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Drinking water information and resources, contaminants, health effects, treatment methods

 Healing Waters, by Ben Johnson
- A Review -

Do your own research - don't automatically believe the propaganda provided by those promoting or marketing water ionizer products.

The full title of Ben Johnson's book is: Understanding the Science & Benefits of Alkaline Water - Healing Waters - The Powerful Health Benefits of Ionized H2O

Before you invest in this book (I borrowed it from a library), or worse spend several thousand dollars on a water ionizer, it is important to understand that nearly every claim about any alleged special properties of alkaline/ionized water or health benefits made in this book is completely without any supporting scientific evidence.  If this review or other sites on the Internet that are highly skeptical of ionized water claims are not sufficient to convince you to avoid these products, just contact a local chemistry or biology teacher to get first-hand confirmation.  I can almost guarantee that any honest scientist with a basic grasp of chemistry or physiology will agree with the observations I outline below.

Even though Ben Johnson has a short chapter on alkaline diets, this review will focus on the alleged characteristics and health benefits of ionized water (chapters 3-6), since that is the book's subtitle and the primary focus of the book.  There are so many suspect claims it is difficult to know where to start, so I'll just list the more outrageous claims and point out that there is no supporting evidence provided by Johnson (or others who make the same claims in other marketing propaganda).

Critics of pseudo-scientific claims like those identified below are often challenged to provide evidence that the claims they challenge are inaccurate, but science does not work that way.  Those who make claims that fall outside the boundaries of recognized science must provide well documented, reliable, reproducible supporting evidence to justify their claims – the scientific community can then judge the validity of those claims.  The claims I highlight below are not supported by current scientific theory, and Johnson fails to provide any references with evidence that would support them.  Perhaps the biggest claim, unsupported by any research I have found (and I have looked hard), is that drinking alkaline water can actually have any measurable, lasting effect on the pH of the blood or the intercellular or intracellular environments of the body.  Johnson certainly does not provide references to any supporting evidence, so apparently we are just supposed to believe his claims on faith.

Fortunately for the ionized water proponents, the human body normally regulates pH automatically within very narrow ranges without the help of alkaline water.  This is one example of homeostasis, and it relies on a number of buffers and biological processes.  If the body's pH could actually be manipulated by the acidity or alkalinity of the water a person drank (at the pH levels produced by an ionizer – generally between 8 and 10 for alkaline water), a lot of people would be dead or injured.  If someone actually has problems regulating their pH levels, they need medical attention, not ionized water.

Chapter 3, The Ionized Water Solution:
1) The Hunza people lived exceptionally long, healthy lives because they drank glacier-fed water that was said to have a lower surface tension, a clustered crystalline structure similar to that of human body fluids (making it 'living water'), a high mineral content, an alkaline pH, a high concentration of active hydrogen and antioxidizing potential.

√ - Check and you will find that there is not much independent evidence to support claims that the Hunaz lived extra-long lives as claimed.  The mineral rich water claim is likely true, and mineral-rich water (unless it contained harmful contaminants) would be beneficial to health and could well be alkaline.  A high mineral content might affect surface tension (dissolved salt actually increases surface tension), but that would have no effect on health.  Johnson does not describe what is meant by active hydrogen, but it seems to refer to atomic hydrogen (H) or the hydrogen anion (H-, a hydrogen atom with an extra electron), both of which are extremely reactive and are not found loose in nature. 

The claim of a clustered crystalline structure similar to that of human body fluids (making it 'living water') is inaccurate on all three claims. Liquid water does not form stable clusters (certainly not crystalline structures), there is no crystalline structure in body fluids, and there is nothing about water that can be considered 'living'.  The fact is that Hunza water may have naturally high alkalinity (containing compounds, such as bicarbonates, carbonates, and hydroxides), but it is in no way comparable to water that has been artificially ionized and contains only the hydroxide ion with little, if any, buffering capability.

2) “In the chemical reaction for water, it is hydrogen that is ionized, since its single electron makes it unstable and more reactive.  …Hydroxyl ions, on the other hand, form when a whole hydrogen atom joins to a whole oxygen atom creating a negatively charged particle represented by the symbol, OH-.

√ - Check any reliable descriptions of ionization, and none will correspond with the process described by Johnson.  The equations that describes ionization of pure water can be written a number of ways, but it is basically the water molecule that is ionized into its components, resulting in oxygen gas and positive hydrogen ions around the anode and hydrogen gas and negative hydroxide ions around the cathode. 

The atoms don’t detach and reattach to each other in the manner described by Johnson.  Also, if a whole hydrogen atom attached to a whole oxygen atom, a neutral, highly reactive, short-lived hydroxyl radical (OH) would be formed, not the negative hydroxide ion (OH–) that is in the alkaline ionized water.
Positive anode: 2 H2O → 4e– + O2 + 4H+
Negative cathode: 2 H2O + 2e– → H2 + 2OH–

The processes of ionization in a commercial ionizer is complicated further because of the presence of salts that increase efficiency and a number of other compounds might be formed (depending on what is in the water that's ionized) including chlorine gas, hypochlorous acid (bleach), along with hydrogen and hydroxide ions.

3) Johnson makes eight remarkable claims about ionized water – all of which are either chemically impossible or of no health benefit.  It would take a book to refute each claim, but no supporting evidence is provided, and if you don't believe me, you can check with someone else who understands chemistry and physiology.  Johnson starts the list with, “By receiving an electrical charge, the water is fundamentally changed and given the following properties:”

a) Clustered structure – "ionized water is smaller in structure than other types of H2O, composed of a cluster of four to six water molecules in addition to a molecular bond angle that improves oxygenation."

√ - there is no evidence that liquid water, ionized or not, can have stable structures or altered bond angles or, if they could, that they would survive the digestive and absorptive processes and have any effect on health.

b) "Ionized water holds an electrical charge which makes it vitalizing, conductive and extremely efficient at transporting nutrients and oxygen."

√ - Ionized water, both the acid and alkaline components, are electrically neutral the positive ions are balanced by the negative ions, and there is no evidence provided to support the claims.

c) "Ionized water molecules are shaped like hexagons, having six sides, allowing the water to move quickly through the body and carry more nutrients and oxygen."

√ - And what of the four and five sided clusters mentioned in (a) – how do they form a hexagon?  As noted, though, water does not form stable clusters, ionized or not, and even if it did, clusters would be destroyed as the water was absorbed into the body one molecule at a time.  Does Johnson propose some process that would magically reassemble the clusters once in the body so they could zip through the body?  If so, there is no evidence provided.

d)Ionized water is primarily composed of hydrogen bonds, ...

√ - No type of water is “composed of hydrogen bonds”.  Hydrogen bonds form between all water molecules in a constantly changing 'dance', as well as with various other substances that might be dissolved in the water.

e)While electrons in regular water molecules orbit in a counterclockwise direction, the electrons of ionized water molecules spin to the left.”

√ - This is a highly imaginative claim that I have not seen elsewhere.  No evidence or references are provided, and it basically goes against all that is understood about electron spin.

f)Low surface tension.  …When water has low surface tension, the molecules are more elastic and less cohesive which allows the H2O to flow quickly throughout your body and effortlessly penetrate cells and tissues.”

√ - Again, since water moves into the body and into cells as single file molecules, surface tension (even if was affected by ionization) would have no impact on water's biological functions.  Surface tension is meaningless in the context of water within the body.

g)Positive charge. The positive charge of ionized water enables it to significantly improve cell-to-cell communication, a benefit no other kind of water can supply.

√ - Huh?  The only type of ionized water that is recommended for drinking is the alkaline component, and that is full of negative hydroxide ions (which are in the alkaline water) and positive sodium ions.  Is Johnson talking about the benefits of the sodium ion?  If so, he could just recommend taking extra salt.

h)Purity.  Ionized water is considered to be pure because it does not contain the negative electromagnetic frequency imprints found in most water… These toxic imprints are eliminated during the ionization process.

√ - Huh?  Toxic, negative electromagnetic frequency imprints?  This claim is not further described in the book, and there are no references that address it.  I guess the reader is just supposed to believe this statement because it came from a published book.  I suppose I could be missing something, but I have never read of this phenomenon as a result of water electrolysis.  I have actually never heard of electromagnetic frequency imprints in water and can't imagine what they might be or how they are formed or preserved in water.

i) The argument that the process of creating extra acid to neutralize the alkalinity releases bicarbonate into the bloodstream is true but irrelevant – bicarbonate is part of the normal carbonic acid–bicarbonate buffer system in the body that resists blood pH changes.  Bicarbonate is the primary way CO2 is transported to the lungs for removal, an extra breath or two will remove any excess bicarbonate.

Chapter 4, Two Key Features of Ionized Drinking Water:
This review is already getting ridiculously long, so I will simplify the critique by stating that Johnson provides no evidence to support the two claims that the two overriding benefits of ionized water – its alkalizing and antioxidizing strength – are to alleviate and even prevent various health conditions (effects on the immune function, brain function, cardiovascular health and cancer prevention are mentioned in this chapter).  Claims that alkaline water can have any health benefits depend on some mechanism whereby the negative hydroxide ions in the alkaline water can have some actual biological impact.

Even if free OH– ions were able to have some positive biological function, they can't just magically jump from the glass into the bloodstream or the cells, they would have to be absorbed into the intestinal cells and passed into the bloodstream for transport.  There is every scientific reason to believe that the free, unbuffered OH– ions are neutralized by the acid (H+ ions) in the stomach back into water, and it is regular water, not the OH– ions that are absorbed.  If a few hydroxide ions were somehow absorbed, they would be immediately neutralized by the body's buffers.  So, basically, there is no evidence provided by Johnson (or others who endorse and promote water ionization) to really describe how alkaline water (containing some ordinary OH– ions) could actually work to have any effect whatever in the body.  All the discussion about antioxidants and vitamin O are just impressive sounding terms used to make alkaline water claims sound scientific.

Chapter 5, The Health Benefits of Alkaline Ionized Water:
In this chapter alkaline water is alleged to “both prevent and alleviate” quite a list of serious health conditions, specifically: Allergies, Arthritis and Joint Pain, Cancer, Cardiovascular Disease, constipation, Edema, Fatigue, High Cholesterol, Hypertension, Premature Aging, Dehydration, Acid-alkaline Imbalance, and Type 2 Diabetes.
Of the 74 references Johnson provides in this book, only 9 have anything to do with alkaline water – the others are either completely irrelevant (an article that water is good for us) or detail the antimicrobial effects of acid water (bleach).  None of the 9 references that mention alkaline water provide any evidence to support the claims made in this chapter – most don't even address those topics.

Now, I could be wrong, but if treatment with alkaline water (that has few if any risks) could actually be proven to be more effective than a placebo at treating any one of these conditions in high-quality, double blind trials (that would convince scientists of their validity), don't you think that would be an important medical breakthrough that would increase sales and profits of the manufacturers exponentially and would probably win some scientist a Nobel Prize?

Can you think of any reason reputable companies would not rush to develop and publish reliable evidence that their products worked as advertised?  The only reasons I have been able to come up with are (a) the experiments would conclusively demonstrate any observed health benefits were the result of the placebo effect and (b) enough people believe the pseudoscience that's presented and the uncontrolled testimonials from enthusiastic customers are true to keep the manufacturers and sales people in business.

Chapter 5, The Health Benefits of Acidic Ionized Water:
Fifty four of Johnson's 74 references are papers that describe various, well known antimicrobial properties of so-called acid water (bleach) formed by ionization/electrolysis.  There is no dispute with the science here. The EPA states, “The use of mixed oxidants (MIOX) as an alternative method of drinking water disinfections has been shown as more effective in destroying harmful waterborne microbes than chlorination.  The mixed oxidant solution is generated by the electrolysis of a solution of sodium chloride.  The electrolysis converts the brine solution to a mixture of oxidants (free chlorine, chlorine dioxide, hydrogen peroxide, ozone, and other short-lived oxidants).”  This is the same processes used by home ionizers. So, yes, ionized acid water (bleach) will kill microorganisms on food and on the skin, but no evidence was provided that it can help hair damage or skin aging.

In conclusion, if you choose to do your own research and not just accept the claims and testimonials of those who have a financial interest in selling you an ionized water book or product, you will discover that the only so-called 'evidence for effectiveness' comes from those promote and market the products and not from any independent scientific research.

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Copyright © 2005 Randy Johnson. All rights reserved.

Updated November 2011