|There is absolutely no scientific basis for claims that the physical structure or energy of water molecules can be treated and altered by any process in a way that can enhance health differently than untreated water.|
|There are no studies published in mainstream scientific or medical journals that conclusively and repeatedly demonstrate 'enhanced'/'altered' water products improve health any better than untreated water. Discussions of specific examples: alkaline water, 'enhanced'/'altered' water, Masaru Emoto's empathetic ice crystals.|
|Be skeptical of any unsolicited attempt to sell any water treatment product or of any "tests" or "demonstrations" that might be used to convince you of the "need" for a product or that shows how well it works. This is true of 'enhanced'/'altered' water products and of standard water treatment products. Always check thoroughly with the Better Business Bureau or perhaps a local science teacher before buying. Evaluating claims made by scam artists will employ some of the processes of Critical Thinking summarized here (no Java).|
|The placebo effect is quite powerful and can give the illusion that the health claims made by 'enhanced' water developers and marketers are true - even though exactly the same results would be observed in a blinded test against untreated water. placebo effect description another good article|
|One of the most effective strategies used to convince people that a product is effective is to produce dramatic stories from others that describe how the product has benefited them. These testimonials (or anecdotes) may be compelling, but since there is usually no way to validate them or to be certain the product actually caused the claimed results, they can’t be trusted without unbiased, controlled supporting evidence.|
|The fight against health scams dates back over a century with an enlightening exposé from Colliers Weekly in 1905, The Great American Fraud (you can view images in this copy). Sadly, little has changed --- conclusions reached by Samuel Hopkins Adams accurately describe the scams of today. "None of these "cures" really does cure any serious affection, although a majority of their users recover. But a majority, and a very large majority, of the sick recover, anyway." "There it is in a nutshell; the faith cure. Not the stimulant, but the faith inspired by the advertisement and encouraged by the stimulant does the work—or seems to do it. If the public drugger can convince his patron that she is well, she is well—for his purposes. In the case of such diseases as naturally tend to cure themselves, no greater harm is done than the parting of a fool and his money. With rheumatism, sciatica and that ilk, it means added pangs; with consumption, Bright's disease and other serious disorders, perhaps needless death." Adams even documented the same arguments made today against traditional medicine by those selling pseudoscientific 'cures', "What opposition there is would naturally arise in the medical profession, but this is discounted by the proprietary interests. 'You attack us because we cure your patients,' is their charge."|
Unfortunately, if you do not have some expertise in the subject, it may be difficult to determine if a claim is “too good to be true”. Unless you can accurately evaluate claims, do not purchase the product until you have had time to go through the steps outlined below.
are frequently too good to be true, and they
can wind up costing you a bundle. Be extremely
cautious of any unsolicited free offer:
Prizes - You are notified that you have won cash, a free trip, etc. (particularly when you never entered the contest).
Free Trials - You sign up for a weight-loss product for just $5.95 free shipping - and realize too late you actually signed a monthly contract for $50.
Free Evaluations - A door to door sales person drops by to test your water or you sign up for a free home water test, and you are informed that your tap water - which seemed perfectly safe - is loaded with deadly contaminants that require purchasing an expensive treatment system.
A person selling a 'health product' offers to give you a muscle
test to demonstrate how effective it is. At a recent
district chorus contest a booth was staffed with several very
personable individuals who were marketing energy jewelry
- they used a muscle test to 'conclusively' show potential
customers that contact with the items increased their strength.
These so-called tests employ the technique of Applied Kinesiology
which can be shown fairly easily to be completely ineffective.
James Randi, for example, demonstrates how a bag of rat poison
is selected as the effective energy enhancer. Another
blinded example and an
explanation. Another product,
However, theses types of generic benefits are notoriously difficult to measure, and the claims are usually impossible to validate. Ask the sales person exactly what is meant by 'cleanses the liver', and how you will know that your liver is clean.
The placebo effect complicates the exposure of scams immensely. In some cases a customer's positive belief in and expectation for a product can produce the expected health benefit, and the products can appear to work as advertised even though plain water (if marketed in the same way) would produce exactly the same benefits.
In other instances various circumstances conspire to produce the illusion of the desired health benefit (you feel better and conclude toxins have been removed from your body). These can include spontaneous remission of symptoms (for example, colds and many pains normally get better regardless of the treatment), forgetting about other treatments or behavior changes that might have helped, and simply forgetting the exact severity of symptoms. This issue is discussed further in #5.
Unfortunately, there are apparently no
regulations or oversight processes enforced to prevent companies from making general,
unsubstantiated health claims about a product - as long as the claims do
not include the treatment or prevention of specific diseases.
Unfortunately as noted above, if you do not have some expertise in the subject, it may be difficult to determine if a claim is actually based on proven scientific principles or on pseudoscientific nonsense created by the promoter. Unless you really understand the alleged scientific processes described, do not purchase the product until you have had time to go through the steps outlined below.
As of this writing
Treatment Methods that are able to alter the structure
of pure water so that it has any additional health benefits over untreated water
have been clearly demonstrated or recognized by the scientific community.
Scientists are not opposed to studying
new theories, quite the contrary. However to be
considered as having some validity, new theories must either fit somewhere in the accepted
scientific framework, or if they propose completely new physical or chemical
processes, the evidence supporting the new claims must be exceptionally strong.
It is difficult to determine the reliability of a journal or results of published research without having some detailed knowledge about how research is conducted, reviewed and published and are comfortable poking around www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed. Another complication besides poor quality ‘evidence’ published in poor quality publications is that occasionally lousy research winds up in normally trustworthy journals (and that can be very difficult to identify). Always look for published papers from multiple, and different researchers to provide evidence supporting health claims for a product.
Again, the best advice I can provide is that if someone is trying to
pressure you to purchase a product, and you do not
clearly understand how it works or the supporting ‘evidence’ provided, do NOT purchase it without taking the time to research and understand it using unbiased sources – in other words
find and use sources other than those trying to sell you the product.
If you attend an event where a number of people have gathered to listen to a sales pitch for some drinking water related product (alkaline water comes to mind), stories (testimonials) from satisfied customers who have had remarkable experiences using the product will be used exclusively to provide actual ‘evidence’ of effectiveness. Always keep in mind that testimonials, no matter how compelling, are completely uncontrolled, and there is no way to determine if the product actually caused the reported health effects.
It is often impossible to verify the credentials of these individuals, and expertise in one area does not mean they have the credentials to evaluate claims involving biology, physics and chemistry. It is also important to remember that celebrities might be paid for their enthusiastic endorsement, and advanced degrees can be purchased for a few hundred dollars.
Search on any of these terms on the Internet, though, and you can read some really creative writing - or they may have vanished into cyber-space as the promoters move onto other products. If you use a search engine's filter to explore only .edu and .gov sites you will probably find far fewer hits than on .com sites, and the commercial content will be reduced. The results will include more sites sites that describe product scams or provide a balanced evaluation of the product. The reason to look at .edu and .gov (and some .org) sites is that normally there is some oversight of content by an organization to ensure accuracy (instead of the potentially random, unedited and unmoderated content of .com sites).
A Google search on – "alkaline water" site:edu – or – homeopathy site:edu – for example, will restrict results mostly to legitimate educational organizations. These sites usually deliver accurate information that is reasonably reliable and
generally reflects acknowledged scientific consensus. Unfortunately, there are occasional pages within
.edu, .gov, .org domains that still reflect biased, personal, and possibly inaccurate information – I noticed, for example, that public discussion pages within educational (.edu) domains had been created to provide alkaline water marketing materials with a false façade of legitimacy. Filtering sites by .edu, .gov or .org just provides one way
to avoid most of the junk and scam marketing sites found on .com domains, but you still must be careful not to believe everything you read.
Be very suspicious of any sales person who offers free unsolicited water tests - the test will be designed to make your water look bad and the product look good. If you do accept a test of your drinking water, DO NOT immediately make a purchase based on the results. Get all the details in writing (both of the water test and the specific product claims) and let the sales person know you plan to do some research - contact the Better Business Bureau, your water department, a local high school or college science teacher, etc. and get a second or third opinion. Check with NSF International to see if a product is certified to perform as advertised. water treatment, bottled water, supplements.
A legitimate sales person should understand and hopefully will approve of you doing more research that would validate their claims. A scammer, however, will not want you to check the product claims. If you do purchase a product that costs over $25 from a door-to-door sales person and have second thoughts, you have the right cancel an order within three days and receive a full refund. If the company is legitimate, you can probably negotiate an extension on any special offers. If you can’t negotiate an offer extension and decide to buy a product over $25, use the three days cancellation period to do your research.
Does the government help the consumer identify drinking water scams? Unfortunately, not much - The regulations (usually not enforced in products that do not pose immediate health risks) and consumer guidelines are discussed below.
The federal government has several departments that regulate advertising claims and the safety of food and drug products sold in the United States. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for ensuring safety and effectiveness of drugs, biological products, food additives, and medical devices and with safeguarding the nation's food supply. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) "is the only federal agency with both consumer protection and competition jurisdiction in broad sectors of the economy."
The FDA and some states do regulate bottled water quality so it is generally as safe as tap water and the FTC will challenge marketing claims for water treatment devices that are clearly fraudulent or products which make misleading and unsubstantiated health claims that a product is able to cure or prevent a specific disease.
However, the class of products described as Dietary Supplements are very loosely regulated by the FDA and FTC. As long as a company does not promote a Dietary Supplement as a cure or prevention for a specific disease, marketers are pretty much free to make any general "structure/function" claims they choose without any regulatory consequences or oversight.
The 'enhanced'/'altered' water products are intriguing because most are not truly supplements - they are just plain, ordinary water. Claims are made that the water structure and/or energy have been altered in some way to enhance health, but if nothing is actually added, can these products be considered supplements?
FTC provides a
site that offers basic information on detecting fraudulent product
claims. "With so many sources of health
information at your fingertips — many of them online — it can be tough
to tell fact from fiction, or useful health products and services from
those that don’t work or aren’t safe. The FTC has created this website
to help you find reliable sources of information on health topics
important to you, whether you’re an older consumer or a family member,
caregiver, or friend."
Another site, Dietary Supplements, describes supplements and provides some guidelines for consumers. Perhaps the most telling statement on the page is "There are limitations to FDA oversight of claims in dietary supplement labeling. For example, FDA reviews substantiation for claims as resources permit." Neither these pages nor the other FDA and FTC pages discussed provide specific information about specific products, so the responsibility to research products remains with the consumer.
Specific information from the FTC website on structure/function claims:
In contrast to health claims, "structure/function" claims, within the broader category of "statements of nutritional support," refer to representations about a dietary supplement’s effect on the structure or function of the body for maintenance of good health and nutrition. Structure/function claims are not subject to FDA pre-authorization. A marketer may make these claims in labeling if it notifies FDA and includes a disclaimer that the claim has not been evaluated by FDA and that the product is not intended to diagnose, mitigate, treat, cure, or prevent disease. DSHEA also requires that structure/function claims in labeling be substantiated and be truthful and not misleading. This requirement is fully consistent with the FTC’s standard that advertising claims be truthful, not misleading and substantiated.
Note: these supplement advertising guidelines have four requirements
1) No health claims are to be made
2) The FDA is notified about marketing claims
3) A disclaimer is added to the label
4) the advertising claims must be truthful, not misleading, and substantiated
It is obvious that most companies that sell 'altered'/'enhanced' water products adhere strictly to requirement #3 and add disclaimers that the products are not intended to treat, cure, or prevent disease. It is equally obvious that they completely ignore requirement #4. Depending on the company and the product, it is also apparent that, in reference to requirement #1, there is a great deal of interpretation as to what constitutes a "health claim".
'Miracle' Health Claims: - Federal Trade Commission
People spend billions of dollars a year on health-related products and treatments that not only are unproven and often useless, but also sometimes are dangerous. The products promise quick cures and easy solutions for a variety of problems, from obesity and arthritis to cancer and AIDS. But the "cures" don't deliver, and people who buy them are cheated out of their money, their time, and even their health. That's why it's important to learn how to evaluate claims for products related to your health. An earlier article.
An overview of
From the Food and Drug Administration website under the Q/A section, A product sold as a dietary supplement and promoted on its label or in labeling* as a treatment, prevention or cure for a specific disease or condition would be considered an unapproved--and thus illegal--drug. To maintain the product's status as a dietary supplement, the label and labeling must be consistent with the provisions in the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994.
Claims that can be used on food and dietary supplement labels fall into three categories: health claims, nutrient content claims, and structure/function claims. The responsibility for ensuring the validity of these claims rests with the manufacturer, FDA, or, in the case of advertising, with the Federal Trade Commission.
|So, it is up to each manufacturer/distributor to set its own
policy on disclosure of safety and benefits and, since it is "often
difficult to know what information is reliable and what is
questionable", the consumer is encouraged to contact the
manufacturer/distributor about the product they wish to
purchase. It appears that the FDA and FTC have a great
deal of trust in the integrity of manufacturers and distributors
of dietary supplements and 'enhanced'/'altered' water products.
To those who are more skeptical, it seems more like sending the fox to guard the chicken house than a useful strategy.
Extraordinary claims require
(Carl Sagan, astronomer and author)
In order for experimental results to be widely accepted as valid by the scientific community two conditions must generally be met:
For any theory that does not fit neatly within the current theoretical framework, there is considerably more skepticism on the part of the scientific community and a requirement to provide even more details of the proposed new theory and the evidence that supports it.
An experiment that examined the effect of different levels of CO2 on the growth rate of corn would be evaluated very differently by other scientists than a study that claimed, for example, that corn seeds exposed to 'enhanced' helium gas later grew twice as tall and used 1/2 of the amount of CO2 as untreated seeds.
The first example would simply be an extension of existing knowledge about how plants use carbon dioxide. The second (hypothetical) example would be completely unexpected. Helium is believed to be an inert gas that could not possibly cause the reported effect. There would be no previous experiments or existing theory to explain how helium might be 'enhanced' to create the effect. The study authors would need to provide "Extraordinary Proof" to convince the scientific community that their "Extraordinary Claim" was even worthy of consideration. Then other scientists would use the published methods to try and duplicate the results and develop a theory to explain how helium could produce the results before the claim would be fully accepted.
Those who develop alternative water products usually make extraordinary claims about the processes used to create their products but do not provide any explanation or proof about how the process might work that stands up to scientific examination. An excellent example of a real product for which "Extraordinary Claims" are made is Oxygenated Water (discussed in the 'Altered' or 'Enhanced' Water section) - claimed to produce better hydration and greater energy than regular, un-oxygenated water. There is not one shred of scientific evidence to justify that claim - nothing that is known about the digestive and circulatory systems supports the claim that swallowing some oxygen would increase the oxygen levels of the blood. Proof of the claims is not provided because it can't be - and proof does not need to be provided, since people continue to purchase the product based only on effective marketing practices.
Those who develop and market alternative water products face another scientific challenge - How do they prove their products are effective?
Claims like those mentioned above: "increases energy; hydrates better; is absorbed more quickly; reduces waste buildup; removes toxins from the body; reverses aging; grants greater youthfulness; prevents stress; and increases mobility" are typically undefined. The consumer is expected to believe that these are good properties and purchase the product, but these are meaningless claims without knowing exactly what the claims mean and how they have been validated.
There are two main issues associated with proving that a product is effective:
An experimenter's expectations and/or bias can also influence how a study is set up and conducted in addition to how the results are collected and analyzed..
Legitimate scientific experiments are carefully designed to reduce the effect of the placebo effect, chance, and experimenter bias. In experiments to evaluate the effectiveness of a product, that usually means designing a blinded or double blinded study where the subjects do not know whether they are taking the experimental product or the placebo (blinded), or where neither the experimenters nor the subjects know which group is taking the experimental product or placebo (double blind).
The review process for papers that are submitted for publication in mainstream journals are reviewed by other scientists in the field. Part of the review process ensures that the study was designed and conducted to minimize the placebo effect and experimenter bias..
So far, "research" results referenced on 'altered'/'enhanced' water product promotional materials usually do not meet the standards for publication in mainstream medical and scientific journals. Mostly, though, the developers, manufacturers, and marketers of these products do not bother with science - relying instead on anecdotal evidence - testimonials from others who report benefits from using the product.
Since people continue to purchase the products in the absence of acceptable scientific proof, and since it is unlikely valid scientific proof could be provided anyway, why bother.
How to Evaluate Online Health Information - USDA National Agricultural LibraryWater pseudoscience and quackery -
"Magnets and 'catalysts' for softening water, magnetic laundry balls, waters that are "oxygenated", "clustered", 'unclustered' or 'vitalized' (purporting to improve cellular hydration, remove toxins, and repair DNA), high zeta-potential colloids and vortex-treated waters to raise your energy levels, halt or reverse ageing and remove geopathic stress— all of these wonders and more are being aggressively marketed via the Internet, radio infomercials, seminars, and by various purveyors of new-age nonsense. The hucksters who promote these largely worthless products weave a web of pseudoscientific hype guaranteed to dazzle and confuse the large segment of the public whose limited understanding of science makes them especially vulnerable to this kind of exploitation."
"The purpose of this site is to examine the credibility of these claims from the standpoint of our present-day understanding of science. The latter, of course, is always evolving and is never complete, but it makes an excellent 'B.S. filter' that is almost always reliable. It is hoped that the information presented here will help consumers make more informed decisions before offering up their credit cards to those in the business of flogging pseudoscience."
What is pseudoscience and how is it related to drinking water scams? - Alabama Cooperative Extension Services (PDF)
Drinking water scams - Google search on Drinking Water Scams from .edu sites.Magnetic Water and Fuel Treatment: Myth, Magic, or Mainstream Science? - Magnetic treatment has been claimed to soften water and improve the combustibility of fuels. A literature review reveals that these claims are not well supported by data. Peddling Snake Oil & Snake Oil: A Guide for Connoisseurs - Actually, real snake oil was prized for its reputed medicinal properties. However, those were modest compared to the claims of later cure-alls sold under the name "snake oil." Here is an attempt to trace the evolution of both the product and its labeling. Clark Stanley
Copyright © 2005, Randy Johnson. All rights reserved.
Updated April 2015