When we think of 19th-century con men fooling people into buying snake oil, we laugh at how gullible people must have been to be convinced by such an obviously fraudulent product.
But, today, snake oil-like products are back, and they’re more profitable, more prevalent and may be more dangerous than ever before.
A science channel on YouTube called “The Thought Emporium” posted a video last month that went viral in which host Justin Atkin tested wellness bracelets, pendants, and shower beads that claim to reduce stress and improve health by releasing negative ions.
At best, some of the products tested were just pieces of plastic or ceramic and did nothing.
However, as Atkin explains, since producing negative ions requires energy input to create a negative charge, the only way for a wearable product to accomplish that is by being filled with radioactive material — in most cases, thorium powder.
According to Atkin, while handling a product with thorium for a short period of time is relatively safe, wearing or using it extensively would expose the user to radiation that would be equivalent to receiving a dental X-ray every two hours.
This information isn’t anything new.
The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission and public health and safety departments in states like Illinois, Utah, and Washington have warned of the radiation of negative ion technology within the last ten years.
Despite this, companies like Walmart, Wish and Amazon continue to sell these products to consumers in the U.S. and abroad.
Another YouTube channel, “Veritasium,” posted a similar video last February in which host Derek Muller studies if Himalayan salt lamps emanate negative ions when plugged in, as many claim they do.
In the video, researchers at the California Institute of Technology confirm that heating a Himalayan salt block with a light bulb doesn’t produce any detectable ions. Muller also suggests that the science behind the health benefits of negative ions may be unsound, amounting to not much more than a placebo.
These are only two examples of the scams floating around the multi-trillion-dollar global wellness industry. And wellness brands like Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, and Herbalife, which is endorsed by Cristiano Ronaldo, are raking in the dough by making dubious health claims about their products.
So, what should be done?
First, Amazon and other retailers should be pushed to stop selling these types of products which make dishonest claims about their benefits or don’t disclose their dangerous side effects.
As a consumer, the best course of action is to be more critical and thoughtful of products that claim to offer fantastic health benefits but aren’t backed up by peer-reviewed science.
An informed consumer is a smart one, and companies can’t pull these kinds of shady deals if people are more skeptical of the products being advertised to them.
If it sounds too good to be true, not only is it probably not, it could be giving you cancer.