Sep 08 2015

Another Water Scam

There are endless scams and dubious products out there. I could tackle one every day and never get to the end, because more would crop up faster than I could take them down. That is why I try to develop general themes, so that my readers can better identify dubious claims for themselves.

There are also types of scams that involve similar themes. For example, there are many types of “magic water” out there – these are often just plain water, perhaps with vitamins or minerals added, that is said to be treated in some new sciencey way that renders it better water. Water has a pre-existing wholesome health halo around it, so it is a great subject for snake oil.

The bottled water industry has proven that you can get people to pay ridiculous amounts of money for what is essentially tap water. The “magic water” industry is just taking it one step further.

I was recently asked to look at a particular water product that serves as a good example of this type of product – H9. Let’s go through their claims.

Water. It’s essential for life, but have you ever stopped to think about the kind of water you’re drinking? Tap water is known to contain toxic chemicals. Bottled water is a billion-dollar business, yet few know what they are even drinking. Only structured water has centuries-old science and research behind it—living proof why it’s a better choice for your cells.

Websites promoting dubious water products tend to spend a great deal of time talking about how essential water is for life. This, of course, is old news and says nothing specifically about their product. This type of marketing is all about inference – they are inviting the reader of their website to make certain inferences that are never said explicitly. Touting all the benefits of water is part of that strategy.

They claim that tap water contains unnamed “toxins.” Of course you have to give potential customers a reason to choose your product over others, and fear is a good motivator. Municipal tap water in the US is notoriously safe and free from any significant levels of toxins. Of course – the levels are what is important. The EPA sets safety limits for every known substance that can can potentially be harmful. These levels are never zero – you can always find trace amounts of just about anything. So it is technically accurate to say that tap water contains “toxic chemicals” but then so does all water. The question is, at what level?

They then make a non-statement about bottled water. They just ask a question – do you know what you are drinking? This is a good way to imply that there is something to be worried about, without making any specific claim.

Then comes the whopper – only “structured water” has centuries-old science behind it. Really? I think it’s accurate to say that water itself has centuries of scientific study of its chemistry and biology. “Structured water,” meanwhile, is a fairly recent fiction.

The website, of course, never actually references scientific research to back up their claims. Their argument that this recent scam is centuries old is explained further:

While this is breaking news to most of us, ancient cultures have known about structured water for centuries. People living near mineral-rich healing springs reportedly live longer, healthier lives. The water they drink contains distinct physical and chemical properties radically different from ordinary water, but exactly like structured water.

So completely unrelated anecdotes now count as scientific research? It gets better. Here’s the “science.”

You have probably heard that the human body is two-thirds water. It may surprise you to know that over 99 percent of the molecules in your body are water molecules. So how is it possible that 99 percent of the molecules don’t do anything? That question inspired leading scientists to put water under a microscope. What researchers discovered was a fourth phase of water known as structured water. Meaning, the molecules are structured or ordered for cells to absorb them.

The human body is roughly 2/3 water by weight, but because water molecules are relatively small it does make up 99% of the molecules. Of course, this is completely irrelevant to their claims that H9 is special water.

The bottom line is that there is no such thing as “structured” water or that changing water in any way makes it easier for our cells to absorb the water molecules. This is pure fantasy. They don’t link to any actual science, but they do list a number of things under “resources.” I noticed they link to the Mayo clinic. This might imply to someone reading the website that the Mayo clinic has some connection to their claims or has endorsed them in some way.

Of course if you follow the link it simply takes you to a Mayo clinic information page about water – having exactly nothing to do with H9 or structured water. There is nothing on the Mayo clinic site about structured water. The closest information is an entry about alkaline water, which essentially says it’s bogus.

They also link to the Pollack laboratory. At first I thought this was the person behind H9, but even that connection is deceptive. On that website Dr. Gerald Pollack writes:

Multiple companies producing water-based products use my picture to imply that we endorse their products. I do share personal experiences with certain waters on various interviews. However, we have no formal association with any company; nor do I receive fees from any company producing water-based products.

Dr. Pollack did write a book about the “fourth phase of water.” He does not make any health claims, only that there may be health benefits that need to be researched. Pollack is simply writing about “ionized” water, which is another common water scam. He seems to be a sincere scientist who is not marketing such a product himself (other than his book) but also his science is not impressive, has been published only in low-impact journals, and seems to be completely ignored by the rest of the scientific community.

Here is a good take-down of his claims. First, there are actually 18 phases of water – 15 solid, vapor, liquid, and supercritical fluid. Ionized water would not be expected to have any affect on health. Alkaline water would be neutralized by the acid in our stomach. Further, our bodies have numerous mechanisms for maintaining the pH of our blood within a very narrow range close to 7.4. You can’t change this simply be drinking a little ionized water.

H9 in the end is nothing new. It has simply cobbled together common appeals to ancient knowledge, cutting edge dubious science, and fearmongering over “toxic chemicals.” They link to a scientist who seems to me like a well-meaning crank but who has no apparent connection to their product.

The kicker is, of course, the company is a multi-level marketing scheme. MLM is a scam unto itself. Less than 1% of all those involved ever make any money, just those at the top. Pyramid scheme alert notes:

Pyramid Scheme Alert  has not examined every single MLM but, among the hundreds we have examined, we have not found one yet that met the simple test of legitimacy.

Conclusion

There is no legitimate science behind the claims of “structured” water, or any kind of special water. In most areas tap water is just fine. In fact, H9 (if you read the small print) is sourced from “Municipal water, city of Riverside, CA.” It’s tap water. They then put this tap water through a “9-step process” but there is no evidence or legitimate reason to think this does anything meaningful to the water itself.

Filtered water is unnecessary, as municipal water is already treated to strict standards of safety and purity.

The bottom line is that you should drink the cheapest and most convenient water available. There is no evidence to support any claims to superiority for any specialty waters. Structured water specifically is a pure scam.

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