Three weeks ago, I applied a bit of the old
ultraviolence not-so-Respectful Insolence to a quacktastic product that desperately begged for it, the JING ORB, or, as I put it, electric water woo. As far back in my blogging career as I can remember, there’s been something about electricity that attracts pseudoscience and quacks like proverbial moths to a flame. The JING ORB was truly quacky, too, with so many nonsensical claims packed into such a small area that it threatened to form a black hole of pseudoscience and quackery. I thought it would be the most amusing bit of pseudoscience I would see for a while, given that I had only written about it three weeks ago, but I was wrong. Why do I say that? Easy. It’s because I just discovered the Seqex. What, you may ask, is Seqex? Well, the Seqex website is more than happy to tell you:
Seqex is a revolutionary health & wellness technology in the form of a pulsed electromagnetic field therapy device that produces Ion Cyclotron Resonance phenomena. This phenomena promotes the reduction of inflammation; induces a muscle relaxant effect and contributes to improving microcirculation.
So much woo. “Ion cyclotron resonance”? What does that even mean? Actually, as is the case for so much woo, it’s a real phenomenon, just misused and made nonsensical because the people using it don’t know what they’re talking about. Basically, ion cyclotron resonance is a phenomenon that has to do with the movement of ions in a magnetic field. It has a bunch of uses, including mass spectroscopy, accelerating ions in a cyclotron, and more. As you might imagine, the fact that Seqex uses the term “ion cyclotron resonance” doesn’t mean that its product has anything to do with the actual scientific meaning of the term. I’m sure that physicists and chemists who work with applications involving actual ion cyclotron resonance will either cringe or laugh (or probably both) as they read the claims of Health Wellness Industries, Inc., the company that markets the Seqex in Canada. Here’s what I mean:
Health Wellness Industries Inc. is the exclusive Canadian Distributor of Seqex. Seqex is a revolutionary health & wellness technology in the form of a pulsed electromagnetic field therapy device that produces Ion Cyclotron Resonance phenomena. This phenomena promotes the reduction of inflammation; induces a muscle relaxant effect and contributes to improving microcirculation. The Seqex is unique as it has the ability of producing up to thirty wave forms and can use up to 2.4 million frequency combinations. This ICR phenomenon allows the cells to become more permeable allowing toxins to be released and nutrients to be absorbed. It is the only ICR full body applicator in the world.
Whoa. 2.4 million frequency combinations! That must mean the Seqex is awesome! At least, so the manufacturer would want you to believe. Now, in fairness, there is such a thing as pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy that does show some mild promise in some applications, as I’ll discuss. However, like so many purveyors of questionable medical devices, the sellers of Seqex take a potentially science-based modality and then run right off the cliff of pseudoscience with it. You can see this right from the start in a promotional video on the Seqex website by Valerio Dallago, owner of Sistemi, the Italian company that manufactures the Seqex units being sold by Health Wellness Industries:
I noticed something at the 0:22 minute mark that should catch the notice of any skeptic, and that’s a brief scene showing a book, Bioelectromagnetic and Subtle Energy Medicine, Second Edition, by Paul J. Rosch, MD. In searching for this book to learn a more about it, I found that it’s packed with “energy medicine” pseudoscience. For instance, here’s part of the publisher’s blurb about the book:
This second edition updates previous topics and features many new chapters describing novel approaches that promise to replace drugs or surgery because they are more effective and much safer, such as rTMS for depression, MRI-Guided Focused Ultrasound for bone and uterine tumors, and TheraBionic LEET for liver cancer. Others discuss biological water (H3O2) that acts like a battery, health benefits of Earthing, malignant and other brain tumors from cell and cordless phones, visualizing and measuring energy fields in humans and nature, making sense of homeopathy and “memory of water,” basic science support for acupuncture, electrosensitivity, ion cyclotron resonance, the role of the pineal gland, the health effects of solar storms and terrestrial influences, and why Bioelectric Resonance Therapy bridges Chinese and Western medicine.
The idea that biological water works like a battery was part of the nonsense behind the quackery of the JING ORB. Of course, earthing is the idea that there are health benefits from direct contact between the skin and the ground because that contact releases a “flow of free electrons and frequencies from the earth,” a flow that “travels all throughout that person’s body, neutralizing free radicals, erasing pain and inflammation and revitalizing one’s energy.” Those who believe in earthing claim it’s much better to walk barefoot outdoors with direct contact between the earth and the soles of your feet (don’t mind the glass and stones!) and sell elaborate body-length conductive pads for people to sleep on that allegedly channel the electrons of the earth into your body if you sleep on it with enough skin uncovered to have a decent surface area in contact with the pad. How do these pads do this? Easy. They’re attached to a wire that is grounded. No, I mean literally grounded, as in the other end is put in direct contact with the ground, like this:
There are even “earthing” garments, like pajamas, that you can sleep in, the better to soak in the earth’s electrons; that is, if you’re gullible enough to believe these claims.
Earthing, is, of course, pure woo. So is the claim that cell phones cause brain tumors, but if you don’t believe this is all pure nonsense, just take note of the mention of “bioenergy” as a potential way to “make sense” of the “memory of water” in homeopathy, or, as I like to call it, The One Quackery To Rule Them All. As for Dr. Rosch himself, check out this paper by him thatI found, Biomagnetic and Subtle Energy Medicine: The Interface Between Mind and Matter. It’s full of vitalism and credulous discussion of “life energy” and other mystical-pseudoscientific ideas. There are also chapters from the book available online as PDFs. For instance, there is Chapter 38: Biophysics of Earthing (Grounding) the Human Body. It’s written by the guru of earthing woo himself, Clinton Ober, who, predictably enough, lays down some serious pseudoscience. For example:
People who work barefoot in the garden or walk barefoot along the beach often experience a special sense of well- being, just from being in direct physical contact with the earth. Some teachers of ancient practices such as Yoga and Qigong recommend that all exercises be done while barefoot on the earth. There is no comparison between walking, run- ning, or practicing any form of movement therapy or martial arts indoors and doing the same activities with bare feet in direct contact with the earth. Why should this be the case?
Perhaps my favorite part of the chapter is this graph, which correlates sales of synthetic-soled shoes and the increase in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes: GRAPH
Holy confusing correlation with causation, Batman! I can’t help but note that Clint Ober’s earthing has made a bit of a comeback with his earthing quackery, courtesy of—who else—Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop, who took umbrage at criticism of earthing. Not surprisingly, Clint Ober’s woo has also been featured on The Dr. Oz Show, and Joe Mercola is a big fan, having promoted grounding during an appearance. So, right away, let’s just say that I’m…skeptical…of the scientific basis of this particular family of devices. Particularly amusing is how Dallago describes how he first discovered these devices and thought they were so promising. However, like any good woo-meister, he was unhappy that they were so simple, producing limited range of relatively simple signals. So he did what any woo-meister does when confronted with simplicity. He made things complicated, the better to obfuscate the lack of scientific basis of what he was doing. In this case, it meant more frequencies and, allegedly, making the devices so that they can detect whether the treatment is having an effect on the user. If you believe Dallago, hooking up the electrodes to your body and then to the device, will lead the device to conduct a test and identify which of the 2.4 million electromagnetic patterns will be best for you. (Personalized medicine! It’s what every quack claims to provide!)
Of course, Dallago notes that pulsed electromagnetic fields can accelerate the healing of fractured bones. This is an area where it was once thought that PEMF therapy would be very useful, particularly for nonunion. However, more recent systematic reviews are much more cautious, as this 2011 Cochrane review, which summarized existing evidence concluding that PEMF “may offer some benefit in the treatment of delayed union and non-union of long bone fractures, it is inconclusive and insufficient to inform current practice. More definitive conclusions on treatment effect await further well-conducted randomised controlled trials.”
Dallago, of course, “discovered” that the applications of PEMF that go way, way beyond just bone healing, boasting that the “possible fields of application” were much wider, noting that doctors using PEMF to treat bone fractures “noticed” that “other conditions” that patients had also improved. As a result, these devices found their way into integrative medicine clinics.
Because of course they did.
There’s then the usual blather about how Seqex “mimics nature” and “promotes the natural processes of self-regeneration” by—wait for it—reproducing the same electromagnetic signals that are already present in the earth’s own electromagnetic field. Yes! Seqex is basically a fancier, more expensive form of earthing quackery! But why would anyone want an “unnatural” device that mimics grounding when you can just do grounding? Why do you need a device to simulate the earth’s electromagnetic field when you spend every second of every hour of every day of your life bathed in the earth’s electromagnetic field? I don’t know.
If you wander over to the main Italian Seqex site and click on the English version, you can find even more of this pseudoscience. I particularly liked the explanation of how Seqex got its name:
The name SEQEX is formed from the combination of the ancient Inca word SEQE, which means direction or polarity, and their symbol X, which represents the point of encounter between electromagnetic and magneto-electric energy.
I really must tip my hat to Sistemi for combining ancient Incan mysticism with a nod to electromagnetic radiation in the very name of its woo device. Well done! Sistemi also explains:
In 1984 Prof. A.R. Liboff, interested at the time in the biological effects of cosmic radiation, hypothesized that the discoveries of Adey and Blackman could easily be explained by assuming that the terrestrial magnetic field, or geomagnetic field (GMF), interacted with the applied variable fields, producing a phenomenon known as ion cyclotron resonance (ICR) directly inside tissues. The phenomenon of ICR is well known to physics: it requires the simultaneous application of two parallel magnetic fields, one static and one variable through time. Assuming that the effects observed in the laboratory by Adey and Blackburn were caused by ICR, Liboff demonstrated that, on the basis of the frequencies used and the values of the GMF, the range of intensity of the GMF on the Earth’s surface corresponded with ICR frequencies, so that very low physiologically significant frequencies were capable of affecting key biological ions, like for example calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
The local connection embarrasses me. Prof. Liboff was faculty at a local university, Oakland University, which is located in a northern suburb of Detroit. In the 1980s, he promoted the idea that extreme low frequency (ELF) electromagnetic fields had an effect on living cells through ion cyclotron resonance. Of course, the problem with his idea is that the ion cyclotron resonance observed in mass spectometers that produces particles moving in a circular trajectory occurs in a vacuum (or near-vacuum). In living cells, there’s water, macromolecules such as proteins and DNA, ions, and lots of other chemicals. Liboff got around that by suggesting that the ion cyclotron resonance could occur inside calcium channel, but these pores are barely larger than the calcium ions that travel through them, and any ELF signal would be overwhelmed by the existing electromagnetic gradient across all cell membranes. Finally, no one was able to reproduce Liboffs results. This is all explained in depth in a blog post by Martin Bier from 2017, which as a bonus for purposes of this post even briefly discusses Seqex and its competitor, BICOM, referring to their bioresonance treatments as “merely a form of electromagnetic homeopathy,” which is as good a description of them as I can think of.
The other widely available magnetotherapy devices on the market produce digital electromagnetic signals consisting of waveform, intensity, and frequency combinations referred to as “codes” or protocols. These devices administer the same identical sequence of codes (generally a few dozen) to all patients with the same pathology. Seqex instead is capable of producing more than 2 million of these codes, requiring computerized management. During the test procedure, the sequence of codes is customized on the basis of the measured response of the patient’s body. In addition, the 30 waveforms generated by Seqex are “constructed” as analog signals to ensure “harmonic complexity”, unlike the smooth “digital” signals produced by almost all the other available devices. The exclusivity of Seqex derives from the customization test, conducted at a Seqex center by authorized medical personnel, using a professional Seqex Med device.
I wonder if Dallago likes vinyl over digital. He’s making the same sort of arguments that vinyl mavens make for the supposed “superiority” of analog music recording compared to digital. Also, doesn’t he have it all backwards? Digital signals are the ones that consist of discrete levels, while analog signals are “smooth.” Or so I always thought. Speaking of sound reproduction (and also not wanting to provoke long, tedious arguments in the comment threads about the relative merits of vinyl versus digital—not-so-subtle hint, hint), if you want to be amused, wander over to the Canadian page and see several of the waveforms that Seqex produces converted into acoustic frequencies, so that you can listen to the sound snippets and see how different they are. The sound snippets sound not unlike screeching cats. (An Orac pat on the back to anyone who comes up with the best description of these sound files!)
But, Orac, you say, surely there must be some science behind this? I suppose you could call it that, but also surely the scientific basis of the ideas behind the Seqex devices is highly dubious. On the Canadian site, you can find some unimpressive scientific studies claiming that Seqex (or PEMF) can be helpful for a variety of conditions. For instance, one study of eight children without a control group claims that Seqex caused improvements “in all cases.” Another is a review article by Abraham Liboff himself. There are other review articles, as well as some cherry picked studies of PEMF and bone healing. Perhaps the worst one is an article touting PEMF as a “safe alternative therapy treatment for the treatment of cancer and other health problems.”
The Seqex is also touted as as having been approved by Health Canada as a class 2 medical device, as if this means that the device is approved for the uses claimed for it. In Canada, class of medical device is based on risk, with Class I devices being the lowest risk (e.g., thermometers) and Class IV devices being the highest (e.g., pacemakers, implantable defibrillators). In other words, it’s no big deal that these devices can be marketed this way; it certainly doesn’t mean that the Canadian government has approved the device as safe and effective, merely that it is not dangerous.
Sadly, people who need effective medicine are falling for these claims and purchasing these devices. For instance, here’s an article about the Collingwood Fire Department that’s basically a glowing testimonial for the Seqex device. It does provide some useful information in that now I know how Seqex was approved in Canada. Basically, the president of Health Wellness Industries, Kim Sartor, did the heavy lifting based on her conversion:
Sartor first learned of Seqex while watching a video during a visit to the Science Centre in Toronto. At the time, Sartor was suffering from chronic issues including asthma. She was suffering further complications from long-term use of prednisone. She was looking for answers and another way to treat her chronic conditions. The founder of Seqex was in Italy, so she made the trip across the ocean to meet him and learn more.
Does this machine help the sequelae of Sartor’s longterm use of steroids to treat what must be pretty severe asthma? The article implies that it does but doesn’t explicitly state it. I also can’t help but wonder: What the hell was the Science Centre in Toronto doing displaying quackery like the Seqex? In any event, as a result of her “conversion,” Sartor went to work:
She has been to Italy 17 times in the last three years, and worked with Seqex to get Health Canada approval. Now the Seqex is a Class 2 medical device, which means it can be used without a doctor administering it – similar to a sleep apnea machine.
Yes, but CPAP machines for sleep apnea are safe and effective and have to be prescribed by a licensed practitioner. Their optimal settings have to be determined based on the results of a sleep study. In any event, Sartor is quoted making ludicrously psuedoscientific claims for her Seqex devices:
The technology uses a magnetic field generator, one field is static, one is alternating. When both work together, they create what’s called ion cyclotron resonance. The effect is increased oxygen flow and cells that are able to move more freely and absorb what they need to repair and restore the body. “In Europe, they call it ‘electroceuticals,’” said Sartor. “In Canada and the US, we test a lot of things by electrical methods (like an electrocardiogram) … So we know there’s an electrical side to our body, but we mainly treat biochemical.”
Oh, goody. Another variant of the “doctors just want to prescribe drugs” gambit so favored by alternative medicine quacks, only this time by someone who apperas to think that magically manipulated electromagnetic fields are the cure for everything. Basically, the Seqex is nothing more than the latest (maybe not even the latest) in a long line of pseudoscientific electrical devices whose pedigree traces back to the Scientology E-meter and even earlier. Indeed, as soon as scientists began to learn to harness the power of electricity, electricity became central to a whole field of quackery. Same as it ever was.