After nearly six years subjecting the world to my meandering and often incredibly verbose stylings, I’m now what you would call an established blogger. Even more than that, I’m a reasonably high traffic blogger, at least in the medical blogosphere. What that means is that I get a lot of e-mail. A lot. While I do look at each and every e-mail that finds its way into the in box of one of my accounts, there’s no way I can respond to them all. In order to save time, I look for shortcuts, and one of those shortcuts is not to devote more than a second or two to e-mails that are obvious sales pitches, if even that. One category of e-mail, in particular, that I delete with extreme prejudice are e-mails asking me if I want to let some other website repost my blog comment, with a promise for a link back to my blog. Of course, these are virtually all scams designed to steal blog content. Indeed, one time I found out that the website owner had done something such that Google searches on verious terms would turn up the reposted content several pages ahead of the original content. I don’t know what sort of search engine optimization the owner of that website did, but it ticked me off.
However, sometimes, for whatever reason, I actually read the occasional sales pitch that finds its way into my in box. Most of the time, I immediately regret it. Every so often, on rare occasions, I’m glad that I did read it. Sometimes, on even more occasions, incredibly rare though they may be, I actually find some blogging material from such an e-mail.
This is just one of those times.
Meet Paulette Williams. She sent me an e-mail yesterday:
Subject: Change Your Water – Change Your Life
Date: August 12, 2010 2:39:37 PM EDT
Subject: Change Your Water – Change Your Life
Visit this website to learn more
Health Wellness Advocate
For more direct product information, visit:
For shocking information about your body and common diseases, visit:
To be remove from our list, just reply with the word remove in the subject line.
All I can say is: Wow, did Paulette pick the wrong person to send her sales pitch too! Add to that: Thanks. Thanks a lot, Paulette. I was looking for a topic for today’s blog post, and it’s rare that such a topic is thrown in my lap so willingly. In return for your making my blogging life so much easier, if even for a day, I return to you traffic from my blog. Oh, it won’t help your Google ranking, because I usually use the rel=”nofollow” tag, but it’s traffic, right? True, probably 95% or more of my readers are die-hard skeptics who would never buy your woo-ful products anway, but you never know. I know a bunch of anti-vaccine loons read my blog, as they show up in the comments and not infrequently the not-so-Respectful Insolence that I lay down finds its way over to the anti-vaccine underground, there to provoke a reaction. If they’re gullible enough to believe the lies, misinformation, and pseudoscience of the the anti-vaccine movement, maybe they’ll be gullible enough to fall for the charms of Kangen Water:
Kangen is a Japanese word best translated into English as “return to origin”, which means several things when used to describe water. First, it describes water returned to the state in which water was often found in nature before the earth became polluted. Second, it implies that it will help to return your body to its original condition when you were young – including all of the organs and skin.
You know, I haven’t seen it phrased quite this way, but there seems to be a major theme running just under the surface of a whole lot of woo, and it’s the idea of pollution, as though somehow the modern world somehow “contaminates” our very essence, making us ill and unhealthy. The answer is always some mythical appeal to ancient purity. In fact, perhaps that should be the name of a new logical fallacy, much like the appeal to ancient wisdom. The appeal to ancient purity claims that life was so much more “pure” and so much less polluted and that mimicking that purity will cure disease. Of course, if there’s one aspect of humanity that has been constant since human beings first evolved, it’s been that we pollute every place we live. I remember taking an archeology class in college where the professor introduced the class by characterizing archeology as the study of ancient trash and garbage. In any case, just because eomthing is allegedly more like the ancient world does not say anything about whether it is healthy or not or whether it can cure disease or not.
But let’s wander to the other of Paulette’s websites. First up:
Your body is Water
Up to 75% of the human body is made of water.
You die if you don’t drink water.
Lack of water leads to dehydration.
What water are you made of?
Contaminated city water, unpurified well water, sterilized bottled water, or alkaline anti-oxidizing Kangen water?
Maybe the solution is to make like Jack D. Ripper from one of my favorite movies of all time Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb, and drink only vodka:
Mandrake: Yes, Jack?
Ripper: Have you ever seen a Commie drink a glass of water?
Mandrake: Well, I can’t say I have.
Ripper: Vodka, that’s what they drink, isn’t it? Never water?
Mandrake: Well, I-I believe that’s what they drink, Jack, yes.
Ripper: On no account will a Commie ever drink water, and not without good reason.
Mandrake: Oh, eh, yes. I, uhm, can’t quite see what you’re getting at, Jack.
Ripper: Water, that’s what I’m getting at, water. Mandrake, water is the source of all life. Seven-tenths of this earth’s surface is water. Why, do you realize that seventy percent of you is water?
Mandrake: Uh, uh, Good Lord!
Ripper: And as human beings, you and I need fresh, pure water to replenish our precious bodily fluids.
Or maybe Commies drink Kangen water made by the machine sold by the people behind the websites that Paulette is hawking.
Be that as it may, I’m sure Paulette would agree with Ripper. It’s also obvious that her arguments are no more coherent than Ripper’s arguments in which he labels fluoridation as a Communist plot to contaminate our “precious bodily fluids.” But what, according to Paulette, are we supposed to be protecting our precious bodily fluids from? What are we supposed to be drinking to preserve their “purity of essence.” (Fans of the movie will know the significance of this.) In any case, it’s clear that Paulette buys into the same sort of acid-base woo that that inimitable quack supreme Robert O. Young likes, in which he declares cancer to be the body’s reaction to too much acid and states that sepsis is not caused by bacteria.
What I particularly like is how Paulette tap dances around the Quack Miranda warning quite skillfully. In essence, she says that the U.S. won’t let her make certain claims but then somehow she goes and makes them anyway:
In the United States we are not allowed to claim that Kangen Waterâ¢ will actually do all of these things. However, the benefits of reducing our body’s acidity has long been recognized in the medical profession even in the United States.
Does our water actually reduce the body’s acidity and help to restore the body to a youthful condition? We can’t say, but we can present documented individual case studies and let you make up your own mind. That is the purpose of the videos.
Actually, using anecdotes to make it look as though this Kangen water is the greatest thing since sliced bread is the purpose of the videos. If you check them out, you’ll see that, if you believe the claims, Kangen water can prevent food poisoning, keep your colon clean, and even kills harmful agricultural diseases! But that’s not all! Oh, no, not at all:
What about the other wondrous non-health related claims made for our water?
Is Strong Acidic water possibly the most powerful disinfectant known? Can it make even restaurants and hospitals sterile and safe without the use of any other disinfectants?
Can Strong Kangen water really clean stubborn stains in carpet and clothing and can it really thoroughly clean even a greasy busy restaurant kitchen – all without soap or any other additives?
Can Medium Acidic water replace most or all of your skin care products and hair conditioners?
The answer to these questions will come easily when you try Kangen Waterâ¢ for yourself!
Is there nothing this water can’t do? Not only can it help you with all manner of health problems, but it can clean carpet and clothing stains, not to mention restaurant kitchens. Come to think of it, aren’t the health claims a wee bit incompatible with the cleaning claims? In general, substances that are good for removing stains from carpeting or removing grease from pots and pans tend not to be so good when taken internally. Cleaning off carpets and cleaning out pots and pans tend to require a different set of chemical properties than is required for water that would actually be good for your health.
So how does Paulette produce this wondrous water that can do anything? There must be some amazing secret, don’t you think? At least, one would think so. I bet this Kangen machine must be some amazing machine, imbuing, as Paulette claims, water with so many amazing properties. Imagine, then, my utter disappointment when I find out that all this machine is is a simple electrolysis machine:
Electrolysis is the process that separates water into alkaline and acidic water. The desired pH level of the resulting water can be selected by the operator of the machine.
The pH of the alkaline and acidic water will always add up to 14. Therefore, if ideal drinking water of pH 9.5 is selected, medium acidic water of pH 4.5 (used mainly for skin care) will also be produced. If strong acidic water of pH 2.5 (a strong disinfectant with many important uses) is selected, strong Kangen water of pH 11.5 (a powerful solvent used mainly for cleaning) will also be produced. The uses and benefits of these 4 types of water is the subject of the videos which you can watch on this website.
Neutral water of pH 7 (filtered for purity, but not ionized) can also be produced, but its only important use is for taking prescription medication and it is not a subject of the videos.
I sense a fundamental misunderstanding here of what pH is. All pH is (approximately–don’t ask me about activity factor) is a logarithmic scale for the concentration of hydrogen ion in the water. An H+ concentration of 10-7 molar is defined as a pH of 7. One thing about pH that is sometimes hard to grasp is that one pH unit equals a 10-fold change in H+ concentration. Consequently a pH of 6 has a 10-fold higher concentration (10-6 M) than a solution of pH 7. In any event, it’s simplistic in the extreme to state that pH must always add up to 14.
More deceptive still is the claim that you can just produce water of the desired pH by electrolysis. For one thing, pure water is not particularly conductive, certainly not conductive enough to undergo significant electrolysis using devices such as the Kangen device. Basically, electrolysis refers to the breakdown of water produced by passing an electrical current through it. In the electrolysis of water, hydrogen gas is formed at the negative electrode, and oxygen gas is formed at the positive electrode as described here:
At the negative electrode: 2 H+ + 2e- â H2
… but since the H+ ions come from water, the overall reaction is
2 H2O + 2e– â H2 + 2 OH–
at the positive electrode: 4 OH– â 4e– + 2 H2O + O2
… but since the OH– ions come from water, the overall reaction is
2 H2O â 4e– + O2 + 4H+
The consumption of hydrogen ions (H+) at the negative electrode leaves an excess of hydroxide ions (OH–) in the local vicinity, making the water alkaline there. Similarly the consumption of hydroxide ions at the positive electrode leaves an excess of hydrogen ion in the local vicinity., making the water acidic there. However, these ions easily diffuse away from these electrodes and then recombine:
H+ + OH– â H2O
In any case, very little electrolysis will occur in pure water. Salt has to be added. As Stephen Lower, a chemist from Simon Fraser University describes, here’s what happens when water containing common table salt (sodium chloride) undergoes electrolysis:
Electrolysis of a dilute sodium chloride solution liberates hydrogen gas and hydroxide ions at the cathode, producing an alkaline solution that consists essentially of sodium hydroxide NaOH which can be drawn off as “alkaline water”. At the anode, chloride ions are oxidized to elemental chlorine. If some of this chlorine is allowed to combine with some of the hydroxide ions produced at the cathode, it disproportionates into hypochlorous acid HOCl, a weak acid and an oxidizing agent. Some ionizer devices allow the user to draw off this solution for use as a disinfecting agent. In many cases the two streams can be combined to form a mixture consisting of both HOCl and sodium hypochlorite (equivalent to diluted ordinary laundry bleach), depending on the pH desired.
In other words, the Kangen machine is a very expensive method of making bleach.
Perhaps one of the more ridiculous claims made for the Kangen machine is the claim that Kangen water is somehow, magically, Kangen drinking water can eliminate excess acid from your body and “stabilize the pH level of your body.” No, it won’t. The body is quite good at maintaining a constant pH in the vicinity of 7.40. Powerful homeostatic mechanisms maintain that pH regardless of what you eat or drink by excreting excess acid or base through the urine. As long as your lungs, liver, and kidneys are working, excess acid is not likely to be a problem, even if you scarf down heapin’ helpings of the ever-dreaded meat (the consumption of which, if you listen to woo-meisters, would appear to be the equivalent of mainlining cyanide). And, don’t forget, if you listen to sellers of the Kangen machine, you’d think that this magical mystical water (even more magical and mystical, it seems, than homeopathy) can clean your colon out as well.
It’s odd that I had never heard of the Kangen machine before. It’s serious woo. Given how serious the woo contained in the machine is, it goes for a serious price, on the order of $5,000 to $6,000, according to Brian Dunning, truly serious woo for serious cash. Or more like serious woo for suckers who fall for the pseudoscientific sales pitch of people like Paula, pitches that sometimes find their way into the in box of the wrong person.