Jan 05 2009

Water Snakeoil

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Comments: 13

Water is the new snakeoil – well, it’s an old snakeoil too. There certainly seems to be something psychologically appealing about the notion of pure water. It is clear, crisp, untainted – it just has to be healthy. And, of course, clean water is essential for health and life, and nothing enhances a lie better than a kernal of truth.

It is not surprising, therefore, that “magic” water has long been a staple of snakeoil salesmen, gurus, and charlatans. Health spas originally centered around special springs of water, or mineral water, and later carbonated water.

I was recently asked about a recent incarnation of the water snakeoil routine, Kangen Water. The claims made on the website for this dubious product are unimaginatively representative.

Water is the single most important resource for the human body. Water is the most essential nutrient involved in every function of the body. Water accounts for approximately 70% of an individual’s complete fat free body mass. In order to function properly, water must be consumed in set quantities in consistent intervals (average of 2.5 liters per day). When not enough water is consumed, people can begin to develop certain illnesses and even accelerate their aging processes.

Many of the “magic water” website begin like this – water is an “important resource for the human body.” Well, duh. This says nothing, of course, about why any particular water is more healthful then, say, the water that comes out of your tap.Notice also that the website repeats the common myth that everyone needs a set amount of water to be healthy. Actually, the amount of water each person needs on any particular day is not fixed – it is a variable depending upon how much water is consumed through food and how much is lost through sweat, urine, and breathing. It also depends on how much salt and other electrolytes are consumed. Also, millions of years of evolution have given us a pretty tweaked mechanism for knowing how much we have to drink – it’s called thirst.

Next we get some nice vague claims:

Kangen water is being recognized by more and more people around the world as the purest and healthiest water for the human body.

This, naturally, is combined with testimonials about the miraculous effects of this water, and “expert” endorsements from various quacks. That’s the usual 1-2-3 combination – vague claims that get by the FDA, testimonials from private citizens (hey, that’s just free speech), and paid quacks to lend a false image of legitimacy.

There are two core claims made for the mechanism of this magic water’s health benefits – it has anti-oxidant properties, and is alkaline. Both claims are absurd.

Anti-oxidants are the latest in medical techno-babble for any self-respecting snake oil. They do serve a legitimate function in the body, but their regulation is complex and so far there is no evidence that simply eating more anti-oxidants has any health benefits, in fact taking too much may be harmful. The jury is still out on that.

They claim:

It is safe to say that Kangen water is an incredible antioxidant. Some may go as far as to say that Kangen water is more powerful that any single food or vitamin
supplement in the world. Simply stated, Kangen water contains active hydrogen which supplies vast amounts of free electrons to our body.

As far as I can tell, this is pure nonsense. It also seems to be self contradictory – they claim the water is alkaline, but that it contains free hydrogen. Uh – free hydrogen would make the water acidic – the opposite of alkaline. Also, once absorbed into the body the water is just water; it does not retain its pH or ionic state.

The alkaline claims are similarly nonsensical. What happens when alkaline water hits the acid in the stomach? They neutralize each other a bit. My guess is that the acid wins out. It takes serious antacids to temporarily neutralize the acid in the stomach. This slightly alkaline water would not have much of an effect.

Further, the blood pH is around 7.4 and is fairly tightly managed by elaborate metabolic systems in the body. Most people are not too acidic, and this website claims, and you cannot change your body’s pH by drinking alkaline water. You would need to overwhelm your body’s metabolic processes to alter the pH, or drink certain kinds of poison. Either that or there needs to be a significant respiratory or metabolic disorder. In any case, someone whose pH is out of whack is seriously and acutely ill.

If all these claims about pH and anti-oxidants is too much for some would-be customers, the promoters of Kangen water hedge their bets with some straightforward magic:

“Magical miracle healing water” has been found in nature at only a few specific locations throughout the world. These so called “miracle” water sources have been discovered in Mexico, Germany, India, China, Australia, and Japan. Large numbers of people from all over the world wait in line almost every hour of every day to obtain some of this “magical water” at all of these locations.

That’s right – forget all that stuff about active hydrogen – this stuff is just plain magical.

Magic water claims are centuries old and will likely be around forever. The sales pitches change over time, taking advantage of the latest craze or sexy scientific jargon. But the con remains the same.

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