Today we're going to try to heal our bodies through one of the simplest methods imaginable: We're simply going to slip on an ionized bracelet. It's going to correct our bodies' natural electrical fields, and anything that's wrong with us will be healed naturally.
Does that sound a little suspicious to you? Well, it did to me too when I first heard it. But it sounds perfectly reasonable to a lot of people. Start paying attention and you'll notice that plenty of people still walk around wearing a Q-Ray bracelet. I have several friends who wear them. Once I asked one of them what it does, and he said he wasn't sure but he felt better whenever he wore it.
The Q-Ray bracelet is the best known and most popular of the so-called ionized bracelets on the market. It's actually a knockoff of the original, called the Bio-Ray bracelet, developed in 1973 by Spanish chiropractor Manuel Polo. Polo's idea was based on his belief that general wellness could be achieved through proper balancing of positive and negative ions in the body. Now, a vague claim like this might sound reasonable to an uninformed person, but run it past any electrical engineer. There's no plausible way that any type of bracelet could have such an effect, unless it's grounded. Walking across a carpet and scuffing your feet will have a dramatic effect on your body's static electrical charge (which is the technically correct way to refer to your body's "balance of positive and negative ions"), and this is unaffected by any jewelry you might be wearing. Being indoors or outdoors during a thunderstorm will produce the same difference. People riding in a car have a different static charge than people outside the car who are grounded. None of these conditions have ever been shown to have an affect on a person's general well-being, nor can they be mitigated by jewelry.
It's easy to poke holes in the technical claims made by the Q-Ray people, but their satisfied customers aren't interested. They feel better when they wear it, and that's all they need to know. Fortunately, that's a claim that someone finally decided to put to the test. The Mayo Clinic took 710 people and, in a fully blinded and randomized clinical trial, gave half of them Q-Ray ionized bracelets, and half of them identical looking "placebo" bracelets. As you can probably guess, there was no difference in the amount of pain reduction reported by either group.
I was curious to see exactly what the makers of Q-Ray claim on their web site. I went to qray.com and found, quite anticlimactically, that they make no claims of any kind whatsoever. The bracelet's only characteristic that they discuss is its design. They don't even call it ionized any more. They simply sell them as metal bracelets, in various colors and styles ranging from $60 to $300. Turns out there's a very good reason for this. In 2003, the Federal Trade Commission nailed them for false advertising, and ordered them to stop. Unfortunately they didn't stop, and in 2006, the courts brought the hammer down hard. QT Inc., the makers of Q-Ray, were ordered to turn over $22.5 million in profits, and also provide $64.5 million in refunds. This ruling was upheld by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in January 2008.
I wanted to see what these false claims had been, so I turned to the Internet researcher's favorite tool, the Wayback Machine at archive.org, which archives old versions of web sites. But, I was thwarted once again. QT Inc. had had their site removed from the Wayback Machine's archives. Happily, there are even better archives out there. In this case, I found many of their claims preserved for the ages on Dr. Stephen Barrett's irreplaceable Quackwatch.org. Let's hear some of them. Cue the New Age music:
The Q-RAY bracelet is designed to achieve many of the same goals as traditional Chinese acupuncture. Acupuncture was developed to balance the body's Yin (negative ions) and Yang (positive ions), the two inseparable, complementary energies that permanently circulate in the human body. When these energies become unbalanced, the body's functioning is thought to be altered—which can be at least very annoying and at worst debilitating, depending on the size and nature of the energy imbalance. Oriental medicine, through acupuncture, is believed to regulate these two energies, discharging from the body excess positive ions and providing access to blocked negative ions, by stimulating meridian acupuncture points.
In the human body, which is electromagnetic by nature, biomagnetic alpha and beta waves circulate throughout the vital centers. When the flow is cut off and these alpha and beta waves become stagnant in one particular area of the body, bioelectrical alterations and ionic imbalances can result. Designed by Dr. Polo with polarized multi-metallic metals, the Q-RAY bracelet's circular form and spherical terminals offer low resistance to the bioelectrical conductibility of the alpha and beta waves, facilitating the discharge of excess positive ions or static electricity. Excess of positive ions is associated with poor nutrition, incorrect breathing, sedentary life style, and the use of electrical instruments or exposure to EMF (Electronic Magnetic Field). Loss of negative ions is associated with symptoms such as anxiety, stress, fear, hatred, and physical exhaustion.
Judge Frank Easterbrook aptly described these claims as "poppycock", "techno-babble", and "blather." He remarked that the "Defendants might as well have said: 'Beneficent creatures from the 17th Dimension use this bracelet as a beacon to locate people who need pain relief, and whisk them off to their home world every night to provide help in ways unknown to our science.'"
According to Dr. Barrett, one of QT Inc.'s owners testified in the 2006 trial that he could not define the term "ionization" but picked it because it was simple and easy to remember. The court concluded that his testimony on ionization was "contradictory and full of obfuscation". Did QT Inc. try to support their claims in court? No, they did not. Under oath, they testified that the only healthful effect produced by the Q-Ray was the placebo effect. That's right, sports fans: When under the gun, the Q-Ray's manufacturers stated that all the claims they've ever made about positive healthful effects from using their product are bogus. At best, it is a placebo. Just not a very useful one, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Dr. Barrett also archived claims from QT Inc. that the Q-Ray bracelets could restore health, relieve cancer pain, improve muscle flexibility, improve sports performance, restore energy, and provide other health benefits. A 2000 TV infomercial for Q-Ray stated: "When you have a severe injury or a chronic injury or a chronic problem like arthritis, you have build-up of positive ions. Wherever that is, you are going to have pain. In order to remove this pain, Q-Ray bracelet rips it right out of the body!" Needless to say, medical science has never found any correlation between pain or injuries, and build-ups of positive ions.
Q-Ray has not been completely neutered, though. A Google search returns a number of third party resellers of the bracelet still making all kinds of meaningless techno-babble claims. WellnessMarketer.com, for example, still calls it "ionized" and backhandedly implies that the Q-Ray has extremely powerful effects by warning that you should contact your doctor before wearing one if you're pregnant, that you should not allow the ends of the bracelet to contact each other, and that you should not wear a Q-Ray if you use a pacemaker or other medical device. Qbracelets.com says that the Q-Ray causes your body to "realign and balance its energies", and that it balances your body's yin and yang to "flood your system" with "increased amounts of natural pain relief compounds." ValueHealth2000.com says these are "the same bracelets you've seen in doctors' offices."
But there's little need for these marketers to rely on the Q-Ray. ValueHealth2000 also sells the Q-Link pendant, another knockoff that the FTC doesn't seem to have caught up with yet. They claim the Q-Link strengthens you against electromagnetic radiation, and also make the following statement that Judge Easterbrook would really love: "Doctors who tested the Q-Link Pendant with Sympathetic Resonance Technology™ found that it very quickly amplifies healthy energy states — and decreases energy drains caused by a wide variety of stressors." The FTC has, however, caught up with yet another knockoff company. They have a suit similar to the one against QT Inc. pending against the makers of an identical so-called "ionized" bracelet, the Balance Bracelet.
Unless you're trying to allege yet another pharmaceutical conspiracy, you have to think that any true healing powers of simple jewelry would have become a fundamental of medical science long ago, and would be first on your doctor's prescription pad. Just remember what we always recommend here: When you hear any claim that sounds far fetched or goes against your understanding of science or the natural world, you have very good reason to be skeptical.
Bratton, Robert L. et al. "Effect of “Ionized” Wrist Bracelets on Musculoskeletal Pain: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial." Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 1 Nov. 2002, Volume 77, Number 11: 1164-1168.