Your Friday Dose of Woo: When two woos go to war

There’s a new woo in town. Unfortunately, it’s the same as the old woo.

I first noticed it around Christmas. Inexplicably, I started getting a greatly increased amount of traffic to an old Your Friday Dose of Woo post of mine. The post to which I’m referring is one that I did a year and a half ago about some fabulously silly woo that claimed to remove toxins through the soles of your feet through a special foot pad, which inspired me to entitle the post These boots were made for detoxifyin’. This product in question was called “Miracle Patches” and, it was claimed, can remove all manner of “toxins,” including heavy metals, chemicals, and many of the “poisons” that are supposedly making us ill. Naturally, all sorts of testimonials were presented that purported to demonstrate the patches “worked” to do something other than remove dead skin from the soles of the feet. As I pointed out at the time, this was about as ridiculous a bit of woo as I had ever seen (and since then I have seen very little to compare to it). The very concept that it’s possible to remove an amount of “toxins” through the soles of the feet to have any sort of useful therapeutic effect stretches credulity to the breaking point even among the incredibly credulous.

Or maybe not.

I subsequently discovered that the reason for the uptick in my traffic four months ago was because there’s a new woo in town, and the seller of that woo had been airing actual infomercials about it on late night television. I don’t know why I didn’t write about it at the time (probably a wealth of good targets to choose from prevented me from revisiting a previous topic), but now there appears to be another uptick in my traffic on that old post again, an uptick that began a couple of weeks ago. Why that happened, I’ll get to near the end. But in the meantime, Miracle Patches, meet the Kinoki Detox Foot Pads, which, it is claimed, “cleanse and energize your body.”

Meet the new woo, same as the old woo, and it’s woo war!

So what are the differences between the two products?

Nothing substantive. Both claim that you–yes, you!–absorb all manner of horrible “toxins” from your food and from activities of daily living. Both products, it is claimed, are able to remove all manner of the usual “toxins” from your body through your feet. For both products, as “evidence” of their effectiveness, images of footpatches blackened with disgustingly dirty-looking stuff. Naturally, it’s claimed that this blackness is the “toxins” coming out of your body. Most laughably, if you watch the Kinoki commercial or read the FAQ, you’ll see a claim:

When the blood circulates to the soles, and the skin draws the toxins from the blood to the outer layer, the Kinoki™ Detox Foot Pad can absorb eliminated toxins released from the acupuncture points. After only one night of use, there may be significant changes to the smell and color of the sachet (from brown to grayish black) as it reflects the amount and degree of toxins, which were eliminated by the body. With continuous usage, there should be a visible reduction in the stain and odor of the pad.

In the commercial, the human body is likened to a tree with its feet as the roots–or something, in that a tree draws “energy” from the earth through its roots and we supposedly draw energy from the earth through our feet. At least, I think that’s what they’re saying. How such a claim relates to anything is unclear, but the computer graphics sure are pretty, even if they’re not that sophisticated. The commercial is even “science-y” enough to show actual graphs that supposedly show that the use of Kinoki Detox Foot Pads actually lowers the levels of mercury, lead, thallium, and–gasp!–aluminum in elemental hair analysis. It also shows alleged laboratory analyses of the pads before and after use, with the “after” showing the presence of all manner of “toxins,” including benzene, isopropyl alcohol, cadmium, mercury, and all other manner of toxic miscreants.

But the Kinoki Foot Pads do so much more. Really. If you watch the commercial, you’ll see a claim that it provides you with ions. Yes, ions. Never mind that your plasma is full of both positive and negative ions in the form of sodium chloride, potassium chloride, phosphate buffers, calcium, magnesium, bicarbonate, etc. In fact, it is primarily the ions that buffer the pH of the body’s plasma to the usual narrow range between 7.35 and 7.45. Of course, another problem with this claim is that the skin, particularly the skin on the soles of the feet, is pretty impermeable to ions. The reason is the thick layer of keratin-containing epithelial cells. The only sorts of chemicals that can usually be absorbed through the skin tend to be organic molecules that are fairly lipid-soluble and can thus dissolve in the cell membranes of the epithelial cells of the skin and be absorbed into the bloodstream through the capillaries just under the skin.

So, here we have two products that are basically the same. Which one should one go for? To paraphrase what is asked on every episode of Iron Chef America: Whose woo will reign supreme? (Yes, I know it lacks the nice rhyme that the Iron Chef tagline of “Whose cuisine will reign supreme?” has. Cut me some slack here.) In fact, we could look at this as a battle in Woo Stadium between Iron Woo Kinoki and Iron Woo Miracle Patch. Oh, wait. Scratch that. Isn’t iron one of the “toxins” these foot pads supposedly eliminate? Never mind.

Personally, I favor the Miracle Patches over the Johnny-come-lately Kinoki pads. The reason, of course, is that there are so many varieties that can do so much more for me. After all, Health Marvels offers Miracle Patches such as the Blue Edition, the Red Edition, the Green Edition, the Grapefruit edition , the Enhanced Grapefruit Edition (with 12.5 times the grapefruit!), the Quick Edition (heads up, Abel, this one contains milk thistle, one of your areas of interest!), and, of course, the Green Tea Edition. I realize that during my first go-around with these pads, I declared the Green Tea Edition to by my favorite, but I have since changed my mind. Now I favor the Gold Edition TRMX-2, which contains something called Tourmaline, which, if you believe the literature, “exerts a cleansing and liberating energy upon our entire nervous system with a clearing and stabilizing effect.” Here’s what the manufacturer says it can do:

Manufacturer recommends this for those who suffer from Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, and heavy metal poisoning.

Known effective for these symptoms: Fatigue, headache, double vision, blood pressure, arthritis, rheumatism, skin problems,stress, slow learning, hot flashes due to menopause, and mood swings.

Here is what the manufacturer has to say about this particular edition:
The TRMX-2 model emits negative ion on average of 1300 ion/cm3.

TRMX-2 has been proven to be able to improve heavy metals poisoning according to our latest clinical testings.

Hah! Take that, Kinoki! I bet your pads can’t emit 1,300 ions/cm3, can they? Well, can they?

I think not.

Oh, wait. Silly me. I did the calculation before and figured out that 1,300 ions/cm3 is the equivalent of 2.1 x 10-16 coulomb. I keep forgetting. The woo in the foot must be going to my head.

Back to why I decided to post about this particular woo again, though. It turns out that I discovered the reason for the recent uptick in visits to my old post on these foot pads from Google searches. It turns out that a couple of weeks ago, John Stossel did an exposé on the whole Kinoki phenomenon. I wonder what he found. But before I get to that, I just want to point out this great quote about the foot pads that I found in a Los Angeles Times article:

Ads for Kinoki Foot Pads made exactly that bold claim, saying the pads use secrets of ancient Japanese medicine to cure or lessen many health woes, all for $19.95, plus shipping and handling.

“I think those are too many claims,” said Dr. Ka-Kit Hui, director of UCLA’s Center for East-West Medicine.

I stand in awe at the understatement. If ever there was a reason why I lament the infiltration of quackademic medicine into medical academia, Dr. Hui just showed me why with his unwillingness just to say that the entire concept behind these pads is utterly ridiculous on a scientific basis. He doesn’t really redeem himself much later in the interview, either:

The Japanese medicine tradition kampo makes use of topical medicines and herbs, but Hui said he is wary of the Kinoki Web site’s scant listing of the ingredients used: “bamboo vinegar, tourmaline, chitin and detox herbs.”

“What are these detox herbs?” Hui said. “They can’t just not let us know what’s in it, because when you expose the body to herbs it can be good and it can be bad.”

Yes, but the whole concept is bullshit. That’s what he should have said, and the failure to do so makes me wonder just how much physiology he still remembers from medical school. But back to Stossel’s report. It’s pretty amusing. First, he did the obvious and sent used Kinoki pads out for chemical testing. The results? None of the toxins claimed in the commercial to have been detected were found:

The Kinoki ads’ claim that we’re brimming with things like heavy metals, toxins and parasites scares people. “20/20” asked NMS Labs, a national laboratory in Willow Grove, Pa., that performs toxicology testing, to analyze the used Kinoki and Avon pads from eight of our group to see what we could find on the pads.

The lab tested for a lot of things, including heavy metals like arsenic and mercury and 23 solvents, including benzene, tolulene and styrene and found none of these on the used pads.

“I feel like it’s a scam,” said Sweeney. “It’s just the moisture in your feet that are darkening the pad.”

No! Say it ain’t so! It’s got to be the toxins! It’s just got to be! Why? Because Kinoki says it is. Stossel then did another obvious test:

There’s no evidence that it’s toxins. When I dropped distilled water on the pad, it turns dark in seconds.

D’oh!

But wait, say the woo-meisters. Stossel also reported that testing more pads did detect lead in a few of them. Proof! Take that, you nasty skeptics! Well, not quite:

Now of course our informal study was not definitive. In one later test we did found a trace of lead on five pads but Friedman-Jimenez believes it didn’t come from people.

“It could’ve been in the packaging of the pad, it could’ve been a contamination from dust on the floors. Many apartments that have lead paint have trace amounts of lead in the dust and if someone is walking around barefoot,” the doctor said, it could have gotten on our testers’ feet. “But the lead is not toxin that’s being drawn from the person’s body.”

Now whom are you going to believe? Kinoki or a nasty, skeptical doctor like Dr. Friedman-Jimenez? Besides, we all know that that negative skeptic energy can interfere with the function of any woo, right?

These two woos may be at war, but it looks as though there’s even a third woo in town. Sadly, it, too, is the same as the old woo, only apparently cheaper. Meet the Detoxion.com foot patches, a company that, shockingly, uses the Kinoki.com domain:

…Detoxion provides a “one-two punch”. First, it contains Tourmaline, which is a mineral found in Brazil. Tourmaline possesses a unique property of emitting far infrared rays (FIR), which generate negative ions. Negative ions are known for having a soothing therapeutic effect on your body. That’s why people feel so relaxed after a rain storm or being next to a waterfall. When worn on your foot, the negative ions stimulate acupressure meridian points for various vital organs which promote improved circulation and detoxification activity. A side benefit many people report is that Detoxion helps them get a deep relaxing sleep.

Second, Detoxion contains a vinegar essence from Bamboo trees. Chinese villagers have known for thousands of years that tree sap can be used as a potent topical salve for treating infections and irritations. Scientists have discovered that a highly processed formulation of these ingredients has an amazing ability to absorb toxins right through your skin. Detoxion uses only the finest sap from Bamboo tress, not the cheaper, less effective sap from oak or beech with sakura filling. Add chitosan, pearl stone, highly purified silica, polyolic alcohol and starch and you have a powerful synergistic detoxification product.

I love it when woos use “science-y” sounding but meaningless terms like “synergistic detoxification.” But, hey, Detoxion uses Tourmaline too. In any case, I can understand why these guys might be upset with the upstart Kinoki pads. After all, from what I can tell, both Health Marvels and Detoxion offer far superior woo to Kinoki, which is in actuality a rather boring “plain vanilla” sort of woo-ful foot pad. Both Detoxion and Health Marvels clearly offer far more variety in their woo. Heck, Detoxion even shows infrared evidence that it’s “working:

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Totally convincing, isn’t it? I mean, look at the increased blood flow! Perish the thought that it’s probably due to differences in technique or room temperature or any of a number of factors that can affect such images! Nasty skeptics!

Of course, Kinoki has a far better commercial, which has brought it all the buzz, and in woo-world, that’s all that really matters.