Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Foot Pads: a Sticky Issue

The Wall Street Journal

Just put a white adhesive pad on your foot and go to sleep. And overnight, the detoxification foot pads soak up toxins from your body and purify it, resulting in myriad health benefits, according to companies that sell the pads. Scientists say there is no credible evidence the pads are effective, and the Federal Trade Commission has charged one company with deceptive advertising.

Detoxification foot pads, sold by a variety of companies under many brand names, typically contain vinegar, a ground-up gem called tourmaline and often a mix of plant and herbal substances. Cost varies, ranging from about $15 for a packet of 14 to high-end pads costing $5 each.

Typically, sellers claim the pads give off infrared energy, which improves circulation and stimulates release of toxins from the body. Several marketers show pictures of dark, blackened pads after a night's use, claiming this is evidence that impurities were removed.

A test of three pads for this article, however, found all turned black or grey as soon as they were placed under running water. One pad, worn overnight, did darken—but was identical in color to a pad stuck on leftover Chinese food and left at room temperature overnight. Two pads attached overnight to a countertop and an apple remained white.

Natural Standard Research Collaboration, a Cambridge, Mass., scientist-owned group that evaluates natural therapies, reviewed the scientific evidence for detoxification foot pads for this article. The group concluded there is a "lack of reliable data" on the pads.

"The bottom line is there is not high-quality scientific evidence supporting its use," says Catherine Ulbricht, co-founder of Natural Standard and senior attending pharmacist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Risks include possible skin irritation from the adhesive or allergic reactions to one or more of the ingredients, she adds.

Several companies claim the source of the infrared radiation—and some of the health benefits—is the tourmaline. While all materials emit infrared, or heat, energy, tourmaline isn't known to do so any more than anything else, says Darrell Henry, a professor of geology and geophysics at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, La. He says he isn't aware of any "legitimate research" that shows any health benefits for the gem.

Early last year, the FTC charged Xacta 3000 Inc., of Lakewood, N.J., with deceptive marketing of Kinoki-brand detox foot pads. In its response to the pending suit, filed in U.S. District Court in New Jersey, Xacta said it hadn't done anything unlawful. A pending class-action suit by purchasers, filed in the same court, seeks monetary damages from Xacta and another distributor for alleged fraudulent marketing of the product. A lawyer for Xacta, which filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in January, didn't return calls seeking comment.

Other marketers of foot pads say the Kinoki pad has given them a bad name, and at least two have done at least small studies that purport to show their own products work. The Wall Street Journal's search found no large, well-controlled trials on foot-detoxification pads published in any major scientific publication.

Japan's Kenrico Ltd., which sells pads world-wide, says it uses high-quality ingredients not used by some U.S. makers. Kenrico posts several human studies on its Web site, which it says were done by an independent Japanese lab, including two that show reduction in toxins such as lead, mercury, aluminum and arsenic as measured by a hair analysis after three months' use. However studies are small. Kenrico also says data on its pads have been published in a medical journal, but the company declined to provide a copy.

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