How Do Ionic Footbaths Work?

A few years ago, ionic footbaths started to pop up in the alternative-healthcare world, and many alternative-healthcare facilities soon began offering these baths as the popularity of the treatment grew. Ultimately, getting an ionic footbath became one of the many "must do" treatment options that alternative-medicine practitioners suggested to patients dealing with cancer. While ionic footbaths are no longer making headlines as alternative-medicine aficionados move on to the next big thing, many facilities across the country still offer these services.

Woman having a foot bath.
Credit: Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images

The Origins of Ionic Footbaths

The origins of ionic therapy are loosely linked to American inventor Royal Raymond Rife, considered to be the modern-day inventor of bioelectric medicine. Rife developed a theory regarding frequency and viruses: in the same way that glass can be shattered when a soprano's pitch matches the glass's frequency, so too can viruses be destroyed when introduced to the right balance of resonating frequency. Dr. Mary Staggs is the first documented person to apply this information for commercial purposes. In 2001, she took accumulated research based in part on Rife's theories and on the theories of other doctors, and created the first commercial ionic footbath as a means to detoxify the body through electrolysis.

What an Ionic Footbath Entails

The process involved in using an ionic footbath is straight forward. A person simply soaks her feet for 30 minutes in a footbath filled with saltwater. Low-voltage electrical currents are applied to the water to create positive and negative ions. The negative ions are then purported to enter the body through osmosis to subsequently attack toxins. While there are reports of water changing color during the process, which is often mistakenly attributed as evidence your body is releasing toxins, the true cause of the water change is iron oxidation -- specifically, the water interacting with the metals of the device.

Benefits of Ionic Footbaths

According to proponents of ionic footbaths, the benefits of the baths are numerous and far sweeping. Some claim immediate benefits, such as increased energy levels, reduced headaches, an enhanced sense of calm, and improved sleep. Other claims have been more specific, suggesting that ionic footpaths can enhance liver and kidney functions, reverse aging while brightening the skin's complexion, strengthen immunity to better protect against diseases, and balance hormones, glucose levels and blood pressure.

Scientific Controversy

The jury is still out on the effectiveness of ionic footbaths. Some practitioners still swear by their efficacy -- others are less convinced. Steve Gilbert, an affiliate associate professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle, and manager of an online toxicology database, told the "Los Angeles Times" that the skin isn't built for drawing out chemicals, toxins and other substances. "The skin is a darn good barrier that's designed to keep things in the body. [Claiming to pull] stuff across that barrier is nutty." Regardless of scientific evidence that counters the efficacy of these treatments, ionic footbaths remain a staple of alternative-healthcare treatments.

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