Sitting on the couch late one evening I was talking myself into getting up to go to bed. While slowly lifting off of my absurdly comfortable sofa an infomercial caught my eye. I spent a few years as a salesman, so I appreciate a good sales pitch from time to time. This particular advertisement was for an amazing bracelet said to cure fatigue and give you an overall sense of well being. I thought at first it may be a Vicodin dispenser, but shook off that idea as to good to be true. Further viewing, though, showed me just what the mechanism was for this breakthrough in modern medicine. I had never heard some of the terms used, but after seeing a few “strength tests” conducted on random passersby in what looked to be an indoor shopping mall I decided to watch on. Before the end of the pitch I was given a visual explanation of the powerful item at work. The commercial was then concluded with an endorsement by an M.D. from a medical institute bearing his name. Naturally I was vexed, and as always, put my skepticism to work.
First I wanted to look into the most pivotal claim made by the merchant. The biological system on which it acts. iRenew’s “official” website claims that the bracelet “May promote strength, balance, and endurance” using “Nano based Biofield technology.” Further research into this new addition to my vocabulary brought me this vague definition, it is an “integral part of your whole being not just your body” it is in “close balance with every aspect of yourself.” If that’s not flapdoodle then I’m a teapot. iRenew claims that this biofield is an energy emitted by all living things that somehow effects many of our feelings and moods. Since the biofield is made of energy it is only logical to assume that it could be manipulated by energy. This is where iRenew’s bracelet goes to work. The electromagnetic fields emitted by our many electronic devices are the supposed culprits of biofield distortion or “unbalance” as they describe it. To sum up the definition I’ll use this quote from another iRenew merchant site, “So if you feel unbalanced and generally worn down lately, it is probably because your biofield has fallen victim to the electromagnetic radiation around you.”
Putting aside the confusing use of the term “nano” I found that iRenew claims the bracelet is somehow “...made with all natural frequencies.” How a solid object can be constructed of any frequency at all is a mind smack for me, but that was just the tip of the rabbit hole. Claims for the abilities of these natural frequencies to “tune” our biofield range from relieve pain to fighting off free radicals. These extraordinary claims needed extraordinary evidence; iRenew used a handful of testimonials along with a shout out to their supposed quantum physicist said to be working on human energy research for twenty years. Other sites focused more on validating the claim that this biofield even exists, and that it can be treated. A specific study conducted recently was referenced on multiple sites. Finally on the iRenew commercial I was shown the strength test and M.D. plug I mentioned earlier. While reading the testimonials I came across a comment left by a potential customer. The comment made me shiver, and really shows just what this product is all about. It was this comment that forced me to look deeply into all the evidence put forward by iRenew. The comment was posted on Sep 29, 2010 by a person calling them self “Pam”, and asked whether the iRenew bracelet would interfere with her pacemaker. She was very hopeful to use this device since she had been diagnosed with ALS and was having serious balance issues. The perfect target.
The Infamous Study
“Biofield Therapies: Helpful or Full of Hype? A Best Evidence Synthesis.” This is the title given to the study that many of the peddlers of not only iRenew type products but also Healing Touch (HT) and other such techniques have been clinging to. Their claims of a peer reviewed journal publishing such a study that would have a positive conclusion for proponents of treatments was mind boggling at the least. If the evidence did show they could work I would have no choice but to concede. Fortunately the evidence did no such thing. After taking the time (lots of time) to fully read this study and the evidence it claims I realized that, as usual, those making the claims are clinging to shaky evidence and out of context quoting.
This study was conducted by Doctor’s Jain and Mills and is available online at the NCBI website. I’ll include the link at the bottom of this blog. The authors of the study used certain search criteria to find studies that test the efficacy of biofield related treatments. Once they found the studies they used a point system to grade them based on methods and information posted in the study. In total 66 made the grade and were used. It was the evidence found in these studies that led to the author’s conclusion “There is a need for further high-quality studies in this area.” After looking into the studies they used I would have no choice but to agree.
The first study I picked to go over was the one that scored the highest on the point scale; a 12 out of a possible 16. The study monitored 88 asthma patients that were either treated with HT therapy, placebo (actor used to administer HT treatment), and a control group with no treatment. The patients were treated over 5 sessions and tested at the end of each using an Asthma Quality of Life Questionnaire or AQLQ test which scores a patients impairment in 32 total situations. The AQLQ is, as far as I can tell, an accepted form of assessment even though it does depend on self-reporting. The findings were minimal at best, and the authors came to the conclusion “Spiritual healing does not appear to have any specific affect on patient asthma related quality of life.” So minus one for the away team.
My second choice was on the opposite end of their list; it scored a 1 out of a lowest possible score of -3 points. Apparently the studies were so bad they had to lower the bar a bit. This study was to test “The effects of healing touch on the coping ability, self esteem, and general health of nursing students.” The purpose was stated as, “...check the veracity of claims made by healing touch practitioners that the therapy is effective.” Not much information is given on the methods of this study, but I have to assume that the patients were treated then asked to answer a questionnaire. Judging by the results it would seem that the longer you are in nursing school the more effective HT is for you. In the first year students the author reported, “...findings showed no effects of HT...” While the third year students “...some slight effects...” In conclusion the author admits that the slight effects are not nearly enough to prove the efficacy of HT. The authors words, though, show were their original intent may have laid, “...projects design may be ineffective in measuring the effects of HT...” and “...objective measures may be inadequate for exploring subjective practices.” So basically, the study showed no real effect on the students, but maybe we just did it wrong. With the total lack of information given by the authors and the obvious bias I’m more than disappointed that anyone would use this study for any purpose.
After looking over the reviewed studies it is hard not to agree that higher quality studies need to be conducted in this area. Not to show that you can manipulate the nonexistent biofield, but to show that these practices are undeniably just plain quackery. The vague conclusions leave far too much gap for proponents to wiggle into and use as “evidence.” Use of this study by merchants of this crapadoo is a perfect example of this. A study that clearly says nothing more than we need better studies to get hard evidence is being used to mean we need better studies because we have got something here!
The Becker Hilton Medical Institute
In iRenew’s commercial they use a plug from a Dr. Scott Becker from the Becker Hilton Institute who tells us just how incredibly effective these treatments really are. How could an educated person with a doctorate to boot believe in such a thing if it weren’t true? Well, I’m not so sure about his education, but I can tell you that his career activities may have something to do with it. I looked into the Becker Hilton Institute and man did I find some bunk. The institute is located in Miramar, FL and their “Yahoo Local” profile says they specialize in bio-identical hormone replacement therapy (thanks again Oprah), nutraceutical supplementation, and age management. Six reviews were written on the profile. Five of the reviews gave a single star (lowest possible) and contained some colorful descriptions. A single five star review throw me off a bit until I read it. The review was titled, “Five Star Criminals.” How lovely. When I tried to view the institutes website I was redirected to a page that read, “This account has been suspended.” Looks like Doc Becker doesn’t make for much of an expert endorsement.
Radiation All Over
iRenew’s great whipping boy, electromagnetic radiation, really is all around us. Claims that bombardment from this radiation cause ailments from fatigue to autism are rampant in the pseudoscience community. These claims have been investigated many times, and no correlation has ever been found. Since the claimed biofield that these waves seem to harm is completely undetectable and breaks many of the laws of physics it makes for a difficult study directly into this claim. Neither side has come up with anything other than the fact that biofields just don’t exist. Besides this we also know that the radiation given off by our wireless devices, cell phones, and just about anything you plug in is not nearly energetic enough to effect our bodies. We have been walking about in a sea of this radiation for decades now, and we haven’t seen any evidence to the contrary. This also goes for the “natural frequencies” said to be harnessed by the bracelet. The earth’s core is a massive dynamo that creates the enormous magnetic field that protects us from solar emissions and other space baddies. This field has no real effect on our body, and any other frequency given off by most materials is no different. Case Closed.
Between the silly balance test shown on the commercial and the recent court ruling against Q-Ray, the makers of a similar product, ordering them to refund nearly 87 million dollars to customers I have seen more than enough evidence to come to a conclusion. Even with the buy one get one free for $19.95 deal I refuse to buy. This is a sham among shams using shams to sham even the shammers. When people ask, “What’s the harm?” we can point to this product and show the misinformation given to an already scientifically ignorant public that causes them to lose their money and perhaps time they could be using on a real treatment. While science based medicine may win the occasional victory (the Q-Ray ruling) scams like this continue to pop up. They drive a wedge between their customers and the big bad mainstream separating them even further from the truth. While many will inevitably fall prey to these tactics our best bet is to stay skeptical ourselves and do what it takes to spread that skepticism among the public.
“If it were widely understood that claims to knowledge require adequate evidence before they can be accepted, there would be no room for pseudoscience.”
- Carl Sagan
As always please feel free to comment or e-mail me with any questions or ideas or if you would like to view any of my references. I’m just too lazy to put them here.