I said last week that I hoped the Sense about Science Ask for Evidence campaign would encourage me to contact companies to challenge some of the incredible advertising claims I encounter on such a regular basis.
That morning, I had received a promotional email about an impressive discount on an apparently miraculous ‘Ion Balance’ bracelet which it was claimed could improve circulation and immunity by emitting negative ions. Could it really be true..?
I had previously read about similar sports band products here and here. I was aware for example that in Australia, Power Balance had been forced to admit that ‘there is no credible scientific evidence that supports our claims and therefore we engaged in misleading conduct in breach of s52 of the Trade Practices Act 1974.‘
Are Ion Balance Bracelets More Effective Than Power Balance?
Not all sports bracelets are the same, as a commenter under this blog pointed out. Although (for good reason) I could find little information on the Power Balance website regarding the supposed mechanism by which they may work, from reading this BBC News article, I believe it is something implausible involving a hologram resonating with the body’s ‘energy field’.
The NPB Ion Balance bracelets don’t contain holograms, but germanium stones. Can the germanium stones work in ways the holograms do not? Is there a plausible mechanism for this? Can the manufacturers provide evidence?
According to their website, not only do the bracelets improve circulation and immunity, they also boost the body’s oxygen supply and make you feel reinvigorated by destroying damaging free radicals. They also, apparently, harmonize the body’s natural and electrical fields to produce one of the most powerful complementary health products available to buy today.
I’m not sure exactly what they mean by all this and I haven’t got a problem with my oxygen supply. But surely I’d have to be daft not to spend a mere £10 on such a miracle product? I decided to Ask for Evidence, and emailed the company responsible.
The reply came the following morning:
The benefits of Germanium are widely researched and publicised on the web, a have attached a few links below:
The attached links did not provide evidence that the products work, nor did they suggest any mechanism for this, as I explained in my reply (sent later that day):
Thank you for your swift reply.
I have read the articles you attached and I’m afraid I remain unconvinced of the claims.
Firstly, the articles do not explain how products such as the Ion Balance bracelets are believed to work but relate to germanium in general. For example, I could find no explanation of the mechanism by which the bracelets can improve circulation or immunity or boost the oxygen supply. Secondly, I do not believe the linked articles constitute ‘robust scientific evidence’. By this I mean results from high quality research (such as placebo controlled blinded trials) on such products.
The Arthritis Trust of America (responsible for your first link) state on their website that “Only those who are inexperienced or uninformed about the nature of “research” expect that “research” applies to just academics or large, well-funded laboratories. Anyone who patiently, carefully, systematically makes diligent inquiry or examination of some field of interest, who attempts to establish facts or principles that expose truth, is doing “research.” Under this broad but accurate definition of “research” every one of us engages in genuine “research” during some aspect of our lives.” This type of ‘research’ can be unreliable and unscientific. The article itself is problematic and promotes ingestion of germanium despite known problems with toxicity.
I note that the other links you provided are from companies who sell similar products. Again, I do not believe the information on those sites to be reliable or to constitute ‘robust scientific evidence’. The second link even states “While scientific research has not been conclusive, some people are said to have experienced the various benefits’”. A list of supposed benefits follows, most of them pretty incredible. Once more, these relate to germanium itself, rather than bracelets.
The third link does not relate to bracelets either, but rather promotes germanium supplements, describing germanium as a trace element which is “indispensable not only for good health but also for your very existence”. In fact it is not thought to be essential to health and the US Food and Drug Administration’s research has concluded that germanium supplements present a “potential human health hazard”.
I would be grateful if you could provide robust evidence that the bracelets themselves provide the benefits advertised. I would also be interested in an explanation of the mechanism by which they are believed to work.
Thanks and regards,
A week has gone by since that last email and unfortunately the £10 deal expired while I was still waiting for evidence. But all is not lost…
Ionic Balance – Another Bargain Bracelet..?
Luckily, just this morning I had another promotional email advertising a £9 deal on the Ionic Balance Band, which utilises the unique healing powers of the gemstone Tourmaline. According to the Ionic Balance website, the negative ions emitted by these products give all manner of wonderful benefits:
I am naturally sceptical of these claims, not least because Ionic Balance use Live Blood Analysis to demonstrate an improvement in pH balance.
So before I invest £9 in this product, I will Ask for Evidence.
I will report back my findings.
I am evidently not the only person with concerns about the above claims. Following at least two separate June complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority about Ionic Balance (neither of which was from me), an adjudication was published today. It stated that the advertising shown above must not appear again in its current form. Ionic Balance had provided the ASA with no less than twenty eight documents in a failed attempt to substantiate their incredible efficacy claims. They were also told not to refer to medical conditions for which medical supervision should be sought.
Ionic power bands have been in the news, thanks to the Merseyside Skeptics Society. They enlisted a semi-professional rugby player to pit the ‘real’ Shuzi band against an identical, deactivated band. Despite marketing claims that the product aids a player’s performance, the demonstration showed that when a player is unsure which band he’s wearing, the product makes no discernible difference.
A disclaimer states
We do not make any claims for medical benefits from the Just a Sec Bands. Our products are not intended to prevent or cure any disease or illness.
However, this contradicts the misleading information regarding the human body, electronic devices, ‘toxic substances’ and ions which is to be found elsewhere on the site.