Pseudoscience: Kangen Water

I suppose that most of you, like myself, had never heard of Kangen water before. So let’s go over it in a nutshell.

What is it?

Kangen water is water that is filtered by a special water purification device, sold by a company named Enagic.

The device uses electrolysis to ionize the water, making it alkaline (pH larger than 7), and it uses special filters, which claim to ‘cluster’ the water molecules.

What are the claimed benefits?

This depends greatly on who you ask. On Enagic’s site itself, you will see that there is not that much information about anything. More on that later. You have to find a distributor to find out the price, more on that later. You will find that the distributors tend to have claims about Kangen being beneficial to your health, because of things like hydratation, detoxification effects, restoring the acid-alkaline balance of your body, and anti-oxidants. Claims can go as far as Kangen water preventing cancer.

Click here and here for a typical example of a site promoting Kangen water.

So what is the problem?

On the surface, it all looks rather scientific, with all the technical terms, diagrams, and videos with simple demonstrations of fluid physics, references to books and people with scientific degrees. But is any of it real, can the claims be verified independently?

One of the first clues could be the water clustering. The site refers to the book “The water puzzle and the hexagonal key” by Dr. Mu Shik Jhon. The idea of hexagonal water is not accepted by conventional science. While water clusters have been observed experimentally, these clusters are volatile, because hydrogen bonds form and break continuously at an extremely high rate. It has never been proven that there is a way to get water into a significantly stable form of clusters. Another name that is mentioned is Dr. Masaru Emoto. That is ‘doctor of alternative medicine’, at some open university from India. He takes the water cluster/crystal idea further, and even claims that speech and thought can influence the energy level of these water crystals. Clearly we have stepped well into the realm of parapsychology here, which again is not accepted by conventional science, due to lack of evidence and verification.

This idea of water structures or ‘water memory’ is actually quite old, and has often been promoted in the field of homeopathy, as a possible mechanism to explain homeopathic remedies. You could search for the story of Jacques Benveniste and his paper published in the science journal Nature, Vol. 333 on 30 June 1988. When Benveniste was asked to repeat his procedures under controlled circumstances in a double-blind test, he failed to show any effects of water memory.

A similar story holds for anti-oxidants. A few years ago there was a ‘hype’ about anti-oxidants, connected to the free-radical theory of aging, which later turned into the ‘superfoods’-craze. Studies showed very good health-benefits of anti-oxidants, and many food companies started adding anti-oxidant supplements and advertising with them.

More recently however, studies have shown that anti-oxidant therapy has little or no effect, and in fact can be detrimental to one’s health in certain cases. The current stance of food authorities is that the free-radical theory of aging has no physiological proof ‘in vivo’, and therefore the proclaimed benefits of anti-oxidants have no scientific basis.

Likewise there is no scientific basis for any health effects of alkaline water. Physiologically it even seems unlikely that it would have any benefit at all. As soon as you drink the water, it comes into contact with stomach acid, which will lead to a classic acid-base reaction, neutralizing the ionization of the water immediately. Which is probably a good thing, because if it actually did have an effect on your body pH, drinking too much of this water could be dangerous.

Because the body pH is important, the body is self-regulating, with a process known as acid-base homeostasis. The body has several buffering agents to regulate the pH very tightly. In a healthy individual there is no need for any external regulation of body pH, and in fact it is your body that decides the pH. This can be done mainly by two processes:

  1. By controlling the rate of breath, changing CO2 levels in the blood.
  2. Via the kidneys. Excess input of acid or base is regulated and excreted via the urine.

Note also that this is a balance. The claims generally imply that acidic is bad and alkaline is good. But in reality too alkaline (alkalosis) is just as bad as too acidic (acidosis). It is all about the balance.

You can find various information on this and other water scams on the net, from reputable sources such as this overview by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

So, there is no scientific basis whatsoever that the Kangen water has any positive effect on your health, or even that the Kangen machine can give the water certain of the claimed properties, such as hexagonal clustering. Which might explain how these machines are marketed. The distribution is done through a multi-level marketing scheme, also known as a pyramid scheme. You can find the agreement for European distributors here. Note the very strict rules about advertisement. They do not want the Enagic-name used anywhere, unless they have specifically checked your content, and have given you written approval. Apparently they most certainly do NOT want you to make claims that the product or company can not back up.

Another red flag is that the advertisements are generally done via ‘testimonials’: people who tell about their experiences with the product. They tend to be the ones that make claims about health and that sort of thing. The key here is that a seller is never responsible for what anyone says in a testimonial. So beware of that: any claims the seller does not explicitly make, but are only put forward in a testimonial, can likely not be backed up. Otherwise the seller would just make these claims himself, in order to promote the product.

The pyramid scheme also makes these machines very expensive, because each seller at each level will want to make profit, causing a lot of inflation of the price. Based on the parts used in a Kangen machine, the whole thing could probably be built for under 100 euros. But these machine actually go for prices in excess of 1000 euros. This is why they don’t list prices on the main website, but tell you to contact your distributor. They do have a web store, but as you see, these prices are very high as well. If you are lucky enough to find a distributor who is high up in the hierarchy, you can find these machines for less. Try searching Ebay for these machines, for example.

This so-called Kangen water and machines for ionizing water can be traced back to the 1950s in Japan. One would expect that if this Kangen water was indeed as healthy and beneficial as claimed, that there would be plenty of empirical evidence to support the claims by now, and these machines would have become mainstream, and would just be sold in regular shops.

So, the Kangen machines appear to be a case of ‘cargo cult’ science: they make everything look and feel like legitimate science, but if you dig a little deeper, you will find that there is no actual scientific basis, and the references are mostly to material that is not accepted by conventional science, but considered to be of a pseudoscientific nature.

In fact, this particular seller seems to push things a bit TOO far, by also mentioning the ‘Bovis scale’, which is a common concept in dowsing… Which is a more ‘conventional’ type of pseudoscience. Similar to the topic I will be covering next time.

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One Response to Pseudoscience: Kangen Water

  1. Pingback: Pseudoscience: DNA activation | Scali's OpenBlog™

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