IonCleanse foot baths: The confluence of antivaccine nonsense and cancer quackery

Regular readers might have noticed that my blogging has been a bit on the slow side since I made my return after surgery. Basically, a combination of trying to catch up on a lot of stuff that I had to let slide while I was in pain and then later recovering after my “repair.” Also, too much typing still tires out my affected hand more than it used to, and I rather expect that it will take months to get back to where I was before my malfunction. That means—for the short term, at least—I have to prioritize typing for work (e.g., grant applications, manuscripts) over my hobby even more than I used to. Finally. I’ve learned something. There was a time when I thought I had to have a post out every single day, 6-7 days a week. It didn’t matter if there was actually anything interesting to blog about. Later, I pared it down to weekdays. After a couple of prolonged absences, though, the one in 2017 while I was transferring my old blog over to this new platform and then earlier this month, I realized that things are just as good and I’m even more rewarded by my hobby if I only write when there’s something I find interesting to write about. That could mean five posts in a week. It might mean only one. I think, though, that I’ll be a lot happier and produce better material this way. This brings me to today’s topic, the confluence of antivaccine views and quackery as epitomized by a coffee klatch of wine-loving mothers who think they think but don’t, at least not really, and one of the silliest forms of quackery I’ve ever encountered, the “detox footbath,” specifically the IonCleanse ionic footbaths. What I’m about to relate would be hilarious if it weren’t so tragic.

The aforementioned coffee klatch of wine-swilling moms is, of course, the crew known as The Thinking Moms’ Revolution (TMR), or, as I like to call it, The (Not-So-Thinking) Moms’ Revolution, a revolution against, of course, “medical tyranny” (i.e., standard pediatric preventative care like vaccines) while painting themselves as victims of a grand medical conspiracy orchestrated by this “medical tyranny.” Unfortunately, TMR, like many hard core antivax groups, is into serious quackery, including homeopathy for autism. The TMR website is festooned with all manner of ads for all manner of quackery, including Biocidin, an herbal concoction that its makers claim is the “the most powerful natural inhibitor of pathogenic organisms” tested that is “equal or more effective than traditional therapies,” whatever that means. There are also rotating ads for camel’s milk, Algonot (neutraceuticals), GutPro Probiotic Powder, and Vayarin, which is touted as a “medical food for the dietary management of ADHD.” Then there’s the IonCleanse, which, unfortunately, was recently touted in a post entitled Help Us Save Kelli’s Life If You Can! It’s by a TMR blogger whom I don’t recall seeing much of before, Shawty, who now is apparently some sort of alternative medicine practitioner and is now appealing for funds to help a young woman with cancer, Kelli Wilhelm, who is the daughter of the sales manager for the distributor of the IonCleanse footbath, Glenn Wilhelm.

Here’s the appeal:

This has given me the chance to get to know AMD’s sales manager, Glenn Wilhelm, very well. When traveling, Glenn and I frequently talk of our families and especially our children. While Glenn is not an autism dad personally, he is one of those people—the helpers—who have wholeheartedly fallen in love with our community. He is usually one of the first people to offer assistance, find a way to support families like mine, or donate to families needing a little extra help. He truly has a giving heart and has helped many, many of us in this community, without asking for anything in return.

Now we have the ability to give back! Glenn’s family just received the news that his 20-year-old daughter, Kelli, has been diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma. Glenn has made many friends within our biomedical community; he has listened to our stories and knows the power of a biomedical treatment approach. He has assembled a terrific team to support his daughter through this journey. It is not unlike our own journeys of healing our children. Detox, diet, HBOT, IonCleanse footbaths, supplements, and the like will be part of Kelli’s protocol. They will see specialists not covered by insurance and do anything to help their child. Sound familiar?

Ewing’s sarcoma, being a sarcoma, is a form of soft tissue cancer. It’s also a rare tumor, with only around 200 cases a year in the US. The most common locations for this particular cancer are the legs, pelvis, and chest wall; the tumor can originate in bone or soft tissue like cartilage or muscle and is most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 10 and 20. Diagnosis is based on tissue biopsy, with the tumor showing characteristic findings on immunohistochemistry and molecular pathology. The treatment is usually multimodality therapy including chemotherapy, surgery to resect the tumor (which sometimes can require amputation of the affected limb, although usually the limb can be salvaged) and radiation. Five year survival for localized disease is in the 70-80% range, but much lower for more advanced disease.

Unfortunately Shawty’s description of Kelli Wilhelm’s story does sound very familiar. Basically, Mr. Wilhelm is lining up a bunch of quacks and quackery to treat his daughter’s cancer, just as the antivaxers at TMR line up a bunch of quacks and quackery to try to “cure” their children of autism. I realize he’s doing it out of love, but let’s just say that he’s not really helping, as you’ll see. As for IonCleanse “detox foot baths,” they are one of the most utterly ridiculous alternative medicine treatments out there. The idea is that the footbath “draws out the toxins” through the soles of your feet. Of course, the skin on the soles of the feet is thing and relatively impermeable, covered as it is with a layer of dead cells and keratin. But what about the color change in the bath, which quacks tout as “evidence” of all the toxins being extracted? That’s easy. As I’ve described on more than one occasion, thanks to the minerals in the water and some basic physics and chemistry of electrolysis that lead to the corrosion of the electrodes, the water will change color whether feet are in the bath or not. “Foot detox,” whatever the brand of bath, IonCleanse or others, is a brilliant scam to bilk the gullible.

All the quackery, whether silly or dangerous, aside, the first thing I wanted to know, however, was whether the quackery is being used instead of conventional therapy or along with it. Obviously, I very much hope that it’s the latter, but I can’ tell for sure. The part about “supporting his daughter through this journey” might or might not imply that she’s undergoing standard therapy. On the other hand, the way her story is told on the Facebook fundraising page implies that she probably is undergoing standard treatment as well:

On April 18th, after believing she was battling a simple kidney infection, 20 year old Kelli Wilhelm’s life was turned upside down by an unimaginable diagnosis of Ewing’s Sarcoma. This is a very rare, very aggressive form of cancer. Kelli will begin immediate treatment in an effort to stop this cancer in its tracks. Unfortunately, even with health insurance, her costs are already skyrocketing and she needs our help! Her family is invested in her recovery but they won’t be able to do it alone.

Notice the part about even with health insurance the costs are skyrocketing. On the other hand, all I see on the fundraising page, besides acknowledgments of contributions, are posts showing photos of Kelli next to a hyperbaric oxygen chamber and updates like this:

Day 3 of hyperbaric oxygen therapy! The form of cancer that Kelli has is what’s called anaerobic. That means that oxygen has the potential to destroy the cancer cells. She will be doing 5 days a week, 2 hours at a time, of deep pressure hyperbarics at Thriveology. This is one of the many tools that will be needed to help Kelli regain her full health, and we’re so grateful for all the donations which make this possible! Please keep the shares and prayers coming so we can get Kelli everything she needs on this journey. Thank you!! 🙏🏻💕

In the comments, someone named Carey Johnson Wennerstrom chimes in, “I hope she’s on the keto diet,” to which the response is, “She will be. She’s working with Dr. Anderson’s team.” Wennerstrom then notes:

Good. I have 1 of his pts now for continuation of care.
Have you read the published breast CA article on the stage 4 pt who did HBOT and keto? Amazing.

I did read the published breast cancer paper regarding the ketogenic diet and chemotherapy, and, no, it is anything but amazing. Certainly it doesn’t show that the ketogenic diet is effective against cancer. As for hyperbaric oxygen, there really isn’t good evidence to support its use against cancer.

In any case, I was curious about Paul Anderson, as he sounded familiar. So I searched the blog, and found that I’ve mentioned him multiple times before. If this is the same Paul Anderson (and I’m pretty sure it is), first off, he’s not a doctor. He’s a naturopath. Second, he champions IV curcumin as a treatment, a treatment that in other hands resulted in the death of a young woman named Jade Erick two years ago. It turns out that Not-a-Doctor Paul Anderson runs Advanced Medical Technologies, which offers infusion therapy (IV), hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), and infrared sauna – mild hyperthermia (IRMHT), as well as chelation therapy and “detox services.” Basically, he’s a major league quack.

I also couldn’t help but notice that the treatments for which this fundraiser is paying are being administered at another “holistic” practice, Thriveology. Perusing a list of the services offered there is like perusing a cornucopia of quackery, including homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic, naturopathy, and more. It’s not hard to find articles touting nonsense like the Blood Boost Tincture, claims that 60 million Americans are chronically infected with parasites and need treatment, and treating visual disturbances with acupuncture.

You get the idea. It’s a bunch of quacks.

It is indeed horrible to be so young and diagnosed with such a horrible disease. The lives of Kelli and her family will be upended, and there’s a not insignificant possibility that she might die of her disease even with maximal science-based treatment. I can only hope that she’s getting maximal conventional cancer therapy and that the quackery doesn’t interfere, at least not too much, with her real treatments. Of course, if she does survive her cancer (and I really, really hope that she does), no doubt her parents and she will credit all the quackery more than the actual effective science-based treatment.

As for TMR, this is just another example of how much overlap there is between believers in cancer quackery, even quackery as ridiculous as the IonCleanse, and antivaxers. Remember, Kelli Wilhelm’s father makes his living selling IonCleanse to credulous antivaxers like those at TMR. Unfortunately, he also believes in IonCleanse and all manner of other quackery and is raising money to subject his daughter to these unproven modalities.