Archive for October, 2013

Murkey Waters

October 27, 2013

Last week I was shopping for groceries when I spotted a relatively new bottled product called BLK.

Shelved next to the bottled water, BLK may look odd but is actually just spring water with added fulvic and humic acids. And as the name implies the water really appears black. On sale since 2011, BLK is the (allegedly stolen) creation of Real Housewives of New Jersey brothers Albie & Chris Manzo along with their uncle Chris Laurita. The BLK website makes vague claims of how it is better than plain old water such being packed with electrolytes and having an alkaline pH. But according to skeptical blogger Sharron Hill,

…manufacturers of black water admit that research to support the supposed health benefits of black water is scant; what research has been conducted has focused on the benefits to plant and livestock growth in China and Europe, not to people, and not here in the United States. My Pub Med search confirmed this. Research papers on “fulvic acid supplement” returned 5 results; “humic acid supplement,” 11 results; and, in combination, the two items returned 3 results. By comparison, similar searches for calcium, vitamin D, or iron supplements returned 2,000–4,000 results each. The manufacturers of black water seem to have extrapolated from a few studies and gone beyond them into the land of anecdotes, testimonials, and imaginative tales of the benefits of their products. Another “fact” used to market black water products: Black water has a naturally high pH level of 9. Its low acidity, the black water people say, “balances natural bodily pH levels.” ECLIPSE water [a similar product] coined a new verb out of its water’s pH-balancing abilities, saying that its water “alkalines the blood faster than any other natural product on earth.” Whatever their meaning, drinking water will not affect your blood pH. This pH puffery is associated with alkaline diet claims that promote an alkaline body pH as a cure for cancer. None of these claims is supported by medical consensus.

The drink’s “celebrity” promoters are a little less coy however and make claims about its curative properties for everything from the common cold to autism,

A mother [who] gave her autistic son blk. to drink, thinking its unique color might get him drinking more water. The boy not only drank it, he loved it, but the amazing part, he started behaving. The mother reached out to Albie, shocked, who sent her two more cases to try. Her son has stopped stimming and throwing fits. He also listens and follows directions. The difference, she told Manzo, is unbelievable.

Whats really unbelievable to me is how people buy this stuff. BLK water and it’s competitors appear to be doing little more than repackaging a likely-worthless nutritional supplement hawked by quacks and cranks for years.

Spurred by the autism diagnosis of the Laurita’s son, Nicholas, BLK has now partnered with Jenny McCarthy’s autism organization, Generation Rescue. You may recognize McCarthy and Generation Rescue as the folks that claim that autism is caused by vaccination despite their preposterous claims having been addressed many times over. Nicholas’s mother, Jacqueline Laurita, herself seems conflicted over the vaccine issue but appears to subscribe to the idea “too many, too soon”, stating that she is spacing her sons vaccinations out (despite any evidence of benefit for alternative vaccination schedules). The Lauritas have since become instant mini-stars in the autism advocacy word, being invited to speak at numerous events. No one should be getting medical advice from a celebrity, but unfortunately many people more readily connect with the stories of celebrities than a dry distillation of the medical literature by professionals.

Further Reading:

Black(water) Market: Digging Up the Dirt about Slick Designer Beverages
by Sharon Hill

A Reality Check on Harm Reduction

October 24, 2013

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area injection drug use, primarily heroin, and the associated health problems have been major public health issues for decades. In response public health advocates in the Bay Area and beyond have implemented needle exchange programs in which injection drug users can obtain, oftentimes for free, syringes and related paraphernalia generally in exchange for an equal number of dirty needles. The main aims are to reduce needle sharing which leads to the spread of diseases such as HIV and Hep C as well as curbing the danger of discarded needles in public. Other services such as HIV testing and free condoms are also often available. Despite ideological and political opposition the effectiveness of these programs has since been validation by US and international research. Going a step farther than needle exchange are Supervised Injection Sites (SIS) where drug users can obtain clean needles as well as inject onsite with medical staff present in case of overdose. Clients can also gain access through such programs to counseling, drug treatment, and other services. This model, however, has yet to catch on in North America, with the only exception being Insite in Vancouver.

Science-based medicine and health policy are part of my primary interests in skepticism and so I’ve been disappointed by a lack of discussion of the claims for and against such harm reduction programs which offer a more compassionate and more science-based approach to the social and individual problems of substance dependence than criminalization of users. Interested in getting another point of view I left a voice message with the crew over at my favorite Canadian podcast, The Reality Check. In their latest episode the crew brings on Dina Tsirlin, who has done public health research in this area, to answer my questions. So give it a listen!

Further Resources:

TRC #267: Supervised Injection Sites + Who Owns The Future + Are Refrigerators Death Traps?

My Congressman by Fifteen (One of the greatest punk songs)

Insight Evaluation Finding

UHRI – Insight Report

Vancouver Coastal Health – Report on Supervised Injection Sites


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 277 other followers