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The Taopatch: Miracle or Mirage?

LV writes: “My friends are showing up with these weird little round patches on their necks or wrists that they claim are delivering non-stop acupuncture to their bodies. They call it the Taopatch. Is this scientifically legit?”

The short answer – no.

For those who never heard of it, the Taopatch, which was created by an Italian bioengineer named Fabio Fontana, is a wearable mylar device that combines acupuncture with light therapy. The company claims its patented nanotechnology “captures heat from your body and converts it into impulses of very weak light, which is then emitted onto the specific points where the patches are placed. These photons stimulate your Central Nervous System and enhance its communication with the rest of your body.”

The patches are placed on different acu-points and “are given protocols to help with different symptoms from improving posture, balance and flexibility, to boosting athletic performance and focus, and reducing stress and anxiety," the site claims.

The price of these gadgets range anywhere from $299 to $999 with some designed to help with pain, fatigue, rebalancing, even multiple sclerosis (MS).

Dr. Harriet Hall, writing for Science-Based Medicine, was not impressed with the alleged mechanism of action of the Taopatch.

“Their explanation of how it works is not credible,” Dr. Hall writes. “It is applied to acupoints. Its nanocrystals convert body heat into specific frequencies of light, photons which travel to other acupoints, thereby improving communication throughout the nervous system…The words sound like science, but are pure pseudoscientific gibberish. I won’t waste any time trying to explain what is wrong with it.”

Sadly, Taopatch is promoted to MS patients, and the company claims that they have studies showing it is effective; however, MS patients have fluctuating symptoms and are often convinced that phony treatments worked for them, which is why they are often preyed upon by quacks.

Dr. Hall is not the only critic of the Taopatch. Her criticism was borne out by Samuel Pinches, Postdoctoral Fellow at Swinburne University in Australia, who reviewed the studies provided on the Taopatch website and found them to be seriously lacking in credibility. For example, most of the studies are of very low quality and are only preliminary studies at best. One had a cohort of only 28 people and was supposedly conducted by researchers at Cannizzaro Hospital, but a search of their site found no evidence that the researchers even worked there. Another study, which is full of plagiarism, is a master’s thesis authored by three doctors whose existence Pinches was unable to substantiate. Another study wasn’t even a study – it was a poster!

“I am left unsatisfied by the literature offered by Taopatch, and the very low quality of some of these works indicates that Taopatch does not understand scientific rigor,” Pinches writes.

“Any company that offers a medical device needs to show that the product is not 'snake oil', and demonstrate that the product is better than a placebo effect. We know that the placebo effect is a real thing, and I fully believe that most of the positive reports about Taopatch are from genuine users. However, it is my strong belief that this product appears to be a fake placebo product. The use of terms like ‘nanotechnology’ and ‘quantum dots’ without clarification are a big red flag, and I have seen these terms abused as a way to persuade non-scientific people that a product is ‘complicated’.”

In other words, don’t be fooled by this company’s slick marketing and impressive website. Snake oil is snake oil, regardless of how it’s packaged.

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