Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Murky waters

Yesterday I ran into the latest completely bogus suggestion from the alternative medicine nuts:

"Hydrogen-rich structured water."

Plain old water, apparently, isn't good enough, we need special water, water that is different by virtue of having lots of properties that make complete sense as long as you failed high school chemistry.

They start off with a bang:
You have probably heard that the human body is two-thirds water. It may surprise you to know that over 99 percent of the molecules in your body are water molecules. So how is it possible that 99 percent of the molecules don’t do anything?  That question inspired leading scientists to put water under a microscope.  What researchers discovered was a fourth phase of water known as structured water.  Meaning, the molecules are structured or ordered for cells to absorb them.
There are only a few problems with this paragraph, to wit:
  • Two-thirds does not equal 99%.
  • The water molecules in your body actually do lots of things, which is why if I took all of the water out of your body, you would die.
  • You can't see water molecules under a microscope.
  • There are actually eleven known phases of water, each of which exists at various ranges of temperature and pressure, as shown on the diagram below:

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

So already we're off to a great start, with one of the highest bullshit-to-text ratios I've ever seen.

Then we're told that not only is this product "structured," it's "hydrogen-enriched," so that it is "Powered to flush toxins and waste...  Activated to replicate and convert energy...  Energized for lasting alertness... [and] Optimized for better hydration."

Now, there are two ways they could add hydrogen to water; as hydrogen gas (gases are soluble in water; witness seltzer), or as hydrogen ions.

Neither would be a good idea.

If you add hydrogen gas to water, presumably under pressure (the way they make soda), then when you open the bottle, it'll fizz out, just as the carbon dioxide does when you pop the cap off a beer, which you'll probably need to do to recover from the stress of reading all of this.  The problem is, forcing hydrogen gas into water under pressure and then giving it to an unsuspecting person is problematic, from the standpoint of the fact that hydrogen gas is explosive.

Remember the Hindenburg?

Yeah, that.

Adding the hydrogen in ionic form isn't any better.  When you add hydrogen ions to water, you've created what chemists call an "acid."  The more you add, the more acidic it becomes, and the more the pH of the solution drops.  Plain old lemonade has a pH of about 5 or so, depending on how strong you make it; this corresponds to a hundred-times higher concentration of hydrogen ions than plain water (pH of 7).  Commercial vinegar has a pH of about 3, meaning it has a hundred times higher concentration still (recall that pH is a logarithmic scale; each pH point corresponds to a tenfold change in the hydrogen ion concentration).

So if the hydrogen-enriched water people are right, we should all be drinking vinegar.  Or, better yet, the sulfuric acid from your car battery, which at a pH of about 1 has a million times more hydrogen ions than pure water does.

Healthful stuff, battery acid.  Really "hydrogen-enriched."  It'd certainly flush out the toxins, rather in the way that Drano cleans out the pipes in your kitchen.  I doubt you'd feel all that "activated and optimized" afterwards, however.

Once again, we have a product that is so much snake oil -- water with some minerals added, that is then marketed as the next big thing in health.  The only benefit from this stuff is to the bank accounts of the people who are peddling it.

So there you are.  How to make water even, um, waterier.  Or something.  And how we should all give up on regular old water.

Myself, I'm thinking of switching to scotch.


  1. I will be sharing this ... And when you get a chance, here is some more techno-woo I thought you might like ...

  2. Gordon, I'll just comment on one of the stellar assembly of posts I've missed by being off-net here in Israel for a few months. I truly can't think of many writers or even thinkers even half as sharp at voicing what I myself feel needs to be said but cannot phrase so clearly and wittily. The H+ explanation will warm the hearts of both my sons when they also read it, ha.
    I do miss sorely our days on that now-closed site we enjoyed years ago.
    Oh and only one suggestion: consider somehow differentiating quoted text from your own commentary, perhaps bold, italics, or a different font. I usually have no great problem distinguishing whole-grain wheat from abject chaff but still, think about it.
    Again, thanks from the heart for your welcome sanity and wit/ JS