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Javier Burguete , Professor at School of Sciences, University of Navarra, Spain

The counterattack of miracle bracelets

Sun, 02 May 2010 08:07:36 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

The press has echoed articles about "new generation" miracle bracelets. These newcomers have landed with force and threaten to become ubiquitous. We all have relatives, friends, acquaintances who wear them. Some even admit that they are useless. So why have they become so successful? There may be aesthetic reasons, but the worrying thing is that someone wears them because he or she believes in their benefits.

For those who are not familiar, these bracelets claim to be able to store a frequency that favors the positive energies of the organism. And this freezing of frequencies is done through holograms made of aluminized plastic. However, they do not clarify on what frequencies they act, nor how a piece of plastic microns thick can alter the flexibility of the hip, or balance, or simply what is positive energy. Taking the reasoning of its advocates to the limit of absurdity, I think I finally understand why when I forget my credit cards I feel unprotected and less flexible when it comes to spending. After all, they carry holograms very similar to those on these wristbands. And this is where a reflection becomes necessary: should we let it go? Not in my opinion. Indeed, we must fight it. It is our responsibility as scientists, as well as that of health professionals, doctors and pharmacists, to say loud and clear that these gadgets do not have, nor can they have, any physical effect. How can we refute their scientific instructions ? The sad truth is that they are like wind fritters: empty of content. There is really nothing to refute. The magnetic ones at least alleged some potential physical mechanisms, while these ones, very cautious, avoid referring to health effects. They rely on alleged advantages on balance and flexibility, with athletes as the main goal and without programs of study to support them.

Its defenders use the argument "it works for So-and-so". An argument that can be answered from history. In Europe at the end of the 18th century, a certain F. Mesmer "discovered" what he called animal magnetism. He designed a therapy with which he managed to triumph among the nobility of pre-revolutionary France. His procedure was spreading among the nobility, with whispers in the salons: "it works for me", "try it and you will see how you improve". To verify the system, the King of France appointed a commission of scientists including Antoine Lavoisier and Benjamin Franklin. This commission treated a group of agreement to Mesmer's doctrine. And he made another group, without telling him, go through a similar process in which the treatment was absent. The conclusion was blunt: "majesty, it makes no difference". That was the end of mesmerism. Likewise, to claim that the current bracelets are effective they should undergo a "double blind test", since any therapy that is not able to pass this test can only produce results due to suggestion or placebo effect. It is depressing how little we have evolved in 250 years.

If we ask ourselves what is the cost of a placebo, it is surprising to know that in 2005 (before the "boom") magnetic bracelets generated about a billion dollars worldwide. So no one should think that they are going to disappear from one day to the next. Such a business will not disappear spontaneously. I would like to ask for a utopia: to include an "informed consent" when buying these gadgets. Where they would state, in very clear print, their effects: "The purchaser has been informed that these bracelets have no demonstrable physical effect and their efficacy is based on the placebo effect". Can you imagine that? Me neither.