One way to scam people is to diagnose and correct a nonexistent problem. Aqua Detox practitioners do this by claiming to remove toxins and balance cellular energy. During treatment sessions, the customer’s feet are bathed for 30 minutes in salt water that is subjected to a low-voltage current transmitted through an electrode assembly called an “array” (the dark cylindrical object to which the wire is attached). Aqua Detox International claims that the apparatus “produces a frequency of positive and negative ions, which gently resonates through the body and stimulates all the cells within it. . . . rebalancing the cellular energy, enabling the cells to perform efficiently and . . . release any toxins that may have built up.”  During the process, the water typically turns reddish brown. Some marketers refer to the process as “ionic cleansing” or an “ionic foot bath.”
Another marketer (Mobile Beauty) further explains that “the system draws toxins out through the soles of the feet” and that the “water changes color due to the release of toxic substances through the 2000 pores of the soles of the feet.” It’s treatment sessions typically cost £15 to £30. The company’s Web site states that “You’ll see the excreted toxins in the water. The water will change color and consistency—from orange, brown through to black.” Yellow is said to come from the kidneys and bladder; orange/brown from the joints; green/dark brown to black from the liver, gall bladder and/or bowel; and white from the lymphatic system. Grease or fat particles may float on top of the water. According to the company, the process can be used to improve liver and kidney function; circulation; general metabolism; arthritis and joint pain; headaches; fatigue; irritability; menstrual pain; skin problems; mercury and heavy metal toxicity; food allergies, and poor digestion .
The above claims are nonsensical. Most of the listed conditions do not have a toxic basis. Positive and negative ions cannot “resonate” throughout the body in response to any such device. And the skin has no ability to excrete toxins. Real detoxification of foreign substances takes place in the liver, which modifies their chemical structure so they can be excreted by the kidneys which filter them from the blood into the urine.
The Aqua Detox is said to have been developed by “Dr.” Mary Staggs based on “research” by Royal Rife . Staggs, who is British, obtained two naturopathy degrees from a nonaccredited American correspondence school and appears to do most of her work in Spain . Rife was an American inventor who, during the 1920s, claimed to have developed a powerful microscope that could detect living microbes by the color of auras emitted by their vibratory rates . A survey by science journalist Ray Girvan has identified at least 19 other devices that are similar to the Aqua Detox . Most of the devices sell for about £1,000.
Many skeptics suspected that the color change produced by the Aqua Detox was caused by rust (oxidized iron), rather than toxins. Ben Goldacre, who writes the “bad science” column for Guardian Unlimited (an online British newspaper), investigated by using a car battery to send current through two metal nails that he placed into a bowl of salt water. The water turned brown and developed some sludge on top. Then he sent a colleague to get “detoxed” and collect before-and-after water samples. Laboratory testing showed that in both cases, the change of water color was due to greatly increased iron content . Thus it appears that (a) the color change is due mainly to the precipitation of rust created by corrosion of the electrodes, and (b) the water would change color regardless of whether or not a foot was placed in it.
The Guardian Unlimited article has had some impact on how the Aqua Detox and its imitators are marketed. Some marketers admit that the colors are due entirely to electrode conversion, and there is less emphasis on toxin removal and more emphasis on the “balancing” of “energy” that is not measurable with scientific instruments (and is therefore untestable.) But the bottom line is very simple. All such devices should be considered medically worthless.
- Research for Aqua Detox. Aqua Detox International Web site, accessed Dec 27, 2004.
- Miracle Beauty home page, accessed Dec 27, 2004.
- American Cancer Society. Questionable methods of cancer management: Electronic devices. CA—A Cancer Journal for Clinicians 44:115-127, 1994.
- Harris G. A detox to make your toes curl. Daily Telegraph, June 6, 2003.
- Mary Staggs. Biographical information on Contact Reflex Analysis and Nutritional research Foundation Web site, accessed Dec 27, 2004.
- Girvan R. Dodgy detox. Apothecary’s Drawer Weblog, May 28, 2004.
- Goldacre B. Rusty results. Guardian Unlimited, Sept 2, 2004.
This article was revised on December 28, 2004.