Users are instructed to attach the pads to the soles of their feet or to another part of the body at night. As the ads show in great detail, the white pads turn a filthy gray by morning, something like the color of mop water after an especially grimy job. The transformation supposedly shows that the pad has sucked toxins from the body.
New Jersey-based Kinoki company, owned by Xacta 3000 Inc., says the herbal blend includes chamomile, hawthorn and wild indigo root.
Whether shopping by phone, online or in a drugstore, you can buy 14 Kinoki pads for about $20. According to the package label, that's a two-week supply.
The claims: One widely aired television ad calls Kinoki foot pads "the ancient Japanese secret to perfect health." According to the ad, each pad "cleanses and energizes while pulling harmful toxins out of your body." Specifically, the ad says that the pads can remove heavy metals, "metabolic wastes" and even parasites. Viewers are told that the pads can help relieve headaches, backaches, mood changes, depression, fatigue and insomnia while boosting the immune system.
Bee, the Kinoki supervisor, explains that ions in the pads create "magnetic channels" that pull out sweat and the toxins that come with it. "Some people think this is a scam," he says. "I estimate it works for 45% of people who use it."
The bottom line: In his perceptions of some others' opinions, Bee proved to be correct: "This product is a scam," says Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman, an associate professor of physiology and biophysics who studies alternative and conventional medicine at the Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C. There's simply no way that pads applied to skin can suck out enough toxins to improve health, she says.
She's not alone in her doubts. "Of course I think they're pretty silly," says Steve Gilbert, director of the Institute of Neurotoxicology and Neurological Disorders and an affiliate associate professor at the University of Washington in Seattle.
No matter what people wear on their feet, very few heavy metals or other toxins are excreted through the skin, Gilbert says. He adds that people don't suffer from overloads of "metabolic waste" because we already have tried-and-true disposal systems, namely urine and feces.
Even if the pads could remove heavy metals -- a huge stretch in Gilbert's estimation -- they wouldn't enhance a user's health. Offloading a little extra lead or mercury wouldn't make a person feel healthier or more energetic, he says. He encourages people who are concerned about heavy metals to avoid them in the first place, not look for ways to flush them out of the body.
In a Healthy Skeptic trial, I wore the foot pads for several nights in a row. As advertised, the pads turned muddy-colored by morning. I didn't feel especially energized or alert, although the whiff of vinegar did give me a quick jolt.
In a not-quite scientific experiment, I put a few drops of sterile saline solution on a fresh pad. The result: a dark-gray, unsightly mess that looked exactly like the pads I'd been pulling off my feet.
Either moisture alone can discolor the pads or the saline industry has some explaining to do.
The pads also turned dark after a few minutes near a warm fireplace. Another pad looked pristine after eight hours strapped to a pumpkin that has sat in a corner of our house since last fall. The pumpkin doesn't show any signs of rot, but I suspect it has plenty of things you wouldn't want in your body.
Whatever these pads are really soaking up, Fugh-Berman believes that some customers actually do feel better the next morning. "Once you've spent money on something like this, you're more likely to think that it works. You don't want to look like a fool to yourself."