests aren’t to determine whether the products work but whether they’re safe for human use and are in fact made of the chemicals and substances the manufaturers claim.
None of these test results have even been published in an authoritative scientific journal. Ironically enough, none of these manufacturers have spent a cent on relatively simple tests that could determine once for all whether the products remove toxins from your body. All it will entail would be for a qualified scientist to test the toxin levels of a representative group of people before using the plasters or foot spas, and again afterwards to seen whether any toxins had actually been removed.
The water and plasters would also have to be tested beforehand to ensure they didn’t contain any toxins before the test. To be really scientific the test would have to be carried out by a recognised pharmological unit at a university or state-run laboratory, and the results published in a scientific journal so other scientists can evaluate them. But the real problem could be the fact there’s no proper watchdog organisation to protect consumers against the unscientific claims made for such products.
The only organisation in South Africa that can regulate and certify such products is the Medicine Control Council (MCC). According to a law recently introduced the MCC will be replaced by a new body, SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra). It’s not yet clear how the department of health will regulate and classify traditional and complimentary health products in future.
In countries such as Britain and America advertising authorities banned adverts making unscientific claims for detox products some time ago, but judging by the way South Africa’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) have dealt with complaints it’s not equipped to separate the chaff from the wheat.
When Dr Harris Steinman of Cape Town laid a complaint regarding improbable claims made by manufacturers of detox plasters in their adverts the ASA rejected it, based on the opinion of just one homeopath, Dr Frédéric Motz. Dr Motz has no conventional medical training and has never published an article in a recognised scientific journal, yet the ASA accepted him as an “independent, credible expert”.
“It doesn’t help to have someone who practises alternative or complimentary medicine evaluate such claims,” Professor Marjanne Senekal of the department of human biology at the University of Cape Town says. “You can expect such a person to approve of the product.
Dr Motz’s report to the ASA was extremely unscientific.” The necessary research to prove that plasters and foot spas work hasn’t yet been done, Marjanne says. The companies marketing these products do so under a false pretence of scientific proof – which amounts to fraud, she says.
Harris warns the public not to waste money on these dodgy products. “I want to see proof they work, not the theory of why it could be possible. Even if the manufacturers’ claims were true – which they aren’t – it doesn’t logically make sense to extract toxins through sweat in your skin on a part of your body that’s less than five per cent of its surface.” With medical science it’s possible to accurately determine toxin levels, and once that’s been done you can do factual research, Harris says.
“The fact is, there’s absolutely no proof that toxins are concentrated in your feet and that plasters or foot spa’s can remove them.”
His advice to consumers is simple: If you’re concerned about your health it’s much better to eat healthily and do regular exercise that increase your heart rate than to rely on detox products. And next time, insist on reliable scientific evidence before wasting your money on a con.
|DON’T BE TAKEN IN BY SO-CALLED QUALITY STAMPS ADVERTISEMENTS for the detox foot patches bear the stamp of the American health authority the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) which is supposed to make South African consumers think it’s passed rigorous FDA testing – but this is not necessarily the case.|
Upon enquiring you realise the use of this authoritative body’s stamp of approval is misleading. The FDA logo appears on the packaging of Fountanhead’s Heat Detox Patches, followed by the words “USA Food and Drug Administration Certified Medicine (510K, K052627)”. But Fountainhead are unable to show original documentation issued by the FDA in respect of their products. Instead they produce a certificate with several spelling mistakes and the stamp of a certain EK Science Research International Laboratory Co.
The name of the original Korean product, Forest Sap Patch, has been covered and replaced with the names for their own products, which means the certificate has been tampered with. This “FDA certificate” could signal a case of fraud, science journalist Dr George Claassen says. “No laboratory can issue a certificate on behalf of the FDA,” he stresses.
As you dig deeper, more interesting facts emerge. The foot patches supplied to the South African distributor by the Korean supplier KJI Industrial was never tested by the FDA for effectiveness. This is because foot patches in America are classified as over the counter remedies and not considered medicine.
As far as the FDA is concerned, these patches are merely used to “heat or cool” foot soles or as plasters to protect the skin, an FDA representative at the US consulate in Cape Town explains. In an e-mail, FDA inspector Geoffrey S Clarke confirms the way the FDA stamp is used in South Africa is misleading and contravenes FDA regulations. Microbiological studies required by the FDA are standard procedure to ensure the patches don’t contain germs or substances to which consumers may be allergic.
When South African manufacturers export rooibos tea for example, they also have to prove it’s not contaminated with among others the salmonella virus. All Fountainhead’s FDA documents therefore mean is a consultant was paid to apply to the FDA to register the product so it could be sold in the US. The same permission is needed if for example you wanted to export syringes or pill containers to the US.
It is also significant that a letter allegedly sent to the FDA in October 2008 to apply for registration contains no reference to the patches’ supposed detox function. Instead it describes the product as follows: The KJI Industrial Forest Sap Sheet One Touch is designed to provide relief of minor discomfort due to stress or strain resulting from repetitive sports, at-home or workplace activities through compression and through absorption or perspiration when applied to the feet.”
If the patches really do deliver a detox function, why keep quiet about it in the application to the FDA? On the FDA website the Korean supplier has registered a product called Forest Bandage – which is supposedly similar to the one sold in South Africa – but this only took place in 2008.
Fountainhead has been using the FDA stamp on their products since 2005, along with the altered certificate as “proof” of approval. In 2007 another local company distributing patches supplied by KJI Industrial was forced by the Advertising Standards Authorty (ASA) to remove the words “FDA approved” from their products. The ASA found a reasonable consumer would assume the words meant the product had been tested by the FDA. No product called “Detox Foot Pads” was registered with the FDA nor did it have to be, the ASA found.
Another claim made by Fountainhead concerning the quality of their product is that their patches have a NAPPI code. This is a National Pharmaceutical Product Interface code issued in South Africa by the organisation MediKredit. To obtain a NAPPI code you don’t have to prove your product has been tested and is effective. It’s simply a system for identifying medicine and medical equipment. MediKredit’s legal representative Karen Dreyer says the code is not an indication of the effectiveness of the product or a guarantee that medical aid funds will pay for it.
Fountainhead also advertise that their patches have an ISO number for “quality”. This is a certificate issued by the International Standardisation Organisation. The ISO however prohibits the way the ISO number is used by Fountainhead because it implies the product is approved by the ISO. In fact all the ISO number means is the Korean manufacturer, KJI Industrial, is registered with the ISO for quality control – and the certificate shown to Huisgenoot/YOU expired in August 2006. It’s no guarantee of effectiveness, as this kind of certificate is also issued for products such as matches or balloons.
The CE stamp Fountainhead also boasts about is merely a compulsory method of identifying products in the European market. It offers no proof of compliance with any consumer safety, health or environmental standards. Not one of the above-mentioned quality stamps tell you anything about the products’ effectiveness. Consumers should therefore think twice when an FDA certificate or ISO number is waved around in front of them.