Ionic footbaths are a popular tool for detoxing the body. The media has been quick to label them pseudoscience based on some poorly done research. Properly done research has shown that ionic footbaths do increase detoxification of heavy metals.1 There is still some uncertainty as to the mechanism of action, but the anecdotal evidence of the effectiveness of ionic footbaths is overwhelming.
The way that ionic footbaths work is through electrolysis. A direct current goes through one end of the array, through the water (which has salt added for conductivity), and back through the other end of the array. Depending on if the machine is set to positive or negative, the current will break water into positively charged hydrogen ions (H+) and oxygen gas (O2), or negatively charged hydroxyl ions (OH-) and hydrogen gas (H2). You can usually see or smell the O2 or H2 gas near the array. The main theory of how ionic footbaths work is that the ions in the water pull out oppositely charged toxins through the pores in the feet and into the tub of water. While there is some variation in watercolor from person to person, most of the color comes from the oxidation of the metal plates in the array, and the ions reacting with solutes in the water. I have used my machine in different cities, and I can tell you that color of the water in Seattle, Eugene, Sacramento, and Los Angeles all looked completely different, ranging from orange, to brown, to dark green. The studies were done to disprove the effectiveness of ionic footbaths all were looking at what toxins were in the water, and nothing was found.
The water in the tub is only a small portion of the water in the whole system. Those who use ionic footbaths will notice that when the machine is turned on or switches polarity, you can often feel a small “shock.” Just like the salted water in the tub, your body is largely made out of water and electrolytes, and the current will travel through your body as well. Most of the detoxification happens internally, and this is why when urine is tested for days after a footbath session, large increases in heavy metals are found. It is the current itself that is responsible for the detoxification, not the ions in the tub. Research has also shown that detoxification from using an ionic footbath is greatly increased when combined with a cilantro tincture taken orally (cilantro has its own metal detoxification properties). Clinical experience has shown that cleansing the hands instead of the feet can help the brain detox better.
Nobody knows exactly what the current does inside the body to cause heavy metal detoxification, but I believe it likely has to do with the formation of exclusion zone (EZ) water.2 EZ water is a kind of structured water that is inside your cells. It is basically made out of a lattice of OH- groups, while the rest of the bulk water has a higher concentration of H+ ions. These happen to be the same ions that are produced in the tub by the array. It is possible that in some way, the current is helping to create more EZ water in the body. The reason that it is called exclusion zone water, is because it excludes all solutes, including toxins inside the cell. If the current from the machine is creating more EZ water, then it is pushing out toxins. The toxins have to go somewhere, and they end up being excreted in the urine.
The quality of the machine used is also very important. Creating ions in a tub of water is not complicated; it can be done with a 9-volt battery and two copper wires connected to pieces of metal submerged in water. A $200 machine and a $2000 machine are going to create the same ions, but the difference is in the details. The difference between the two is going to be the exact frequencies that are produced: the right frequency will put the body in a parasympathetic state, enhancing detoxification, while the wrong frequency will be cause stress in the body, shutting down detoxification. Cheaper machines do not address this aspect, and this is why many people feel worse from using them instead of better.
By Bryant Rubright
Gerald H. Pollack, The Fourth Phase of Water: Beyond Solid, liquid, and Vapor