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It looks so innocuous but inspires so much rageImage Credit: Craig McInnes

Energy Armor… Really?

Craig McInnes dissects Energy Armor™, with a contribution from Scott McKellar. They try keeping a straight face when they talk about yet another pseudo-scientific craze that’s hitting the nation.

I almost choked. I actually (not actually) almost died from a lethal overdose of cynicism, disbelief and self-righteousness. My brother-in-law recently informed me that he paid £20 for a new ‘invention’ that can (maybe) enhance one’s fitness, flexibility, agility and balance. “What is this magical invention?” I hear you ask. The answer dear reader, is Energy Armor 1.

Sounds pretty impressive, huh? Well no – it is just placebo-infused silicone in the shape of a wristband. Volcanic placebo at that. But that’s not stopped it from being sold, unregulated and under a pseudo-scientific haze of gibberish, to the ill-informed and the gullible like my unfortunate brother-in-law. Oh wait, did I mention that the wristband has a hologram on there too? If there’s one thing worse than pseudo-science, it’s pseudo-science with shiny on it.

The proliferation of US-based Energy Armor is mainly a result of a stupid-clever marketing campaign – one where its cringe-inducing awfulness is almost matched by its bravado. Think of the Iggy Pop insurance adverts and you’re on the right lines. The Energy Armor website is full of science words. Old favourites like ‘ion’ and ‘serotonin’ are there, but they’re in sentences such as, “Negative ions are believed to produce biochemical reactions that increase levels of the mood chemical serotonin, helping to alleviate depression, relieve stress and boost our daytime energy”. So subtly phrased is this unsubstantiated assertion that I’ll call it a McKeithism, in a tribute to everyone’s favourite home-grown, poo-sifting television personality, Dr. Gillian.

Some Energy Armor claims

  • Improved flexibility
  • Improved balance
  • A better night’s sleep
  • Higher mental awareness
  • Elevated mood and serenity
  • Improved athletic performance

The dishonest exploitation of the misinformed notwithstanding, the sale of Energy Armor is ridiculous for a few reasons. 1) The claims of the ‘inventors’. 2) How it’s sold. 3) The fact that a lot of people really just don’t seem to give a damn. Let’s face it, tat has been sold to morons since tat and morons were invented. But the fact that the makers of Energy Armor make quasi-medical claims in particular compounds the ghastliness of the product.

How it “works”…

The inventors have taken volcanic ash, which is apparently high in negative ions, and infused it with medical-grade silicone because “scientists have studied negative ions and their effect on human health for more than 100 years”. The discerning eye of the GIST reader will, I am sure, have noticed the conspicuous absence of a qualifying statement here, but let’s roll with it.

First of all, ions are charged atoms or molecules – either positive or negative – that exist as a charge-balanced ion pair. Now, according to Energy Armor, exposure to negative ions helps improve one’s ‘energy field’. So far, so questionable. But wait – we already know what happens when we are exposed to a negative charge: have you ever used a Van der Graaf generator? If only Energy Armor worked in the same way, static hair would give the consumer the deservedly laughable look that their investment warrants.
So, do you want to know about this ‘energy field’ everyone has? Yeah, me too. Here’s everything you need to know – it doesn’t exist. OK so, what about all the painstaking research that’s been carried out to prove the efficacy of this miracle of science? Oh, there’s nothing in a peer reviewed journal to support these claims? So what’s scientific about it? Ah, I see: nothing.

By the way…

  • Negative ions are not known as ‘good ions’. This is designed to make you think of ‘good bacteria’
  • Even if volcanic ash is high in negative ions, you can be sure that it’s high in positive ions too: you can’t have one without the other unless there’s some serious voltage.
  • The product is not based in science. The claims are vague at best and cite no scientific reference anywhere on their literature. You should always beware of science without references.

From this writer’s point of view it seems that the only legitimate use of negative ions in a medical product (excluding drugs) has been in air purifiers. Here, a static charge forces dust particles to clump together making them fall to the ground – but let’s be clear, this is to help allergy sufferers. It doesn’t make the audacious promise of serenity or biomechanical enhancement. Moreover, it requires a high voltage to produce its ionic charge. I wonder, what is the voltage of volcanic ash?

Why do people buy this?

I’ve been lucky enough to watch the Energy Armor sales pitch on several occasions, and they always comprise an eye-catching stall (a glorified vending machine with an integrated flat-screen TV) and an “expert” who can do an “experiment” (a trick, to use the technical terminology) to wow the crowd. Capitalise on the fact that people like wristbands and job done. Seriously, that’s it. That’s all you need to peddle stupidity in a wristband to the unquestioning masses. The experiment may look convincing to some but it’s nothing more than the placebo effect in all its glory. If you happen to see this, I openly encourage you to stop and laugh.

Of course, your local shopping centre or friendly sports shop isn’t the only place where you can buy Energy Armor. After all, if any self-respecting, placebo-peddling scam of a company wants to look credible, they really need a cash cow website where they can immorally sell explain the product to the curious masses. Again, with credibility in mind, it might be helpful to have testimonials of some satisfied customers. Let’s take the first example from the webpage and see if it alleviates our scientific concerns.

“As a conservative Family Physician, I try to balance scientific objectivity with an open mind. As an athlete, one is always looking for ways to improve performance. For this reason, I purchased an Energy Armor Wristband several months ago figuring ‘hey, it can’t hurt to try’. Well, ever since I started wearing the band my tournament performance has significantly improved as measured by round ratings over the last three tournaments. Is it coincidence or the EA Wristband? Frankly, I really don’t care… but I’m going to keep wearing the wristband just in case. Charlie B., MD, FAAFP”

Wow! Charlie B the family physician, if he even exists, really does have an open mind. So open that he doesn’t care if he’s being exploited or not. Take that, scientific objectivity! It’s also comforting that Charlie feels the need to tell us he is conservative, lest we forget that American conservatism is a stronghold of rationality and scientific reasoning (just think of global warming or evolution).

The flashy vending machine being a lot less obnoxious with the flat-screen turned off<br/>Image Credit: Craig McInnes

So why do some people not care?

Anyone who has invested their time and money into a product or endeavour doesn’t want to feel like it has been a giant waste of time. By doing so they often tend to perpetuate the myth and before you know it, your brother-in-law and all his friends are wearing Energy Armor. Non-scientists often don’t have the inclination or the know-how to question the science they hear or read, and all too often it feels like science is exclusively the realm of the geek.

But it doesn’t need to be like that. Science is just an extension of common sense. Question and test what you are hearing. Think it through. Don’t buy a bracelet that claims to help your balance. I mean, if nothing else, surely you would need one on each wrist?

P.S Some people do care – there is now a class action lawsuit against the analogous Power Balance™ wristbands.

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References

  1. Here’s the website.

Published on: July 14, 2012

Filled Under: Features, Life Sciences, Physical Sciences

Views: 2510

12 Responses to Energy Armor… Really?

  1. Darren Woodward says:

    Have you seen “Ionic Balance”, based in Scotland they use testimonials and claims of helath benefits to sell their bands targetting ill people. The ASA has told them to stop. i asked them for the evidence when they called my home phone number after I e-mailed the ASA adjudication to a voucher site which was publishing claims of benefits. they don’t have any and have never even tested their products for the claimed benefits. What a disgusting bunch of exploitative charlatans they are.

    Anyway, was wondering if anyoen had any suggestions of what to do next, since the SA adjudicated agaisnt them, and placed them on the list of non-compliant internet advertisers, but seems to haev little else to offer by way of sanctions. If only we had a body like Austrlia’s ACCC prepare to get products making completely unproven claims, especially of health benefits, taken off the market.

    • Craig McInnes Craig McInnes says:

      That is a seriously good question. Have you contacted the ASA directly? (I think that I might actually do this) I hadn’t heard about “ionic balance” specifically however I did notice that there are a vast number of analogous energy armor bands. In fact there is a stall in Silverburn, Glasgow, (very close to where I stay) called ION body armour that has it’s claim to fame being that it’s the only ion bracelet that can be sold in that particular shopping centre. It seems that these people will use any means they can to gain legitimacy and credibility. I hope that the ASA has a list of these companies but just in case they don’t I think that I will compile one for them.

      There are a number of things that I liked about the way the ASA had dealt with this complaint I have to say. They seemed thorough, understand the science behind what was going on and I truly hope that they are doing something else behind the scenes. If I hear something back from them I will post it up here straight away. So stay tuned!

      I’ve got to say this though, I’m glad Scott and I aren’t the only people getting this annoyed about a company exploiting the good name of science to effectively rob people of their money. It infuriates me that they think they can say they’re not selling a medical device when clearly that’s what this product is masquerading as.

      Thanks for your comment, buddy.

      • Cristiano Sabiu says:

        Hi Craig, I have contacted the ASA regarding ION body armour. I am waiting to hear back from them. I will post any news here. But more seriously, I think their manipulative marketing strategy will constitute fraud (see my post below). What are your thoughts?

        cheers,
        Cris

  2. Cristiano Sabiu says:

    I recently came across some people selling the ‘ION body armour’ bands at Loch Lomond Shores market. I had a little fun with them until I realised they are really being deliberately fraudulent with their marketing. They use a ‘balance test’ with and without the bracelet. Of course this is a scam as demonstrated in this youtube video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xB6-rkHIk28&feature=player_embedded#t=167s

    Its one thing if you are in blissful ignorance of the pseudoscientific crap you spew, its quite another to intentionally defraud people with these fake tests!

  3. Craig McInnes Craig McInnes says:

    I’ll be very interested to hear what they have to say! I think we should compile a list. However, it does seem that there is very little real action that the ASA can take in these cases (from my very limited knowledge).

  4. Mera K. says:

    Hey there,

    I just saw these things the first time in my life in a shopping mall (I’m from Germany and live in Beijing right now). The Chinese seller did that balance trick with me without explaining anything and after I took the bracelet it worked, even though I did still not know what that thing is or what it should do. Then he told me that ion story.

    I’m pretty confused now because I know that this product is just some kind of scam (because power bracelets can only be found in video games) but I’m still wondering why he didn’t manage to get me out of balance while I hold it (and he really tried to). Do you know where exactly the trick is because as you see it can’t be placebo alone.

    regards

    Mera

    • Craig McInnes Craig McInnes says:

      Well, don’t be disappointed that you fell for the trick. It’s kind of convincing if you don’t know what you’re looking out for. The balance trick is demonstrated all over YouTube and I’d suggest that you go and watch some demonstrations by people not selling energy armor to convince yourself that it really is just a trick and not the wonderful, magical, mystical healing powers of rubber stuffed with volcanic ash; please do that. When you notice how the trick is done, you’ll kick yourself and it’ll feel like the first time you realised there wasn’t actually a coin behind your ear. As for how it’s done, look at the position of the demonstrators hand and notice that it’s in a slightly different position when he/she’s trying to knock you off balance. Also, try and notice the angle at which the demonstrator is pushing “down” on your arm. Often, during the time that they don’t want to trip you up, they will push down and slightly towards your body and while it might feel like they are exerting the same force, they’re doing what they can to not trip you up, whilst at the same time trying to look like they are. The entire sales pitch is nothing more than a well executed stage trick.

      Try and get your money back!

      • Mera K. says:

        Hey, thanks a lot for the answer! Now you say it like that I feel dumb that I even considered it could make a difference. It is strange how things like this are even allowed to be sold. In China there are a lot of such things that are tolerated by the police but it is surprising that these things seem to be buyable everywhere in he world. Don’t worry, I didn’t buy something from them. If something sounds to good to be true, then it normaly isn’t. I just wanted to be sure, so I asked you, thanks a lot! *hug*

        ..also their bracelets are pretty ugly…

  5. Bugs Bunny says:

    To all the sceptics i would suggest a reverse experiment. Stay away from electric wired houses and mobile towers including mobile phones for a week.

    Need not explain the benefits further.

    If not satisfied then look up the harmful effects of Low EMF and how the lobbies in the UN are working hard to bring down this French group that is co-relating EMF to Cancer.

    Further test, (degauss and stay clear of mobiles) raise a leg and lift a heavy load like 10 kgs in hand, then ask your friend to give a mobile phone in your other hand, let him call you and then answer it. You will drop the load in the other hand.

  6. ThePowerofPlacebo says:

    Hmm. One of the things I have learned over the years is that science is neither infallible, nor does it often help with the psychological aspects of wellbeing. In fact in my experience I have found many scientific experts to be more depressing than helpful. Whether or not there is real science involved in this product or not, if wearers feel that it is helping, then the chances are that to one degree or another it will be helping. Perhaps rather than being the nay sayer and condemner of the idea, why not see whether there is some form of benefit at a placebo level?

  7. Basically auspicious writeup. It was a new enjoyment account the idea. Search innovative for you to a lot brought gratifying by you! On the other hand, just how may possibly most of us communicate?

  8. Jim DeSantis says:

    I have read your article and let me say I am an extremely technical person, electronics technician and computer Consutlant and didn’t believe in these 3 years ago either. But I bought one and within 15 minutes my chronic pain started going away. So I wore it for 3 days and took it back off, about 2 days later without realizing it my pain started coming back. So I put it back on and shortly after it decreased again.

    I have since done this test off and on for the past 3 years since I have had my bracelet. I sit behind three computers everyday for at least 8 hours. My conclusion is like many other things in life they help some people and not others. If you are in chronic pain $29US is well worth the risk in my view point, if it doesn’t work you are really not out much, but if it does you honestly won’t take yours off. I wear two of them due to my pain and they have made a big difference for me.

    I have gone through so many vitamins that made the same claims and thrown them away but people didn’t bash them.

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