It is an unfortunate truth that there is money in pseudoscience, particularly medical pseudoscience. Money both attracts charlatans and also funds their activities, which includes marketing pseudoscience and defending their claims from scientific scrutiny. In this way the game is rigged in favor of pseudoscience.
With0ut effective regulation, sites like ours are forced to play whack-a-mole with the medical pseudoscience du jour. The latest case in point is Titanium Ion Bands – which are just another version of the Power Balance bands that have been previously exposed as nonsense. The idea is that by wearing a small bracelet on one wrist you will experience improved athletic performance. This sounds impossible – because it is. But companies have successfully bamboozled enough of the public to rake in millions.
The marketing strategy is three-fold. First, get naive professional athletes to endorse the product. Second, give live demonstrations (deceptive parlor tricks) that convince the unsuspecting that something must be going on. And third, wow the scientifically illiterate with a confusing barrage of medical techno-babble. The combination is sadly effective.
Power Balance, for example, makes vague references to frequencies and energy as the explanation for how a little piece of rubber (with embedded holograms) can have any effect on human physiology. The company was eventually legally forced to admit: “”We admit that there is no credible scientific evidence that supports our claims.” The admission has not ended their sale, however.
Next up is the Titanium Ion Bands. Their claims are essentially the same – wear a little bracelet on your wrist and you will have improved performance. Instead of holograms and frequencies, their bands are alleged to work through negative ions. This is just another recycled pseudoscientific claim that has been around for years. Just search on “negative ions” and you will see a variety of products claiming to improve health with negative ions.
The bracelet claim is nonsense for two independent reasons. The first is that a piece of anything does not generate negative or positive ions. You cannot change the net electrical charge spontaneously – you need a source of energy. The only devices that actually generate negative ions are powered in some way, such as a machine that you plug into an outlet. A chemical reaction, such as occurs in a battery, is also a possible source – but not tourmaline and titanium discs, as the company claims.
Even if the bracelets did give off negative ions, there is no evidence of any healthy benefit from this. You might build up a static charge and get shocked when you grab the doorknob, but there is no evidence or reason to suspect that negative ions will increase blood flow, as the company claims. “Increasing blood flow” seems to be the go-to explanation for a wide variety of dubious health products, especially for those that involve magnets or any kind of electrical force. Such claims, however, are evidence-free.
The company touts “reports” of their own “inspections” using fancy technology like thermography to demonstrate their claimed effects. It’s all very sciencey, while being scientifically worthless. None of the proper controls are in place to make the information anything other than a marketing demonstration, similar to the parlor tricks used by Power Balance.
On the company website there are links to celebrity endorsements and testimonials – but no links to published peer-reviewed quality research backing up any component of their claims.
There is every reason to believe that these titanium bands are medically worthless. However current regulations allow the company to market them with deceptive health claims without the burden to provide reliable scientific evidence to back up their claims. The endless chain of such products will continue as long as the lax regulations allow them to.
At present the best we can do is to continue to educate the public about the underlying science and to be skeptical of all such products. Further, we can pressure pharmacies and other outlets not to sell pseudoscientific products. Further, there are mechanisms to force companies to retract deceptive or unsupported claims for their products. It is a game of whack-a-mole, but it’s better than nothing.
*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*