Birch Water is the New Overpriced Woo Water
January 19, 2015
So just a week after I wrote an article on food woo trends of 2015, someone shared this link on my Twitter feed: a report from Good Morning America on birch water, the "new coconut water." While I am one who enjoys a good birch beer now and then, I had never heard of drinking birch water before (or birch sap, as it's probably more properly called). So of course I had to click through. I found the GMA segment to strike a surprisingly dubious tone on birch water.
Perhaps their producers saw, as I did, the high level of nonsense claims being made. A quick search of the Internet yielded many websites of questionable research, each one claiming that birch water is the next big thing that we should all be drinking. Like coconut water before it, the claims about birch water raise a lot of health woo red flags.
1) It appeals to antiquity. Birch water is a "centuries-old tradition" around the world, according to Byarozavik, the major brand of bottled birch water. Which is absolutely a reason to do something, right? I mean, it's why my doctor still uses bloodletting and why my children get stoned for disobedience.
2) It makes nonsense medical claims. It probably wouldn't surprise you to hear that birch water "detoxifies," as does every alternative woo health food out there. Detoxification as a concept is complete nonsense, but that doesn't stop these alt med products from slapping the claim on virtually everything they sell.
Medical Daily claims that birch water's detoxifying effect helps promote liver and kidney health "by eliminating and filtering waste through the urinary tract," and that birch water "eliminates waste that only the liver can process, such as excess salt, uric acid, phosphates, certain medicines, urea, and ammonia." As far as I can tell "eliminating waste through the urinary tract" is a fancy way of saying "urinating," and that list is full of things commonly found in urine anyway. So the claim here is, quite literally, "drinking birch water makes you pee." Bravo, Medical Daily!
Other common claims about birch water are that it decreases cavities, "melts" cellulite, reduces cholesterol, and makes skin healthier. Byarozavik also claims that birch water has "naturally occurring electrolytes" (which you'd expect if you know anything about plants) and other trace micronutrients that are "easier to absorb." The absorption claim is another one you see all the time in health food marketing, though there's rarely much evidence to back it up. Speaking of which ...
3) It doesn't have any real scientific backup. "We don't have rigorous scientific studies that link the use of birch water to anything other than consuming a potentially hydrating beverage," ABC News senior medical contributor Dr. Jennifer Ashton said in the GMA segment. And she's right; while a PubMed search yields all sorts of articles about birch trees, there's nothing on the human consumption of birch water. So any claim they make they're pulling out of their birch bark.
4) It's expensive. A 12-pack of Byarozavik costs $41.88 through their website, or $3.49 a bottle. Since the website recommends "two to three half-liter bottles per day," that could be a $10.50 a day water habit, or nearly $300 a month. But remember, it's Big Pharma whose only motive is trying to get rich.
So, is birch water anything more than the next water fad? Doesn't seem like it. I know that I won't be drinking any $3.49 tree sap anytime soon. Writing this article, however, has made me crave some birch beer, so I think I'm off to the store.
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