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Beware the Dangers of "Detoxing"

person in hammock relaxing barefoot.jpg

Already the Christmas ads are upon us. Halloween’s sugar rush is over, and now the seasonal gluttony is continuing with mince pies, wine and boxes of chocolate appearing in shops. It’s a time of fires burning in hearths and trees being brought inside. And, naturally, between the inhalation of smoke and artificial pine and cinnamon scents and the memories of glow-in-the-dark Halloween sweets we might start thinking about how best to remain healthy.

We might even think of ‘detoxing’. The idea is simple - you take in ‘toxins’ from your environment constantly (‘artificial things’ and junk food usually being fingered as the culprits), and they supposedly build up in your body, making you feel unwell. Lots of people are happy to sell you things to help remove those toxins. “But this is about what we eat and so on” I hear you say. “Aren’t you one of those people who deals with feet? Why are you writing about this?”

That’s the problem. That’s why when someone sold my unwell friend a five hundred euro footbath to ‘detox’, I was less than impressed. In case you have not come across them, there are a range of foot products out there that promise to save you from the modern, polluted world and from dietary excesses. Some of these are pads and patches you are supposed to wear on your feet. They will turn impressively brown, and you are supposed to accept this as evidence of the toxins and go out and get another set. There are also foot baths which turn a scary shade of brown when you put your feet in the water and run an electric current through it. The water looks murky and rust-coloured, probably because that is, in fact, rust. Put iron into the water - as these have - make the water salty, and then run an electric current into it, and watch the water turn brown. Corral a handy secondary-school chemistry student and they can confirm this for you. Or if you know someone who has one of these detox foot baths, try putting a teaspoon of salt into the water and then running it without any feet in it.

Your feet are not very permeable. The skin on the sole of your foot is among the thickest on the body. This is, pretty obviously, because you need to walk on it. It’s designed to be thick, relatively impermeable, and take the forces and stresses of walking - and yet that is where you are supposed to put the patches. Why? Wouldn’t that stop you detoxing as effectively? If that was the manufacturers’ aim, wouldn’t they want you to put them on thinner skin, on skin with very high circulation that will allow for higher removal of ‘toxins’ from the bloodstream?

Ah, but you see, your feet also sweat a lot. These pads react to warmth and water to change colour. Foot detox patches turn black when held in clean steam from a kettle. You may be told to keep using these patches until they are pale or white when you take them off in the morning, when you will be ‘detoxed’. If your feet sweat at night you could continue using these things indefinitely, watching them turn black from the water, still convinced that you have more ‘toxins’ to expel.

Manufacturers claim these will remove toxins, heavy metals, parasites, radiation and even cellulite. If any of these claims were true, wouldn’t victims of poisoning be covered in pads and put in a footbath as soon as they entered the hospital? But instead there is a lack of large-scale fair tests, and the simple tests that have been done don’t support the claims made.

So skip the foot detoxes. Your liver and kidneys are doing the job for you, and your feet won’t be able to manage. Were you to actually have heavy metal poisoning you’d need urgent medical attention, not a patch. But is there anything you can do to help your health this Christmas?

We tend to identify the unfamiliar as ‘toxins’. The reality is the most toxic thing any of us will ingest this Christmas is likely to be alcohol, or smoke from cigarettes. ‘Detox’ by giving up these things, and by eating well and moderately, not by putting a band-aid on the problem, or your feet. All it will do is give you false reassurance and a lighter wallet. If you feel your diet is bad, address it now, don’t give up on it and wait for January to sort it out - make changes yourself or work out a plan with a dietician. If your feet are exuding brown ‘toxins’, wash them and consult a podiatrist. If you actually can detox through your feet - nay, through a small patch of your feet on the thickest part of the skin - well enough to remove dangerous levels of heavy metals from your whole body, come to me and I’ll write you up as a medical miracle and become famous. Exercise is often forgotten this time of year, but it is good for your heart and mind and can be completely free.  Use your feet to walk on, not to detox.

Author: Constance Corry