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Friday, 10 August 2012

Iron Bracelets - Do They Work?

Recently we came across this question and decided it would be best to post some more information regarding this. This is what we were asked.

I recently came across a new kind of sports enhancement bracelet. Apparently it emits positive ions that are good for you. The bracelet is also a watch. There are credible scientific studies on positive ion therapy and apparently positive ions are good for you. They are used to treat seasonal affective disorder (although the result of the study does go on to cast doubt about its findings).
The question is whether it is possible for positive ions to affect your good health and if so whether a bracelet can deliver enough positive ions to have any effect at all. It would also be beneficial if you have any links to medical studies on these devices.

So here is the answer we provided with a little more information.


The only FDA approved study that has any claims for the benefits of ions is for the use of air filters. Any other claims are beyond the scope of any studies, and rely on the gullibility of customers. The fact that "Lithium Ion" batteries exist may add confusion for the consumers, but is a totally different thing. There are no credible studies on these bracelets, so you will not find any links backing up their claims. And see the bolded quote below. The Web MD article that the company used as a "reference" again refers to machines that actually expend electricity to generate negative ions in the air. And as the article itself sates, in relation to relieving depression, or having added benefits against allergies:

It's too early to tell for sure

But again, keep in mind that machines are required for this process, not a plastic bracelet with a hologram on it.
This is an excellent opportunity to practise grass roots scepticism. Ask yourself: By what mechanism is this supposed to work? How does the proposed mechanism align with what we know about science, biology, physics, etc.? Also, you may be interested to know that in some countries, Power Balance must state that they have no actual scientific backing for their claims. The Placebo band is just as effective, and much cheaper.
What sort of demo was done at the expo? Was it Applied Kinesiology by any chance? That is a well known bit of deliberate deception.
A quote from the first link:
Power Balance bracelets promise to improve balance, strength and flexibility and feature some lofty endorsers: Shaquille O’Neal, Drew Bree's and Nicole Branagh, an Olympian from the University of Minnesota. Yet the maker of the $30 bracelets admitted this week that there’s no scientific evidence that the things actually work.
The producers of Power Balance bracelets have sold them by the millions around the globe. They adorn the celebrity wrists of Robert de Niro and Kate Middleton, among others. The hologram-embedded rubbery bracelets “work with your body’s natural energy field” in ways similar to “concepts behind many Eastern philosophies,” the Power Balance website explains.
These claims got the attention of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which compelled Power Balance to issue a letter that was published in various media outlets Down Under.
“We admit that there is no credible scientific evidence that supports our claims,” the company wrote. “Therefore we engaged in misleading conduct.”
Also, while not a strict debunking of the exact device you link to, I found this interesting write up at JREF. I think the quackwatch link may provide you with additional information.
Written by Brandon Peterson
Wednesday, 17 March 2010 10:32
I recently had the opportunity to attend The Amaz!ng Adventure 5. While at Grand Turks, our final port, I was wandering through the duty-free shop looking for deals on liquor (Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel for $39!) when I happened upon a tableful of woo. Seeing as I was a medical student on a skeptical cruise, I had to stop and have my wife help make this video.
In my off-the-cuff video, I didn’t have the opportunity to mention the lack of scientific evidence for their claims. Even if the magnetic field did penetrate the skin, it still would not stimulate blood flow because the amount of iron in blood is far too small. If blood did have a strong magnetic attraction, your body would explode in an MRI (which would be cool, I admit).
I also didn’t have time to discuss the clinical trials that have been performed to evaluate efficacy. As usual with CAM research, earlier poor quality studies were weakly positive (1,2), while more recent high quality studies and meta-analyses are definitively negative (3,4,5).
I also forgot to mention the numerous court rulings in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s against companies making false claims about these products. This issue is discussed extensively on Quackwatch for those interested (6). In a nutshell, companies that fraudulently claimed to treat specific illnesses (arthritis, diabetic neuropathy, migraines, etc.) were sued. Now, they use nebulous phrases such as “support the healing process” or “restore natural energy.” You know, phrases that have not been evaluated by the Federal Drug Administration and are not designed to diagnose, treat or blah blah blah.
In short, magnet therapy is a great case study of CAM. The lack of scientific plausibility, the progression of the medical literature, and the FDA Miranda Rights statement are all characteristic of CAM. And if a lowly medical student can debunk it is less than a minute, how good can it really be?
1. Harlow T, Greaves C, White A, et al. Randomised controlled trial of magnetic bracelets for relieving pain in osteoarthritis of the hip and knee. BMJ 2004; 329:1450-1454
2. Vallbona C, Hazelwood CF, Jurida G. Response of pain to static magnetic fields in postpolio patients: A double-blind pilot study. Archives of Physical and Rehabilitative Medicine 1997; 78:1200-1203.
3. Winemiller MH and others. Effect of magnetic vs sham-magnetic insoles on plantar heel pain: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA2003; 290:1474-1478.
4. Pittler MH. Static magnets for reducing pain: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. CMAJ 2007; 177(7): 736-42.
5. Cepeda MS, Carr DB, Sarquis T, et al. Static magnetic therapy does not decrease pain or opioid requirements: a randomized double blind trial. Anesth Analg 2007; 104. 290-294.
6. Barrett S. Magnet therapy: a skeptical view. Accessed March 15, 2010. Available at
I will note that there are things that electromagnetic fields can do to the human body. In particular the neural effects if placed about the head (see God Helmet). However, the main thing to do when dealing with claims like this is to ask yourself: By what mechanism is this device claiming to work? How does this align with what we know about biology, chemistry, physics, etc.? Does the claimant use language that would be high on the crankpot index?
If you are starting to see a trend here, that is because there is one. There is no known mechanism for these things to work, and their claims are well beyond what the science would indicate.

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