By Alison Campbell 10/05/2018 6


A couple of days ago I had a chat with a journalist that resulted in my being quoted – along with Dr Shaun Holt – in this story about purveyors of Kangen water.

If you believe the hype, this stuff cures a wide range of ailments & leaves you bright-eyed & bushy-tailed. IF… but sadly, these days personal anecdote seems to count for more than that nasty stuff called evidence, and so many do believe the hype.

The Whanganui Chronicle quotes someone selling Kangen water machines (for $4,000A a pop!) as follows:

“I’d go through two 2.25 litres bottles of Coke every day. That was my normal diet.”

Then a cousin in Raetihi told her to try Kangen water and she was hooked straight away.

“I feel a lot more alert – it’s given me more of a zing within my body.”

Yes, well, as Mark Hanna (who blogs on Honest Universe) commented on Twitter,

The Chronicle comments that the manufacturers of these machines provide fliers that make various claims: that the water they produce has proven therapeutic benefits for “more than 150 diseases including cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease”. (Seems to me that making therapeutic claims might be stretching the boundaries of the Medicines Act…) And they claim that the water has these effects because

it restore[s] the drinker’s body to a more alkaline state.

Now, the problem with that particular claim (based, ultimately, on misunderstanding and/or misinterpretationB of Otto Warburg’s work on tumour metabolism) is that your stomach operates at a low (very acidic) pH. Quaff a glass of alkaline water? It’ll likely be neutralised when it hits your stomach. In addition, your body’s lungs & kidneys maintain tissue pH within a very narrow range; excess hydrogen (H+) or hydroxyl (OH) ions are excreted in urine, but the tissue pH remains pretty much constant. So those glasses of expensive H2O will keep you nicely hydrated (& feeling good), but they won’t be doing much else, & certainly not making changes to your body’s tissue pH, though there may be temporary changes in the urine.

Wikipedia has a good article on how these machines actually work. Basically, they are electrolysing tap water as it passes through them. However:

The effectiveness of the process is debatable because electrolysis requires significant amounts of time and power; hence, the amount of hydroxide that could be generated in a fast moving stream of water such as a running tap would be minimal at best.

They’re also highly unlikely to produce ‘hexagonal water’ (despite claims from head office, that one is chemical quackery), or significantly affect the oxygenation status of your tap water (another claim about the Kangen machines). Plus, as Ben Goldacre once commented (in a different context), you don’t have gills in your gut.

Honestly, there are so many resources out there that assess the claims for alkaline water – and find them wanting – anyone considering buying one of these things would find it easy to some due diligence first. (You could start with Skeptoid’s explanation, or follow some of the links I’ve provided.) Then, hopefully, you’ll put the $4K back in your bank account, and drink a nice glass of chilled tap water.

 

A I venture to suggest that once you’ve bought a machine, there’s a significant incentive to keep pushing the product regardless.

B One R.O.Young made a lot of money on the back of pushing that one.


6 Responses to “Magic water nonsense”

  • Hexagonal water eh? That one’s a doozy. If that structure popped into existence it’d exist for fleeting moments in time before immediately breaking up. It’d also be a truly tiny fraction of any sample of water, even during the tiny amount of time it’d be present. (I’ve done simulations of water associated with more stable things [proteins, DNA] and even there water is very dynamic. By fleeting moments, I mean time measured in femtoseconds — 1 / 1,000,000,000,000,000 th’s of a second. That’s not exactly sticking around to do anything.)

  • Hi , I’m just wondering if you have looked at the Molecular hydrogen institute or been on to the pub med site and looked at ERW Studies.. the Kangen machine actually started about 40 yrs ago in Japanese hospitals . I do agreee these people should not be make ng curative claims .however I don’t think this is a pseudo science . I’d be very interested in your. Moments after checking out those sites and doing some more research .. I’ve actually met quite a few people who have had amazing results with various health conditions.. just a thought
    Kind regards
    Christine w

    • Hi Christine – as Grant’s said, the fact that this has been kicking around for 40 years doesn’t actually mean that it has any robust scientific underpinnings. Testimonials about ‘amazing results’ really aren’t evidence. (I have to say, if I’d forked out $4,000 for one of those machines, it would be rather embarassing to admit that it hadn’t done much for me!)

      Back to the 40-years thing: if Kangen water really does half of what’s claimed for it, surely by now the company would be able to produce evidence to support its claims? In fact, I’d say they almost have a responsibility to do so. Can’t be a cost barrier, because there is an awful lot of money coming in to the manufacturers… Incidentally, that evidence would have to involve blinded comparisons between the ‘miracle’ water & normal tap water. Claims like the one highlighted in my post don’t actually tell us anything about the curative powers of Kangen water; all we can gain from the story is that someone feels better after ceasing their 5L/day Coca Cola habit. She might well have felt the same if she’d switched to drinking plain tap water, bottled water, or mineral water – we just don’t know. (However, a study of long-term exposure of rats to alkaline drinking water suggested that it wasn’t all that good for the animals: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2517712/)

      Remember that PubMed is an aggregator; the fact that something is listed there doesn’t mean that they have US government approval, or anything like that. The first few hits there on a search for ERW are of in vitro studies. That is, cells in petri dishes were directly exposed to high-pH water. It’s a very long bow to draw, to suggest that this equates to likely physiological action in a human body. This is because cells in vivo will not be exposed to those pH levels – any high-pH water ingested is going to be neutralised by the low-pH conditions in the stomach, & excess ions that do make it through to the blood are excreted by the kidneys.

      I’d also note that science isn’t usually promoted via multi-level marketing schemes, which is what appears to be happening in this instance.

  • Christine, how old something is doesn’t make it “right”. What makes it right or not is if there is evidence to support it. In this case there’s no support, and some pretty weird claims. It’s a real doozy.

  • Noil Bee – please note that I’m not approving a comment that is simply a link to a video. This is a science blog & I’d much rather that you engage with its content via discussion.