Tuesday, 4 January 2011

6 Reasons why Balance Bracelets are Stupid

Six things you should know about Power Balance/Pro Balance bracelets

Note this article was written for an online news site in South Africa (hence the South African references).
Many of your favourite sport heroes wear them. Some cost as much as $65/R500. They are sold in sport shops around the country and were found under many-a Christmas tree this December. They are made of quality silicon embedded with a hologram. The promises made by the products include the following:

“...optimizing the body’s natural energy flow...”
“...eliminate and nullify the effects of man made (sic) frequencies (60 cps) in the body...”
“...prevent disease...”
“...improve the immune function...”
“...balance out the two hemispheres of the brain, again as measured by EEG tests...”

Some products are claimed to contain negative ions (for the layman, this is simply atoms/molecules with more electrons than protons, that’s all) which they claim to miraculously improve the body’s health too (giving specifics like the unscientific “boosting the immune system”). This claim is not only misleading, but is a medical claim that in many countries would be illegal. The ASA in South Africa however excludes complementary medicine from their guidelines around the marketing of health products so it’s less likely that we’re going to see court action against these companies any time soon.

Anyway, here are some points to consider before buying one yourself. If you disagree or you feel that not enough details are given, then feel free to do some of your own research.
1. The balance/strength/flexibility tests are really old mind tricks that have been used to sell all sorts of snake-oil over the years (colour therapy, pyramid power, crystal power to name some). These are old applied kinesiology techniques which can fool both the customer and sometimes the salesperson too. Whereas it appears as though ones flexibility and balance is affected, when the tests are blinded (i.e. neither customer or salesman know whether the customer is holding a holographic bracelet) then the tests are no better than random. The reason for this is due to the ideomotor effect. See the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ynbx5JfEwcA.
2. Bio-energy fields and Qi energy which are frequently referenced by these products have been searched for on multiple occasions and even with today’s high sophisticated equipment, such energy has never been detected. Yes, the body radiates energy, but this is over a wide range of frequencies (ever seen a thermal image of yourself?).

3. The “power” of holograms and Mylar technology is implausible scientifically. The “theory” that a resonating (temporal) frequency can be “stored” in a Mylar hologram is unfounded. For those familiar with holograms there are spatial frequency programmed in the hologram which controls the light and dark parts of the hologram and have nothing to with resonant frequencies. All they do is change the amplitude and phase of the wave (not the frequency). The Mylar itself simply strengthens the hologram.

4. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission have forced Power Balance to retract their unsubstantiated medical claims. The Commission found that the claims made by Power Balance did not follow actual scientific evidence. http://www.powerbalance.com/australia/CA?___SID=U .

5. The Power Balance chosen frequency is apparently 7.83Hz. Where did this come from? Apparently it’s one of the Schumann resonance frequencies that relates to the frequency of the Earth’s magnetic core. Even if humans have an “ideal frequency”, there is no extensive evidence to suggest that 7.83Hz is it.

6. Ionization jewellery has been marketed for a while. Scientifically it makes very little sense as the body has ions in solution throughout the body and there is no such thing as ionized solid objects. Not only that, but the Federal Trade Commission in the USA sued Q-Ray, a seller of ionized bracelet for fraudulent advertising and medical claims. Medical claims that are no more audacious than those made by holographic bracelets selling in this country. The FTC won and the judge labelled the claims of Q-Ray as fraudulent. When tested ionized jewellery performs no better than placebo.

Whether you choose to believe all this or not, is not important. What is important is that you are aware that there is significant objection to the efficacy of such accessories amongst the scientific community. Yes, science doesn’t have all the answers, but to retort and claim that a couple of slick marketers (who can take $2/R10 bracelets made in China and bump up the price to R500) know better, then shouldn’t you look a little more into this?

So if it’s a fashion accessory you’re looking for or a superstitious quirk you wish to indulge, perhaps these holographic ionized bracelets is for you. But at $65/R500 a pop, I reckon the only balance you’ll be adjusting significantly is your bank balance.

Resources (all websites):

Skeptologists Blog

Science Based Medicine

James Randi Educational Foundation

Skeptic's Dictionary

Power Balance website

4T Pro Balance website