Rusty results

September 2nd, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in adverts, alternative medicine, bad science, detox, very basic science, water | 14 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday September 2, 2004
The Guardian

· Time for a Johnny Ball kitchen science experiment, I think. I could have told you from the start that “Aqua Detox” was a scam, and a popular one at that. Why? Because it is claimed to extract “toxins” from your body through the “2,000 pores in your feet” discovered by those ancient Chinese scientists. And because it’s so charmingly theatrical: you put your feet in a water bath, containing “natural organic salts”, with an electrical current that “resonates” with your “bio-energetic field” passing across it, and the water goes first tea-coloured, and then properly brown, with a sludge on top. You think I’m making this up, but it’s been in the Daily Telegraph, and innumerable other places. So it must be true. And this brown, the Aqua Detox people proudly tell you, is from the toxins coming out of your body.

· Thinking back to GCSE chemistry, it seemed likely to me that it was rust rather than toxins, since they have, after all, got a pair of metal electrodes in a salt water bath with a current passing across them. And so we set up, on a kitchen table, a bowl containing salt and water, with two metal nails attached to a car battery. And what do you know: our water goes brown too, with a nice sludge on top. Could this be the same brown as the Aqua Detox water?

· Bravely I sent along my friend Dr Mark Atkins to have himself Aqua Detoxed. He took water samples from the bowl, which we sent off to the Medical Toxicology Unit at New Cross, south-east London. You can only imagine our excitement, especially as they charged us £200 for the analysis. And so – triumphant music – the water taken out before they switched their Aqua Detox machine on contained only 0.54mg per litre of iron (probably from the metal spoon); but afterwards it contained … 23.6mg/l. Our water, from our kitchen table setup, contained 97mg/l (and it was a bit browner).

· But did it extract toxins? “Toxin” is classic pseudoscience terminology. Essentially, the Aqua Detox people are offering dialysis, through your feet. Urea and creatinine are probably the smallest molecules – call them “toxins” if you like – that your body gets rid of, in places like urine and sweat: if “toxins” were going to come out, anywhere, you’d expect those to come out, too. There was no urea or creatinine in the water before the Aqua Detox, and there was none in the water afterwards. Which means, I believe, that we win.


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14 Responses



  1. Penta_Water_UK said,

    December 4, 2005 at 11:08 am

    Not only did you win….. but your brave friend Dr Mark Atkins, has proven beyond doubt to the world that he doesnt have sweaty feet !!

  2. tore124 said,

    January 11, 2008 at 9:07 am

    I am actually a practitioner of nutrition and herbal medicine, BSc trained in both, and although there is a generalised criticism amongst your work Ben, I have to admit that I support 90% of what you have written across this site and within the press. I too am pushing for a greater evidence base within our profession, and get very angry by the level of bullsh** that is out there…..especially things like this aqua detox.

    There are those of us that come from a scientific background and realise the extent to which nonsense like this can A)threaten our ability to continue practicing, and B)continue to affect the way in which we are portrayed as a whole to the ‘conventional” medical/scientific communities.

    Much Kudos for this one. How about those dastardly detox foot patches (rolls eyes in disbelief)!!

  3. BioEnergiser Detox Spa debunked - Tech|noob said,

    January 23, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    [...] Ben Goldacre at Bad Science decided to test the claims made by the $200 spa. His result? You get the exact same outcome when you run current across two ferrous electrodes in a plain salt water solution. Blame the "toxicity" on the rust that is generated as a by-product! Moreover, Ben also managed to generate the same sludge in the detox spa without placing his feet in it. [...]

  4. BioEnergiser Detox Spa debunked » Developages - Development and Technology Blog said,

    January 23, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    [...] Ben Goldacre at Bad Science decided to test the claims made by the $200 spa. His result? You get the exact same outcome when you run current across two ferrous electrodes in a plain salt water solution. Blame the “toxicity” on the rust that is generated as a by-product! Moreover, Ben also managed to generate the same sludge in the detox spa without placing his feet in it. [...]

  5. gadgets news blog » BioEnergiser Detox Spa debunked said,

    January 24, 2008 at 4:01 am

    [...] Ben Goldacre at Bad Science decided to test the claims made by the $200 spa. His result? You get the exact same outcome when you run current across two ferrous electrodes in a plain salt water solution. Blame the “toxicity” on the rust that is generated as a by-product! Moreover, Ben also managed to generate the same sludge in the detox spa without placing his feet in it. [...]

  6. האמת על עוד "תרופת-פלא אנטי טוקסינית": said,

    March 30, 2008 at 3:47 pm

    [...] מדע0 תגובות יום ראשון, 30/3/08, 18:47 Ben Goldacre from "Bad Science" tests the “Aqua Detox” so-called "anti-toxin treatment". דרג את התוכן:0מומלץלא מומלץהוספת [...]

  7. Nutritional Fairy Tales from Thames Valley University said,

    November 4, 2008 at 12:18 am

    [...] it still is. The alleged toxins have never been identified, still less removed. Detoxification is a myth of downmarket women’s magazines and profiteering spas. And, of course, of some Bachelor of [...]

  8. Atomac » Blog Archive » Detox said,

    June 1, 2009 at 5:38 am

    [...] the body through the feet in any quantities to be significant. Ben Goldacre writing in his blog Bad Science tested another foot spa detox making similar claims to IonSpa. He concluded (after replicating an [...]

  9. Central Ohioans for Rational Inquiry said,

    August 25, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    [...] debunking foot detox.  Ben Goldacre did a fantastic job debunking the machine on his blog, bad science.  He constructed his own foot detox apparatus, which yielded the same results–without any [...]

  10. Do special footbaths help remove toxins? » Understanding Cancer said,

    October 13, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    [...] 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“. [...]

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  12. ggkate said,

    June 4, 2010 at 3:18 am

    aturday: I’ve just read the Guardian version and it’s been cut a bit, whole chunks missing, and bits r

  13. Ionising Foot Spas? Any very good? | Health Questions and Answers said,

    March 1, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    [...] Answers:A little bit of homework will reveal it can be a rip-off. www.badscience.net/?p=1… [...]

  14. To Juice or Not to Juice? | sciencemedicinetech said,

    February 18, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    […] “Rusty results”. Ben Goldacre. 2 September 2004. Retrieved 18 March 2013. […]

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