Ads that Make You Go "Really?"

A few TV commercials set off my B.S. detector the other day, so I decided to look at the products’ active ingredients and figure out if they can really do what they supposedly can do….

Mouthwash reduces “biofilm”. An ad for a popular brand of mouthwash implies that in addition to tartar buildup, plaque, and gum disease, brushers must also fight biofilm, a sticky layer of germs that adheres to the teeth no matter how frequently and thoroughly you brush. They make it sound pretty damn scary, this newly discovered scourge to dental health. Biofilm covers up the plaque, rendering it inaccessible to regular brushing! First you must get rid of the biofilm, and this mouthwash will supposedly help you do that.
Quick trips to Wikipedia and the American Dental Association confirmed what I already suspected: The term “biofilm” is a reference to plaque, not to an entirely separate layer of scum on the teeth. You don’t have to break through it to get the plaque; it is the plaque. Hell, even the Listerine website itself tells you that “biofilm” is the new word for plaque. But the commercial tries to trick you into buying an old product to fight a new enemy – which turns out to be an old enemy with a new, sciency name.

Dental spray reduces plaque on your dog’s teeth. An order-now ad running frequently on late-night TV tells us that instead of brushing or costly and risky cleanings at the vet’s office, you can easily and safely administer a dental spray to your dog’s mouth once a day. It will reduce plaque buildup just as effectively as the other methods of plaque removal.
As it turns out, though, this “plaque spray” has essentially the same ingredients as human mouthwash (containing 25% alcohol and some herbal extracts), meaning it can’t serve as an adequate replacement for brushing and regular professional cleanings.

A commercial for a yogurt-based dairy drink hints that it can boost your immunity, but it doesn’t actually say that outright. In fact, they use the French spelling of the word immunity. Does this mean they want to sound Continental, or does it perhaps mean they can’t prove their product “boosts” your immunity? And what does “boosting” immunity mean, anyway? It’s a term so vague as to be meaningless. There is some clinical evidence for health benefits from the bacteria in yogurt, but some researchers have noted (here, for example) that there is currently no evidence of benefits to consumers who are already healthy.

How Do Ion Foot Baths and Foot Detox Pads Work?

“Ion foot baths” (also known as ionic foot baths, ionizing foot baths, or aqua detox) are showing up at countless naturopathic clinics, salons, and spas these days. You’ve probably heard at least one person you know raving about them, urging you to try one as soon as possible. They can supposedly draw toxins out of the body that can’t be expelled in any other way, using nothing more than ionized water. The idea is that the postive and negative ions in the water act like magnets on the large pores of the feet, extracting toxins (and/or heavy metals, excess fat, and pathogens) by osmosis. The way a friend described it to me (with a mixture of awe and disgust), you’ll know it’s working because the water becomes cloudy or mucky. According to her naturopath, the treatment leaches essential minerals out of your body, too, so you have to take supplements before and after your foot bath.
Some foot bath vendors claim their products can improve liver or kidney function and/or your overall health, “amplify your energy field”, relax you, and do all the cool stuff that other detox products (teas, diets, etc.) supposedly do. Online reviews hint at miraculous cures of everything from Chronic Fatique Syndrome to Lyme disease. A few people have suggested aqua detox could cure autism.

When you get one of these foot baths, you’ll be asked to place your feet in a small basin of electrolyzed water. Then your homeopath or spa attendant will sprinkle some sea salt into the water to increase its electrical conductivity (it’s actually essential). Within 30 minutes, the water will turn into a disgusting brown swamp of “toxins”, probably including clots of grayish stuff and nasty little chunks of… well, whatever. The point is that the bad stuff is gone and you can be healthier and happier (after you pay your $35-$75 bill). You can also purchase ion foot bath kits, or achieve similar results with foot pads like these. You simply apply it to your foot like a bandage, and voila! It’ll look like a dead hobo’s sock in no time at all.

You can see many astounding demonstrations of ion footbaths and foot pads at work on YouTube. They’re all pretty gross.

The most amazing thing you won’t hear about ion foot baths is that they work on just about anything! For instance, if you drop a Mel Gibson DVD into a pool of electrolyzed water with some table salt sprinkled in it, you’ll cleanse it of its sins! The water will turn just as murky and retch-inducing as it does when you put your feet in it. Awesome.

Actually, that’s not the most amazing thing about ion foot baths. The most amazing thing is that even if you don’t put anything at all in the basin, the water will still turn to crud! Wow! So this means one of three things:

1. The foot cleanser is detoxing itself.
2. A ghost is sticking his feet in it.
3. This whole ion foot-cleansing thing is a freaking scam or a mass delusion.

Here’s the deal: In order to electrolyze the water, the basin must contain metal elements that serve as electrodes (prongs, rods, whatever). When you electrolyze metal, it sheds minute flakes of iron oxide (rust) into the water, turning it a brownish colour. Guaranteed. In fact, one good way to polish your silver is to electrolyze it.
The truth is, the pores of your feet aren’t anything special. Sure, there are a lot of them, but the waste products that collect in the feet (mainly urea and creatinine) can’t pass through the skin with or without the help of ions; they are eventually absorbed into other tissues without causing any damage to the body. Not to mention most of the body’s waste is colourless, so you wouldn’t be able to see it even if it could be drawn out in the foot bath. What you’re seeing in the ion bathwater is essentially rust, and maybe some iron precipitate flotsam.

The detox foot pads are a different story. They contain dehydrated pyroligneous acid, commonly known as wood vinegar or bamboo vinegar, which turns brownish (and smelly) when exposed to moisture. Contrary to the ad claims made about its detoxifying and curative benefits, wood vinegar has no known health benefits at all.
Pittsburgh’s WTAE has tested the pads and found that they turn brown when exposed to any liquid. 20/20 tested two popular brands on a group of volunteers, eliciting a few good anecdotal reports of increased energy. But analysis of the pads by MNS Labs revealed that not one of them contained heavy metals, parasites, fats, or toxins.

In the world of ion foot detox, you’ll find scams-within-scams. The website for Dr. Mary Stagg’s product line declares that Stagg is the “ORIGINAL” developer of the ionic detox footbath, but on the very same website she explains that she only did “further development” on an ion foot spa process that doctors in Colorado and Florida were already using. And the naturopath who told my friend she would have to buy certain supplements from him to replace the minerals that were leached from her body by foot detox? Pure crap. You won’t lose any more minerals in an ion bath than you will in a nice bubblebath.

The ion footbath has been thoroughly discredited as a health aid by Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science column, by chemists, by physicians, even by some manufacturers and vendors (who admit the water will turn yucky with or without your feet). It’s a glorified footsoak with a bit of prestidigitation thrown in.

Wednesday Weirdness Roundup

  • Paula Oliviera, a 26-year-old Brazilian lawyer, claimed earlier this month that while visiting Switzerland she was assaulted by a group of neo-Nazi punks. The three skinheads grabbed her as she stood outside a train station in Zurich, speaking Portuguese over her cell phone. They made some racial slurs, then carved the initials of Switzerland’s wildly popular anti-immigration political party, the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), onto her pregnant stomach. Due to the stress of the attack, Oliveira said, she miscarried twins. It didn’t doctors long to figure out that Oliveira wasn’t pregnant in the first place, and that the cuts on her abdomen weren’t characteristic of a knife attack. This allegedly fake racial assault is only the latest in a long, sad series of self-inflicted “hate crimes” that usually involve a seemingly normal young woman carving or writing racial slurs on her own flesh, then blaming it on men of another ethnicity or race. As with the case of Ashley Todd (“mugged” and cut by a fictitious Obama supporter late last year), the attacks are often so poorly thought-out and staged that investigators get to the bottom of them within hours. I’ll be devoting a post to this phenomenon later in the week.
  • Some 9/11 Truthers suspect the horrific plane crash in Buffalo was more than an accident. Why? Because there were no fewer than two activists on the flight; 9/11 widow Beverly Eckert (who was preparing to sue the U.S. government) and Alison Des Forges of Human Rights Watch (who testified before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda). Michelle Pogue of Montreal 9/11 Truth (incidentally, one of the most rabidly anti-Zionist Truth groups in the world) suspects Des Forges was killed to cover up the fact that the Rwandan genocide was a “U.S. and French proxy war.” Pogue even accuses Ms. Des Forges of being part of the cover-up! Thankfully, not all Truthers are quite this duuuuuuhhhhh: A friend who belongs to Pilots for 9/11 Truth suspects the crash was the result of a tail stall brought on by tailplane icing (explained in a 1998 instructional video). This is a deadly situation that not all pilots are well-trained to handle, thanks to lax FAA and corporate policies.
  • And speaking of Truther bitchmonsters, a particularly nasty one who shall still remain nameless offered last week to contribute a travel package door prize to a Truth convention the significant other is organizing. When he declined, explaining that this event isn’t a freaking corporate Christmas party, she predictably became defensive and snippy. My alarm bells went off when she started to refer to the travel package in Quixway-like terms (“many satisfied customers would tell you how happy this made them!”). Sure enough, a quick search revealed that Ultra Life travel packages, while apparently legit, are part of a pyramidish MLM setup called Business in Motion. BIM “salespeople” don’t make most of their money from travel packages, they make it from signing up new “salespeople” at $3500 a pop. It has left many a disgruntled would-be travel agent in its wake, as this CBC Marketplace report shows. Why doesn’t it surprise me that an Alex Jones fan and fluoride-phobe would fall for this kind of thing?
  • Some Truthers and anti-Zionists have been griping all week that “Israel wants northern Iraq.” Aside from a handful of reports in dodgy Arab newspapers, I can’t find a single piece of corroboration for this. Kindly let me know if you spot any. There was a piece in Haaretz about the possibility of oil being pumped from northern Iraq to Haifa, but this doesn’t quite equate to “Israel wants northern Iraq.”
  • The other day I saw a bizarre infomercial advertising “Your Baby Can Read!”, a flashcard and DVD system that can supposedly teach kids as young as 3 months old to recognize two- and three-syllable words. Sounds like total b.s., just like the infant Mozart Effect. But even if it’s not, as Shelley Boettcher of the Calgary Herald asks, why would a baby need to read? Isn’t there enough time for that later on, when they’ve mastered potty training and walking?

Stirwands and Purple Plates

(AKA Plastic and Aluminum)

Mystical-quantum gizmos + your water = plain ol’ water

I first heard of the Stirwand when Dr. Deagle, in his Granada Forum lecture, mentioned “special wands from Global Light Network that can actually change the structure of water to help ease specific conditions”.

This sounded like yet another structured water scam, so I investigated and found this website. The Stirwand is basically a plastic stick with a hollow handle that contains flakes of “high-matrix minerals”. For some reason, the product descriptions repeatedly point out that these minerals are naturally occurring. All minerals are naturally occurring.

So what are high-matrix minerals? After reading the product descriptions and watching an interview with David Schneider, the co-creator of the Stirwand, I still don’t know. Water is supposedly improved by the minerals by “accepting their imprint” – without these minerals touching the water. How does this work? The site offers only gibberish: The minerals somehow enter a “High Matrix lattice”, elevating themselves to “exhibit their exceptional qualities”, and alter the water with “noninvasive resonance”.
“These various manifestations of matter exist because their individual consciousness [sic] identify with different points within the matrix, those specifically which they consider to be real.”
I think what they’re trying to tell us is, “It works if you believe it works”.

However, the Stirwand does have predictable (if not exactly quantifiable) results, and there are many different kinds of Stirwand. The Gourmet model “enhances the vibration from food and beverages”. The Olympian “optimizes athletic performance”. The Gardener “enhances the vitality” of plants. The Calming wand can make alcholic beverages taste “significantly improved”. Etc.

A set of 8, with a carry pouch and “SP Sensor Balancing and Imprinting Plate”, costs $549.95 without shipping/handling. For that price, you could buy 3300 swizzles sticks at your local dollar store. Same diff. How do I know? Well, the “research” supporting the efficacy of the Stirwand is less than awe-inspiring. There’s something about “invetro test results” (if you can’t spell it, you can’t study it). And a “new clinical trial shows an average increase in hydration of 23.5%” after drinking Stirwand-treated water. An increase over what? Not drinking any water at all?
There are also a few tests you can perform at home, after you’ve purchased your Stirwand, like holding 8 oz. of treated water under your nose/chin for 30 seconds. “Be alert for anomolous phenomena…For those sensitive to subtle energies, these tests will illustrate that the water has a remarkable amount of…radiant heat and/or vortex patterned energy imitating from it [sic].”

Or you could be having an acid flashback.

What else does the Stirwand do?

– Like structured water and various other kinds of bogus bottled water, it supposedly makes water “more hydrating”. Admittedly, “Convention [science] will debate this, as inert objects traditionally do not produce substantial results in water. In this case, however, a quantum phenomenon trumps a Newtonian fundamental; Stirwands effects [sic] are varied, significant, and thought-provoking”. In other words, “We don’t know why this works, because it is scientifically impossible.”
– It cleans more effectively than ordinary water. It’s also more resistant to mold and bacteria.
– It “thickens” water and makes it smoother, though I don’t really see any benefit to this.
– Like all New Age products, its capabilities “greatly exceed the known potentials” of its actual components (plastic and some mineral flakes).

In my opinion, paying $75 to make my drinking water “thicker” and “more hydrating” wouldn’t be worth it, even if the Stirwand could actually do these things. Which it cannot. Whether its designers think it works or not, it’s a swizzle stick clumsily marketed as a magic wand.

But the Purple Plates are even goofier. Yesterday, over brunch, I watched a friend take a thin rectangle of mauve-coloured, anodized aluminum out of her purse and place it beneath her water bottle. She explained that these things are supposed to energize water, de-alcoholize alcoholic beverages, and de-caffeinate caffeinated beverages as well as heal cuts and scrapes within minutes, using “Tesla technology.”

Purple Plates were introduced in the ’70s and later popularized by pop astrologer Linda Goodman, in her book Star Signs. Here’s what one Amazon reviewer had to say about them: “I would be extremely surprised if even the most diehard skeptic tried it and felt nothing change for the positive in their energy…I have healed many an ailment or imbalance with the Chi that Reiki energy is, but these Purple plates are like Reiki energy X 100…”

I was less than six inches away from one of these super-powered plates for at least an hour and a half, and I noticed no changes in my energy. I was relaxed and happy, but some conversation and a good soy latte on a Sunday afternoon will do that to me every time. No aluminum required.

But why do the plates “work”? Well, for basically the same reasons as Stirwands don’t do. They were designed by Ralph Bergstresser, an alleged assistant to Nikola Tesla (the unofficial mascot of Woo).

This is really a subject for another post, but I’d just like to point out that if every person who claimed to be a protege of Tesla actually had been a Tesla protege, Tesla could have staffed a facility the size of CERN with his lab assistants. For this reason, it’s actually easier to believe that crackpot inventors are channeling the spirit of Tesla.

According to, the “atoms and electrons of the aluminum have been altered so that the plates are in resonance, or in tune, with the basic energy of the Universe. They function as transceivers . . . creating a field of energy around themselves that will penetrate any material substance by osmosis.
The items are made with materials characterized by naturally orderly lattices – such as aluminum, sand and certain plastics. These lattices are energetically forced into a still more homogeneous and regular patterns and molecular characteristics.”

In other words, “We don’t know why this works.”
As one Amazon reviewer wrote of Linda Goodman’s Star Signs: “The big purple plate actually worked for a very big problem, so how can I be anything but a believer? I understand that not everyone approaches this with an open mind, and that might be the reason nothing works for them. After all, the power of each individual mind works to bring about our own realities.”

Basically, if you don’t expect it to work, it probably won’t work. This is odd. Penicillin, vitamins, pencils, humidifiers, and teakettles will work whether you “believe” in them or not. By this reviewer’s logic, if I pick up a purple crayon and say, “Crayons don’t exist”, then apply the alleged crayon to some very real paper, the crayon might not work.

I couldn’t find anything about de-caffeination, but does warn us that a Purple Plate placed under a martini will render the drink tasteless “like water” after about 3 minutes, apparently removing all alcohol from the glass by osmosis. Sure thing.

Purple plates can do all the same things a Stirwand, or a QLink pendant, or structured water will definitely not supposedly do: Energize and refresh, heal cuts and burns quickly, perk up houseplants, relieve pain, etc. However, the Tesla magic has made these little pieces of aluminum so “resonant” that, according to Linda Goodman’s Star Signs, they have been known to dematerialize from time to time. And they don’t always re-materialize, either. Buyer beware!

At about $25 for the standard model, at least Purple Plates won’t set you back as much as a Stirwand. But they won’t do anything for you, either.