Blog Post

Why Ionizing and Alkalizing Water Machines are Utterly Worthless

HR writes: "I live near the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville and I am concerned about a number of Catholics in the area promoting something called 'Kangen Water.'  My husband and I watched the promo video on it and we discerned that it may be not only a scam but connected to New Age or occult beliefs and practices.  There are Catholics around here trying to sell the machines for around $5,000 dollars and the makers claim that it cures just about every illness under the sun.  Some have claimed healings but I think its the placebo affect at work.  Please address this on your blog or your show and help clear the air on this product."

Kangen water is not so much New Age as it is one of many multi-level marketing (MLM) scams these days that are in the business of selling ionizing and alkalizing water machines. Physicists refer to them as "snake oil on tap" because they are basically worthless but are sold through MLMs which enable them to take advantage of people's lack of scientific expertise.

The Kangen (the name means "return to origin" in Japanese) scam operates the same way all the other MLMs operate. The parent company, Enagic, keeps a low profile and makes few claims that would attract the scrutiny of regulators.  I noticed this right away when their site claimed the product is approved in Japan - where all kinds of water quackery originate - but makes no mention of FDA approval in the U.S. (because there isn't any). In fact, one website I visited had a disclaimer at the bottom of the page saying that " The statements enclosed herein have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration." Instead, they recruit thousands of others who pass along sales literature that is loaded with false and misleading claims.

For instance, one website makes the claim that "Kangen water is ionized, which makes it alkaline."

Science writer Brian Dunning of Skeptoid explains: "Pure water actually cannot be electrolyzed and dissociated into ions to any appreciable degree, it's not electrically conductive enough. You need to have a significant amount of minerals and impurities in order for it to be electrolyzed, which is why Kangen and its competitors also take your money for packets of mineral salt additives that you need to add to your water to make your machine do anything. Do this, and your water will become chemically alkaline with a cargo of dissolved metallic ions in solution. Basically, your $6,000 Kangen machine, when used with the provided chemicals, is a way to accomplish the same thing as making a weak Clorox bleach solution. To chemists, the term 'ionized water' is meaningless."

Here's another claim: "Drinking alkaline water reduces the acidity in your body and restores it to a healthy alkaline state. It is well known in the medical community that an overly acidic body is the root of many common diseases, such as obesity, osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood-pressure and more."

This is absolutely false. "Your body's acidity is not, in any way, affected by the pH of what you eat or drink," Dunning writes. "Eating alkaline food stimulates production of acidic digestive enzymes, and eating acidic foods causes the stomach to produce fewer acids. Your body's primary mechanism for the control of pH is the exhalation of carbon dioxide, which governs the amount of carbonic acid in the blood. Nor has there ever been any plausible research that shows any connection between these diseases and body acidity, this also appears to be completely made up. This is a classic case of using simplistic terminology to sell a product to the scientifically illiterate."

Another outlandish claim Dunning found on Kangen distributor websites is that  "Alkaline water promotes healthy weight loss, and boosts the immune system." These two scientific-sounding medical claims are too vague to even be testable. In fact, the term, "immune system boosting" is medically meaningless.

I was also astonished to see a quote from nutritionist Dr. Theodore Baroody on the main Kangen website. Baroody, who is also an acupuncturist, is the author of Alkalize or Die and his credentials are considered dubious by professional chemists.

There is no indication of any scientific testing done to support the claims made on these sites, only the usual "placebo" testimonials from people who swear their knees and backs and acid indigestion got better after they started drinking the water.

Stephen Lower, a chemist from Simon Fraser University, has done the world a great favor by keeping an extensive website of this and many other water scams that are currently underway. He lists the following facts to keep in mind when someone tries to sell you one of these machines:

• "Ionized water" is nothing more than sales fiction; the term is meaningless to chemists.

• Pure water (that is, water containing no dissolved ions) is too unconductive to undergo signficant electrolysis by "water ionizer" devices.

• Pure water can never be alkaline or acidic, nor can it be made so by electrolysis. Alkaline water must contain metallic ions of some kind — most commonly, sodium, calcium or magnesium.

• The idea that one must consume alkaline water to neutralize the effects of acidic foods is ridiculous; we get rid of excess acid by exhaling carbon dioxide.

• If you do drink alkaline water, its alkalinity is quickly removed by the highly acidic gastric fluid in the stomach.

• Uptake of water occurs mainly in the intestine, not in the stomach. But when stomach contents enter the intestine, they are neutralized and made alkaline by the pancreatic secretions — so all the water you drink eventually becomes alkaline anyway.

• The claims about the health benefits of drinking alkaline water are not supported by credible scientific evidence.

• There is nothing wrong with drinking slightly acidic waters such as rainwater. "Body pH" is a meaningless concept; different parts of the body (and even of individual cells) can have widely different pH values. The pH of drinking water has zero effect on that of the blood or of the body's cells.

• If you really want to de-acidify your stomach (at the possible cost of interfering with protein digestion), why spend hundreds of dollars for an electrolysis device when you can take calcium-magnesium pills, Alka-Seltzer or Milk of Magnesia?

• Electrolysis devices are generally worthless for treating water for health enhancement, removal of common impurities, disinfection, and scale control. Claims that "ionized" waters are antioxidants are untrue; hypochlorites (present in most such waters) are in fact oxidizing agents.

The bottom line is that these machines, which are sold for thousands of dollars, are a total waste of money. The good news is that there are many calls for an investigation of these claims by the Federal Trade Commission and sooner or later, this is bound to happen - for the good of us all!