Water has a certain psychological appeal - it represents purity, wholesomeness, and life. It is no surprise, therefore, that water is the focus of many snake oil scams, variations on the basic theme of "magic" or special water that has healthful or even healing properties.
Of course, water is just water. H2O. It is vital to life, and access to adequate supplies of clean water is important to health. The body has many mechanisms for regulating the amount and location of water inside the body, as well as the concentration of many things that are present in the body's water.
But despite the delusions of homeopaths, water itself cannot have magical healing properties. Yet water remains the snake oil salesman's favorite product, both for its psychological appeal and the massive markup. What's better than selling plain old water at ridiculous prices?
I am frequently asked to investigate one water-based snake oil product or another. Most recently I was asked to look at a product called Starfire Water. The website presents a trifecta of magic water pseudoscience:
"Structured Water - Water is naturally structured, but water from the tap is not and neither is most water sold in the store. Unstructured water goes right through you, while structured water removes toxins from your body.
Energized Water - Even structured water on the market, isn’t energized. When you taste our water, you’ll feel a tingle on the roof of the mouth. That’s the energized water. It gives you energy for life.
Infused Water - Most water is just water. But we infuse our water with Etherium, a trace form of liquid gold, known to facilitate higher awareness.
Wow - structured, energized, and infused water. Water can be legitimately infused, but the question is, with what? They claim the Starfire water is infused with trace gold. "Trace" could mean a few atoms here and there. As far I as I can tell, "etherium" is a complete fiction. The only references I can find to it are either in fiction, or to products making the same claim, that etherium enhances spiritual awakening.
What about "structured" water? Pseudoscientists and charlatans love to use sciencey-sounding words that have not actual or precise meaning. Liquid water has no enduring structure, nothing that can persist and have any chemical or biological properties. Water "structure" or clusters are extremely transient, to the point that they don't really have a physical existence. As chemist Stephen Lower writes:
"Chemists have long recognized water as a substance having unusual and unique properties that one would not at first sight expect from a small molecule having the formula H2O. It is generally agreed that the special properties of water stem from the tendency of its molecules to associate, forming short-lived and ever-changing polymeric units that are sometimes described as "clusters". These clusters are more conceptual than physical in nature; they have no directly observable properties, and their transient existence (on the order of picoseconds) does not support an earlier view that water is a mixture of polymers (H2O)n in which n can have a variety of values. Instead, the currently favored model of water is one of a loosely-connected network that might best be described as one huge "cluster" whose internal connections are continually undergoing rearrangement."
How does Starfire structure the water? I'm glad you asked.
"This reorganizes the molecular order into a receptive state to receive high frequency vibration. The water is then passed through a chamber where magnetic resonance imprints a series of frequencies in an infinitely modulating sequence. Molecular order and frequency loading mutually reinforce each other to maintain the transformation of the water."
That is almost poetry - pseudoscientific poetry, and utterly meaningless gibberish.
The claims for "energized" water are just as fake. Sometimes this takes the form of ionized water, but at other times the maximally nonspecific term "energy" is used. We're never told what form that energy takes or how it is measured. The term is used in such a way that it might as well be magic.
It is amazing that a company can sell a product based entirely on made-up nonsense. And this is just one example. Magic water is an old scam, one that is constantly being repackaged with modern language.
Steven Novella, M.D. is the JREF's Senior Fellow and Director of the JREF’s new Science-Based Medicine project.
Dr. Novella is an academic clinical neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine. He is the president and co-founder of the New England Skeptical Society and the host and producer of the popular weekly science show, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. He also authors the NeuroLogica Blog.