Do special footbaths help remove toxins?

Bowl of Water WEBI am a scientist. Science is a good way of proving if something works, or not. The idea behind the “scientific method”, is that you can take an idea (any idea) and if you carry out a fair experiment you will know if your idea has a good chance of being right. Please read “Why we need science: “I saw it with my own eyes” is not enough” if you are interested in this topic.

Some people believe that special footbaths (sometimes called “aqua detox”) can help remove toxins from your body and that this is especially helpful if you are having chemotherapy because chemotherapy is toxic.

Does it work? No. If a footbath could help you tolerate chemotherapy then it would be available on the NHS, in the hospital. A foot bath feels nice, it is relaxing and can make you feel better but scientifically it is not doing anything to remove toxins from you.

What about special footbaths that are connected up to electricity? The ones where the water turns brown and you can smell the chlorine coming off? Surely that must be doing something? Short answer, no. The chlorine smell is created by salt in the water and the brown colour is caused by the electrodes rusting (a process called electrolysis).

How could you test the footbath scientifically? Well, you could try running the footbath without putting your feet in and see if you could still smell the chlorine or see if the water still changed colour, then you would know that the brown colour and the smell aren’t caused by your feet but by the foot bath itself! For more information read the book “Bad Science” by Ben Goldacre, he discusses these footbaths right at the start (pages 2 to 5) and in his blog “Rusty Results“.

There is no doubt that chemotherapy is toxic. The chemicals are harmful to cells, that is why doctors use them, to harm and hopefully kill cancer cells. Medicinal chemists (the ones who make drugs) spend years studying these chemicals, how they interact in the body and how they are broken down, they know what these chemicals are broken down to, they know if your body gets rid of them via your kidneys, because they can measure them in your urine etc. The important point is that we know what these chemical compounds are and we can measure them.

What about the toxins in the footbath? Toxins is a very broad and general term, before we can measure something we need to know the name of a specific toxin that is being removed from your body. As far as I know not even one toxin has been proven to be removed using these footbaths.

Why a foot bath specifically? The usual way of removing waste from your body is via your bowels/stools/poo or via your urine/piss/pee. Your feet might sweat, but they shouldn’t ooze toxins, your feet are evolved for standing on, not for disposing waste.

So what is the harm? Well, if you can afford it and you like having a footbath then there is little harm. Although please don’t believe all complementary and alternative treatments are harmless, any complementary treatment that delays you from seeking professional medical advice (by that I mean from your NHS GP or NHS consultant) could cause you harm.

What if you can’t afford it? Don’t worry, having a special footbath has no bearing on whether your cancer will respond well to treatment. Many people feel guilty if they don’t try every complementary or alternative treatment going. Some people feel they are not trying “hard enough”, if they haven’t tried massage, acupuncture, homeopathy, footbaths, meditation etc, etc. All of these things can make you feel better and that can help you cope with chemotherapy and radiotherapy there is no doubt about that. However, some people have a cancer that will respond to chemo and radiotherapy and some people don’t, regardless of which complementary or alternative therapies they try. If you like to stick to treatments proven by science, please don’t feel guilty about it.

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