Have you heard of Enagic’s Kangen Water? If so, it’s probably because someone you know is trying to sell it. That’s how a lot of MLMs, which many people consider pyramid schemes, are marketed.
I first got an email about Kangen Water back in late December of 2011. Due to the Christmas holiday, I missed the email. Since then I’ve steadily gotten questions about it every 6 months or so. Each time, I got a question, I thought I should write an article, but something came up and it got shuffled down the priority list. Recently, I got a pair of emails about it. Since readers trust my analysis of MLMs, it makes sense to write about Enagic’s Kangen Water simply so that I don’t have to address emails individually. I can simply say, “Read the article. Leave a comment.”
My first stop to learning about Kangen Water was YouTube. Specifically I found this video:
The video starts off by giving credit to United States if you need treatment calling it “the gold standard.” It then goes on to say that we (United States citizens) are overfed and undernourished. While we may be overfed, we are actually more nourished than previous generations to the point that malnourishment maladies are virtually unheard of.
The video continues on to emphasize our overweight lifestyles. This is actually going to undermine their whole argument as Kangen Water does not help you lose weight. Thus the “fix” isn’t a new water, it’s the age-old diet and exercise.
The video then says that we pay more for prescription drugs than other countries. We do, but that’s due to politics. We subsidize the other countries cheaper drugs and their governments negotiate better rates while ours does not. It’s not that we need to take more medication because our health is poor… it’s that the price of each medicine is much, much more expensive due to politics.
According to the video, people in Japan weigh less than we do and live longer. Hey perhaps that’s a useful correlation! Sadly, no the video implies it is all due to the fact people in Japan drink Kangen Water. Again, drinking a specific type of water isn’t going to help you lose weight, so the conclusion makes no sense. It’s like saying that the US spending on science, space, and technology causes Suicides by hanging, strangulation and suffocation. Hey the graphs match up, so it must be true! (Hopefully the sarcasm came through there.)
The video then goes on with a few doctors (who are disclosed as working with Enagic) talk about things unrelated to Kangen Water such as nutrition. They talk about antioxidants hoping to capitalize on the media frenzy that they are good, when research continually shows that they don’t work and may even be bad for you.
Quite honestly, the promotional video got to be too much for me. It didn’t seem to have anyone who didn’t work for the company. These are not the people you want to listen to especially when they dance around the topic and pretend that a special type of water is more nutritious than any other. Yes water is a nutrient, but water is water as far nutrient quality goes.
The “Secret” of Kangen Water
So what really is Kangen Water? It’s a machine that “produce[s] ionized alkaline and acidic waters through electrolysis” (from their official website).
The idea seems to be drink the alkaline water. There are “experts” out there that suggest there’s some kind of health benefit to drinking alkaline water. In fact, that’s what the doctors in the video above were going towards.
I noticed they often tout famous technologist/futurist Ray Kurzweil. I love Ray Kurzweil. I have written papers about his work as a computer science student. I read his book that advocates alkaline water Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever and have even exchanged emails with him about it. One thing that I focused on is that doing the things in the book are expensive. Not everyone can take the reported 250 supplements he does every day. What I should have asked him is what kind of damage is it doing to the liver/kidneys to digest all those supplements?
Most importantly, he openly admits that he’s not a doctor and that’s not his field of expertise. It strikes me that this is a little like trusting Michael Jordan’s opinion on coding your iPhone application. Just because he’s famous and talented in one area, doesn’t necessarily mean it translates to another unrelated area.
More importantly there are a number of reputable sources explaining why alkaline water shouldn’t be on anyone’s health radar. One of the most famous is the very detailed anlaysis on chem1, by retired university-level chemistry teacher Stephen Lower. He gives his analysis because “Chemistry is my favorite subject, and I hate to see it misused to confuse, mislead or defraud the public” as stated on his website.
I actually received a Word document from a Kangen representative attempting to be rebut Lower’s analysis, but it was comical in how bad the arguments were. They focused on the fact that there are some spelling errors and the page’s web design is “GeoCities” in nature. Then it went on to list the numerous great accomplishments and awards of Kurzweil.
It summed up with, “Who would you believe?” Since you asked, if we are going to debate the topic of chemistry, I’ll take the chemistry teacher, Lower, on my side. If you want to have a discussion about artificial intelligence, I’ll take Kurzweil. In today’s discussion, chemistry and Lower win. People trying to mislead others with Kurzweil’s irrelevant to the topic’s accomplishments lose.
And then there are a couple of articles on alkaline water in Quackwatch. It’s also covered well in the Skeptic’s Dictionary. However, I’ve often seen many people refer to Brian Dunning’s Skeptoid article as one of the best ones. Here’s how it starts:
“Today we’re going to take a scientific look at one of the latest multilevel marketing fads: healing water machines, devices costing thousands of dollars claiming to ionize or alkalize your tap water, and claiming a dazzling range of health and medical benefits. Sold under such names as Kangen, Jupiter Science, KYK, and literally hundreds of others, these machines do either nothing or almost nothing (beyond basic water filtration), and none of what they may actually do has any plausible beneficial purpose. They are built around the central notion that regular water is so harmful to the body that their price tags, as much as $6,000, are actually justified. They are essentially water filters with some additional electronics to perform electrolysis. They are sold with volumes of technical sounding babble that may impress a non-scientific layperson, but to any chemist or medical doctor, they are laughably meaningless (and in many cases, outright wrong).”
The article goes into great detail explaining further why it’s a scam. What’s amazing is that he published the article 5 years ago and there are still people out there that buy the product.
I could probably find a few dozen more reputable sources, but at this point I think you get the picture. The independent scientists have weighed in and it appears that this water is quackery. Funny how Enagic’s paid scientists didn’t seem to come to this conclusion. Though they got lost focusing on generalities such as nutrition and not the specifics of Kangen Water.
Alkaline Water Criticism in the Media
Alkaline water has been roundly criticized in the media. Here are just a few of the examples and some quotes:
- McGill University
Title: Alkaline Water Nonsense
Subtitle: The words absurd, ridiculous, ludicrous, preposterous, comical, and farcical come to mind, but they still don’t quite seem to capture the extent of the mind-numbing nonsense. And what nonsense is that? ‘Ionized Alkaline Water!'”
- New York Times
Expert: “It’s all about marketing. There is no science to back it up.”
Other analysis: This article notes that companies funded several small studies seemingly for the purpose of marketing.
- Science Based Medicine
Subtitle: “Alkaline water is pure BS – there is no plausibility to the claims of any health benefits, and what evidence we have is negative. Its popularity grows despite this.”
- The Guardian
Key Quote: “While people have been touting the benefits of upping your alkaline levels for decades, Fenton says the belief is not supported by any scientific evidence. Fenton, who analyzed studies looking at the association of alkaline water with cancer treatment, notes that while ‘there are a few very poorly designed studies’ that suggest alkaline water confers health benefits, there is no rigorous evidence this is the case.’
What’s more, Fenton stresses, you simply can’t change the pH of your body by drinking alkaline water. ‘Your body regulates its [blood] pH in a very narrow range because all our enzymes are designed to work at pH 7.4. If our pH varied too much we wouldn’t survive.'”
Subtitle: “No, Alkaline Water Isn’t Making You Healthier – It is making your wallet lighter, though.”
Title: “What Even Is Alkaline Water and Is It Really Better Than Regular Water?”
This article included several experts that debunked alkaline in decent detail.
- Truth in Advertising
Truth in Advertising covers the class action lawsuits against the makers of alkaline water companies, citing an expert that says “It’s all about marketing. There is no science to back it up.”
This is just a sample of what I found in a couple of minutes of research. I’m sure there are many more examples. In my opinion it couldn’t be clearer that the experts have concluded that alkaline water is just marketing bunk.
Kangen Water Also Looks Like a Pyramid Scheme
Whenever I analyze MLMs and pyramid schemes, my “go to” source is the FTC. They are an unbiased source… and exist to help protect consumers… and we are all consumers, right? I can give you my thoughts/feelings on pyramid schemes, but I think we can agree that the FTC’s words carry significantly more weight, right?
So here is what the FTC says about MLMs and pyramid schemes:
“Not all multilevel marketing plans are legitimate. If the money you make is based on your sales to the public, it may be a legitimate multilevel marketing plan. If the money you make is based on the number of people you recruit and your sales to them, it’s not. It’s a pyramid scheme. Pyramid schemes are illegal, and the vast majority of participants lose money… Avoid any plan where the reward for recruiting new distributors is more than it is for selling products to the public. That’s a time-tested and traditional tip-off to a pyramid scheme.”
The take-away here for me is simple: “selling to public = good. recruiting salespeople = bad.” So when I see this video on their official website…
… I simply have to shake my head. They are clearly marketing a plan that demonstrates the money one person makes when they recruit a bunch of people who also recruit a bunch of people. It doesn’t look like it is about selling the product to the public at all.
More disturbingly, it depicts the results of one person having a team/pyramid of 32 people. Whenever I think about whether something is a pyramid scheme, I ask myself a few questions, “Does it make sense that everyone on Earth is able to recruit 32 people? If this company has 100,000 people in it today, will it have 3.2 million people next year (everyone able to recruit 32 people) and will it have 100 million the year after that (3.2 million people recruiting 32 people)?”
Herbalife is considered to be one of the largest MLMs and it is around 2 million people in nearly 100 countries. (And the FTC is investigating it as a pyramid scheme). Herbalife has been around for 30 years and it hasn’t gotten close to 100 million people.
Kangen Water has already been around for a number of years and it isn’t hasn’t gotten there either. The example that they are pitching simply isn’t a realistic depiction of what one could expect. It would be like a lottery putting up a video depicting how easy it is to win. At its core it is deceptive, because it is depicting an extremely rare and unlikely circumstance as being likely enough to be used as a typical example.
I could continue this article for thousands of more words, and perhaps will continue to update it over time. For example, I should add a section on the hexagonal water scam claims that are associated with Kangen Water. For now, I’ll let it stand as is because this scam already been well-covered by many of the links I referred to above.
Article published: July 25, 2014