The Only Magic Out There is On A Stage

foot bath“Magical Mystery Cures” with Bob McDonald on “Doc Zone,” the excellent CBC program looked at the ‘anti-aging” industry. We were treated to a spectacular array of quacks outdoing each other with nonsense piled on nonsense. Bob did an excellent job going to anti-aging trade shows, exposing the various types of snake oil they peddle although he should have been more confrontational with the quacks.

One promoter of Kangen water, dressed in a white lab coat bearing a symbol very similar to the symbol of snakes wrapped around a staff used by the medical profession, had the gall to state that the water cures cancer. His gibberish filled spiel about fractured water clusters was absurd beyond belief. He was matched by the quack who was peddling an “ionic” foot bath, described below, claiming that the rust generated by the hidden electrodes were toxins being removed from the liver, and the clumps of brown guck were pesticide residues being eliminated. Bob did the right thing and showed that the same thing happens without feet being placed in the water, but unfortunately he didn’t do it in front of the quack. Would have loved to see the charlatan’s face and hear what explanation he would have come up with.

And then there was the woman who had some crystals attached to a laptop and muttered incomprehensible claptrap about quantum physics and had the nerve (or mental deficiency) to refer to Superman’s success with crystals. Bob properly castigated the quacks with their lotions, potions and useless electronic gizmos and concluded that the only real anti-aging regimes were exercise, eating right and selecting one’s parents properly. He should have added that the charlatans taking advantage of people who lack the scientific knowledge to see through their absurd schemes should be jailed like the thieves that they are.

Let’s elaborate on the foot bath scheme  mentioned above. The victim of this scheme is told that the special electrically-powered footbath can remove toxins from the body and improve health. And there is proof. As the subject sits with his or her feet in the bath, a rust colored scum forms, supposedly the accumulated toxins being released from the body.

Utter nonsense. What is really happening here is a simple process known as electrolysis.

When the power is turned on, a small current flows through the water between a pair of electrodes built into the bath. In this classic electrolysis experiment, as routinely performed by high school students; oxygen forms at one electrode and hydrogen at the other. But when one of the electrodes is made of iron, as it is in this case, a secondary reaction takes place. The iron is converted to iron hydroxide, which is insoluble in water. Essentially it is rust. This is what is passed off as the toxins coming out of the body. To enhance the effect, the victim is told to put a small amount of salt into the water to help in the “detoxifying process.” This of course has nothing to do with detoxifying, but it does increase the conductivity of the water, enhancing the rust formation.

Of course the rusty color will also be produced when no feet are placed in the water. But the ingenious charlatans can explain this too. Tap water, they say, contains all sorts of toxins, which are being removed by the detoxification procedure. To prove this point, they will sometimes demonstrate that distilled water yields no color. Of course not; distilled water does not conduct electricity. Unfortunately, consumers who are not well versed in science can be very easily taken in by this claptrap.

A lady who swam a great deal in chlorinated pools was amazed when she plunked her feet into the footbath and began to smell chlorine. Her interpretation was that this wonder device was removing the toxic chlorine from her body. Not so. When you have salt (sodium chloride) in the water, yet another reaction occurs. Chloride gets converted to chlorine, and its scent is readily perceived. But the chlorine is most assuredly not coming from the person’s body.

How is it then that some people feel so much better after undergoing an ion cleanse? Well, that’s the placebo effect coming into play. I suspect that if they were told that an extract of edible wolf peach grown under special hydroponic conditions exposed to photons corresponding to five hundred nanometers had magical curative properties, they would try that as well, and sing its praises. But I just described tomato juice. And while it doesn’t cure anything, at least you don’t have to shell out seven hundred dollars for a ridiculous ionic cleanser footbath. Where is government interference when you need it.

Joe Schwarcz

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