Late night television infomercials seem to have a cheap fix for anything: lose weight, banish cellulite or improve conditions like diabetes, arthritis and insomnia. Or, all of the above.
Ads for Kinoki Foot Pads made exactly that bold claim, saying the pads use secrets of ancient Japanese medicine to cure or lessen many health woes, all for $19.95, plus shipping and handling.
"I think those are too many claims," said Dr. Ka-Kit Hui, director of UCLA's Center for East-West Medicine.
The federal Food and Drug Administration may share Hui's suspicions. They recently launched an investigation into the foot pad maker's claims in television and Internet ads, according to FDA spokesman Rita Chappelle.
Although she could not address the specifics of the open case, Chappelle says "basically, when we open up a case it means that the violation might be in terms of the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act, such as when (product makers) make false, misleading claims."
A lawyer for New Jersey-based Xacta 3000, Inc., the distributors of Kinoki Foot Pads, says that the company has revised its advertising to tone down the more eyebrow-raising parts.
"The claims made for the product seem to exceed the evidentiary support available," said Jonathan Emord, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer for the company. "They have modified the claims for the product."
Specifically, the foot pads won't claim to eliminate toxins from the body anymore.
"The product has a cleansing action upon the foot, so that you can use it to clean your foot, but (present evidence) does not support the proposition that the product eliminates contaminants from the rest of the body," Emord said. "The unfortunate thing is that the company in the first instance relied too heavily on the manufacturer's representations."
The science of the foot pads, as explained by the commercials, is this: teabag-like pads are attached to the bottom of the foot with an adhesive patch and worn overnight.In the morning, users remove the pad to find it darkened with "heavy metals, metabolic wastes, toxins, parasites, chemicals, cellulite and more," according to the initial TV commercial.
Western doctors are skeptical of claims that toxins can be removed through the skin. Dr. Stephen Barrett, a retired psychiatrist who operates the Web site Quackwatch.org, said skin is "not a detoxifying organ" — it excretes just water and salt. The liver removes toxins and the kidneys excrete them.
The Japanese medicine tradition kampo makes use of topical medicines and herbs, but Hui said he is wary of the Kinoki Web site's scant listing of the ingredients used: "bamboo vinegar, tourmaline, chitin and detox herbs."
"What are these detox herbs?" Hui said. "They can't just not let us know what's in it, because when you expose the body to herbs it can be good and it can be bad."
And though Kinoki makers say their product is based on acupressure points used in Chinese medicine, substantial stress can be relieved very simply by using a golf ball in self-massage instead, Hui said.
Dr. Sudha Prathikanti at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco agreed with Hui that the Kinoki claims seemed to be too far-reaching.
"For me, it really doesn't have the kind of backing it needs," said Prathikanti. "This random hodgepodge, it's some kind of Frankenstein medicine."
"This idea of one treatment for everyone, for all conditions really just doesn't make sense," she added.
Even in traditions that do make use of herb poultices applied to the skin, such as Ayurveda, those treatments are tailored to each patient: "You don't just randomly do the same treatment for every person."
Hui says that the foot pad sellers ought to open up their product to proper scientific study.
Emord said the company is doing exactly that, and has contracted with a research firm in Israel to conduct a scientific study of the product.