Category Archives: skeptics

I’m an Acupuncture Skeptic

human pin cushion circus For years I was convinced acupuncture was a valid medical procedure with clear benefits backed by reams of good evidence. Although I never did believe in the meridian qi energy theories associated with this treatment, I routinely encouraged clients and friends to add acupuncture to their health and wellness toolbox. After all, the Chinese people have been utilizing acupuncture for approximately 2500 to 4000 years and it has stood the test of time, right? – turns out this is not completely true. Many U.S. health insurance companies reimburse their customers for the service, believing it brings quantifiable benefits. However, skeptics suspect this simply makes prudent fiscal sense because acupuncture is a cheaper payout than traditional medical care. In an effort to appease customer demand, many prestigious hospitals have added acupuncture to their wellness and rehab programs despite pushback from the scientific community. The anecdotal evidence was and is overwhelming. I constantly hear intelligent thoughtful people talk about the efficacy and personal success in regards to the treatment. Almost unbelievably, the United States Military started using acupuncture to treat pain on the battlefield (they also practice cupping – our tax dollars hard at work). How can all these hospitals, insurers, government agencies and smart people be wrong? After doing a deep dive into the research and talking with a few doctors and scientists I am no longer convinced acupuncture treatment is better than a placebo.  As it turns out, it makes no difference where you put the needle. In fact, it doesn’t matter whether you use a needle at all! In the best-controlled studies, only one thing mattered: whether the patients believed they were getting acupuncture.  Even then, people responded no better than the placebo control. Continue reading

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Fitness for Suckers: Toning Pants, Slimming Shoes, Braclets & Magnets

Nobody has ever said pro athletes are beacons of knowledge and scientific rigor.  Have you seen any famous athletes wearing this piece of garbage? 

Fitness NYC

It’s called the “Power Balance Performance Technology Silicone Wristband”, and according to the manufacturer it is “a leader in the market for Performance Technology sports accessories….worn by thousands of professional and amateur athletes worldwide”.  Until they were sued and almost went bankrupt the company stated: “the holographic technology resonates with and responds to the natural energy field of the body and increases sporting ability”.  Don’t look now, even the Rhodes Scholar X-Pres is wearing one:

We are quite good at convincing ourselves we understand the principles behind the everyday products we use.  Modern consumers have this illusion of knowledge where familiarity of a product breeds a level of understanding.  But how well do we really understand the inner workings and mechanics behind our stuff?  If I asked you how your TV works or if you could make a one from scratch, could you?  How about a zipper, could you make a working model?  We take all these seemingly simple things for granted but if you were sent back 200 years in a time machine could you make a light bulb, radio or a bicycle?  This all brings me to the term: “technobabble” which means incomprehensible technical jargon. Everyday we are bombard by technobabble in an effort to get us to buy something. This jargon persuades us to buy one thing over another because it sounds better.

Here’s a perfect example of technobabble used to sell a “health” gadget:

“Logically, utilizing e=mc2 every atom has mass and the speed of light (c) is a constant, therefore there must be energy in every atom. Through our proprietary programming process, our chip emits sub-atomic energies powered by an atom’s inherent energy. Coincidentally, this energy stimulates the separation of blood cells in the wearer’s body which can help increase blood cell circulation. While the scale of vibration is considerably smaller for nano-vibrational technology, it is inherently the same in definition, to any other object that vibrates.”

Logically by using overly technical scientific terms this company hopes to dupe the average consumer.  The above description is from the “Shuziqi” web site which sell nano technology vibration jewelry.  Shuziqi and unfortunately many others like it (such as Power Balance) are overpriced borderline unethical health gadgets that supposedly confers a plethora of positive benefits on it user:

  • Better athletic performance
  • Increased flexibility
  • Decreased joint pain
  • Better balance
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Improved circulation
  • Increased positivity and endorphins
  • Improved stability

Despite Einstein’s theory of relativity there is no credible scientific evidence to support the claims of this product and other like it. Yet many very smart people are mislead all the time into spending lots of money on this tripe.  I blame the success of these products on their convincing technobabble and our desire to think we understand the principles behind these items.  Interestingly, if you believe this bracelet will help your athletic performance and health it just might, via the placebo effect.

Save your money or make your own!

Listed below are a few other health products that are backed by reams of technobabble and questionable science.  Many of these gadgets do have supporting research backing their claims however manufacturers funded most of the studies.  When you are in charge and paying the bills you can prove almost anything!

1- Toning Shoes (MBT, Reebok Easy Tone, Sketchers Shape-ups) – Supposedly these shoes decrease fat in your butt as you walk.  Besides the fact that you can NOT spot reduce fat, several studies have shown these shoes not only don’t work they may cause dysfunction too.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission has reported several injuries caused by these shoes and a few hospitalizations!  Reebok and Sketchers were both sued and lost in court for false advertising and personal injuries.

  

2- Slimming Shorts (Zaggora Hotpants) – “Trim inches off your hips and thighs….specially designed sports shorts that contain bio-ceramic technology, which emits far infrared rays and reflects back the heat naturally generated by the body to deliver warming up of tissue deep below the skin’s surface.” The web site instructs for the best results the user should work out for 30-60 minutes daily.   These pants trap more heat then regular pants thus you lose more fluids and actually weigh less after a workout.  However, fluid loss does not = fat loss and you can’t spot reduce fat loss!   If these pants worked, we would all be in the gym in our full body vinyl sauna outfits.  Remember Martin Lawrence passed out and went into a comma from heat exhaustion while wearing one such outfit.  I bet he lost a lot of weight too!

 

3- HawaiiChair – You have to see this to believe it – it slims your waist while you sit at work… and probably wrecks your lower back in the process.

4- Far Infrared Therapy and Sauna – Did you know it amazingly treats autism and kills cancer cells! Next time a family member gets cancer I’m going right out to get one of these things.   I have also seen claims like this: “Helps liquefy fat cells, burns calories and controls weight. Improves and clears cellulite. Most effective way of burning calories. Burns up to 500 calories in one full session”.  If it were even possible liquefy fat cells, how does it leave your other cells and organs intact?   I guess there must be a conspiracy holding this information back, because being the most effective calorie burning device is nothing short of revolutionary.   

5- Magnetic Therapy Pads, Bracelets and Inserts – Magnets are perhaps the champs of pseudo-science health products.  This junk has very little if any scientific evidence proving health benefits. However it is a 5 billion dollar industry worldwide. Go figure. The pitch below describes how a particular form of magnetic therapy functions.  Please let me know if you understand it. 

 “Pulsating Magnetic Fields can reduce pain sensations almost immediately. This is due in part to the increase in the oxygen partial pressure in the terminal tissue and the increase in the local perfusion and velocity of the capillary blood flow alleviating the accumulation of metabolites due to small vascularization and blood flow (transmitted by the sympathetic nervous system). “

There is a mountain of real scientific evidence debunking magnetic therapy. If you’d like to know more check out:

  1. Sillybeliefs.com
  2. QuackWatch.com  
  3. Brody, J. 2000. “Less pain: Is it in the magnets or in the mind?” New York Times, November 28: F9.
  4. Finegold, L., and B.L. Flamm. 2006. Magnet therapy: Extraordinary claims, but no proved benefits. British Medical Journal 332: 4.
  5. Pittler, Max H., Elizabeth M. Brown, and Edzard Ernst. 2007. Static magnets for reducing pain: Systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. Canadian Medical Association Journal 177(7) (September): 736–42.

Your parents were right, if a product sounds too good to be true or just way too complicated it probably is.  Save your money and keep on moving.

 

Doug Joachim – NYC
www.JoachimsTraining.com
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