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Amber Waves of Woo

As a pediatrician I have an opportunity to observe a wide variety of unusual and sometimes alarming parental efforts meant to help children through illness or keep them well. I have recently noticed one particular intervention that seems to be becoming more prevalent, at least in my practice. I’ve begun to see more and more infants sporting Baltic amber teething necklaces. These consist of multiple small beads of amber on a string that is worn around a baby’s neck, and are supposed to relieve the discomfort of teething. Before I had any idea what these necklaces were for or how they were supposed to work, my first reaction was to inform these parents of the dangers of necklaces or anything placed around an infant’s or young child’s neck. Strangulation is a known cause of accidental injury and death in children, and pediatricians are trained to discuss this as part of the routine anticipatory guidance we give to parents. In addition, we strongly advise against giving infants or young children any small items that could be accidentally aspirated, such as the beads found in a necklace of this sort. But I was equally surprised to learn that these necklaces are not intended for babies to chew or gum. Instead, they are supposed to ease a baby’s teething discomfort simply by lying against the skin.

I will not discuss teething here, or the many myths that surround it; that was well covered in a previous post. I will reiterate that there is little-to-no evidence that the majority of concerns parents have about teething are actually due to teething, including fever and diarrhea. The irritability associated with teething also tends to wax and wane for only several days before and after the emergence of a tooth. But let’s assume for the moment that these necklaces actually work to ease the discomfort of teething, and whatever other problems parents tend to associate with the long period of time during which infants and young children develop their teeth. Assuming these necklaces work as recounted in the glowing testimonials on countless websites and parent blogs, how do they produce their dramatic results?

Implausible mechanisms of action

The alleged mechanism of action of wearing Baltic amber against your skin varies considerably based on whom you speak to, and which snake oil salesman you are buying from. They range from the hilarious to the just barely plausible. On the absurd end of the spectrum we have:

  • Activates the solar plexus and root chakra
  • Bactericidal and electrostatic properties
  • A powerful antioxidant that helps fight toxic free radicals
  • Slight sedative effect
  • Amber is electromagnetic and produces large amounts of organic, natural energy
  • Ionization helps protect the human body from various magnetic fields (amber absorbs some waves, including radioactive ones)

But the most commonly cited mechanism of action (and the most plausible, with that term being used very liberally here) is that the amber beads, when warmed by body heat, release tiny amounts of succinic acid which passes trans-dermally into the blood stream where it acts as an analgesic. I refer to this mechanism as plausible for the following reasons only:

  • Baltic (Class Ia) amber does indeed contain succinic acid
  • Some molecules, including some drugs used in science-based medicine, are absorbed through the skin to produce physiologic effects
  • Succinic acid (also known as 1,4-butanedioic acid) is found naturally in the body as an intermediate in the all-important Krebs cycle; altering the levels in the body could therefore have potential physiologic effects

The plausibility for this mechanism ends there, however, and then quickly begins to break down. First, though Baltic amber does contain succinic acid, there is no evidence that it has analgesic effects at any dose, let alone the miniscule amounts that might conceivably enter the body through this route (more on that in a moment). As mentioned above, succinic acid is an important intermediate in a very important biochemical pathway. It resembles many other similar molecules found in our body and is considered safe. Toxicity studies have shown that even large doses produce no adverse effects. The FDA even allows it to be used as a food additive and to be sold as a dietary supplement. Ironically, it is classified as a skin irritant.

The next step in the plausibility break down is the notion that succinic acid in the amber beads gets released at body temperature, and is then absorbed through the skin. There is no evidence that succinic acid is released from amber on contact, or that warming it to body temperature would facilitate this. If it was released, there is similarly no evidence for transdermal absorption. Many factors contribute to the ability of a molecule to enter the body through the skin. In addition to the physical and chemical properties of the molecule, clearly the dose is an important factor. Generally speaking, the larger the concentration the easier it is for a molecule to get through the skin. The amount of surface contact is important as well, and this would have to be considered pretty small in the case of a string of beads worn around the neck. As for the amount of succinic acid likely to be found in one of these necklaces, let’s assume the following:

Even if you were to assume that succinic acid is released from the necklace onto the skin, the amount released would have to be an extraordinarily miniscule fraction of the total 1.4-11.2 mg contained in the entire necklace. For a therapeutic effect at this sort of dose one would need to invoke homeopathy, but that is an entirely different subject altogether. Interestingly, corrosive formic and acetic acids were found to off-gas as volatile degradation products from Baltic amber. Acetic acid is vinegar, and formic acid is found in fire ant venom and can cause blindness.

Multiple extraordinary claims

Putting aside the mechanism of action, do these necklaces actually work? Perusing many of the websites that either sell or discuss them, I came across a multitude of purported benefits to wearing a Baltic amber necklace:

  • Provides natural pain relief for babies, toddlers, and children
  • Helps to ease teething pains in children as well as colic and gas and other ailments
  • Reduces inflammation of the throat, ear and stomach
  • Fights irritation, infections, and respiratory disease
  • Dramatically improves the body’s immunity
  • Breaks the cycle of chronic inflammation
  • A completely non-invasive remedy for side effects associated with teething (lack of appetite, upset tummies, ear ache, fevers and colds)
  • Antispasmodic and anti-fever
  • Improvement of arthritis
  • Improves blood circulation
  • Eases muscle pains
  • Transmutes negative into positive energy
  • Promotes positive thinking and attitude
  • Revitalizes mind, body and soul
  • Helps to relieve depression
  • Supports physical healing and detoxification
  • Alleviates disorders of the adrenals, liver and spleen

A major red flag for fraud if ever there was one, the making of multiple, extraordinary claims should raise our skeptical radar, and of course demands extraordinary evidence.

The evidence

A search of PubMed and MEDLINE reveals not a single study of any kind or quality exploring the efficacy or safety of amber teething necklaces for infant teething. In fact, I could find only two studies that were related in any way to the therapeutic use of amber. These were published by a single research team from India, and examined the effects of an amber-containing “polyherbal” compound on chemically induced gastric ulcers in rats. The authors exposed rats to either aspirin or ethanol, and in both cases found that rats pre-treated with the compound demonstrated lower ulcer scores than controls.The authors exposed rats to either ethanol or aspirin, and in both cases found that rats pre-treated with the compound demonstrated lower ulcer scores than controls.

As for succinic acid, the most commonly-cited mechanism of action for amber necklaces, I did find a study whose abstract, at least, claims to have demonstrated promising anti-inflammatory activity in 44 succinic acid derivatives. The article was published in 1987 in the Russian language journal Farmakologiia i toksikologiia, which I was unable to obtain for review. There does not appear to be any other evidence for the therapeutic effect of succinic acid.

So why do people believe such an implausible treatment will work for teething? First, we need to understand that teething has an odd place in the folklore and mythology of parenting. Parents clearly never want to see their children suffer, and teething can be uncomfortable, albeit for very brief intervals. One contributing factor to the overblown concern about teething is the historical fact that in previous centuries, infants and young children once routinely died during the age range when the primary teeth typically come in, and teething was often erroneously implicated as the culprit. Treatments used for teething in those times were often dangerous or even lethal themselves. Thanks to modern science, parents are no longer in constant fear that their children will succumb to disease. Still, some common illnesses and even normal developmental stages and behaviors are to this day erroneously attributed to teething. Combine this historical baggage with our tendency to fall into the logical fallacy trap, and you have the perfect set-up for this myth to take hold.

The logical fallacies rear their ugly heads

Appeal to ancient wisdom –Websites touting the healing and restorative properties of Baltic amber teething necklaces abound with references to the centuries of use of medicinal amber, and to its ancient record of success. The scientific revolution is a very recent accomplishment, and most of our recorded past took place in an age when our understanding of the world was laughably inaccurate. To use the age of those beliefs as a way to validate them is akin to claiming that the Earth is flat because we thought it was so for most of human history.

Appeal to nature – Parents who swear by amber teething necklaces usually mention that it’s natural and therefore safe. Or that it’s natural, so it’s preferable to using drugs such as acetaminophen or topical anesthetic gels. First of all, the use of drugs to treat teething is not recommended. Teething pain tends to be transient and intermittent, and chasing it with serum levels of medication doesn’t make much sense. And topical anesthetics are potentially quite dangerous in infants, as they can lead to a serious condition called methemoglobinemia. They can also be easily overdosed. I recently took care of an infant who had been given around the clock Baby Orajel and nearly stopped breathing. In any case, assuming something is safe simply because it is natural defies logic when the most deadly toxins known to man are entirely natural. It is also extremely contradictory to make the assertion that drugs and man-made chemicals are somehow bad, but a naturally occurring chemical must be assumed to be perfectly safe. Let’s again assume that succinic acid gets released from the Baltic amber necklace, and that it does actually cross into the baby’s blood stream in a concentration sufficient to effect a real physiologic change in her body. Why, I wonder, are the parents who put these things on their children okay with that? It’s astounding that the same parents who shy away from man-made “chemicals”, buy organic produce, steer clear of GMOs, and are afraid of vaccine ingredients have no problem with the leeching of natural chemicals into their child’s bloodstream.

A survey exploring the perceptions and beliefs of parents in southwestern France about the use of teething necklaces illustrated the significant concern these parents had about teething symptoms, and the difficulty many have accurately assessing true risks and benefits. Even when informed of the real potential danger to their children by wearing the necklaces, many parents preferred to take that risk for the potential perceived benefits. This is no different than the parent who is fearful of giving a vaccine, and prefers taking the risk of their child getting a preventable infectious disease, or a parent who will risk giving their child an unregulated dietary supplement for perceived, unfounded benefits. This profound inability to accurately assess risks and benefits and correctly set priorities to maximize outcomes is what keeps the door open for pseudoscience, and allows belief to obscure our understanding of the world.

Posted in: Critical Thinking, Energy Medicine, Health Fraud, Herbs & Supplements, Pharmaceuticals

Leave a Comment (95) ↓

95 thoughts on “Amber Waves of Woo

  1. Mark Hanna says:

    Thank you for writing this. For the page year and a half I have been trying to reduce the large amount of misleading advertising for these products in my home country of New Zealand, through our Advertising Standards Authority. Of the 17 such complaints that have been completed, not a single advertiser has been able to offer any evidence to support the claims they’ve been making.

    As a result of my complaints, an advertising guideline was created by the Advertising Standards Authority, Medsafe (our medicines regulator), and the Therapeutic Advertising Pre-vetting System (another part of the advertising regulation system) that describes all pretty much every therapeutic claim as unacceptable to be used in advertising, and it’s been put to good use over the past few months: http://www.anza.co.nz/Folder?Action=View%20File&Folder_id=82&File=TAPS_Guideline_41_Guideline_for_Advertisers_when_promoting_products_such_as_amber_teething_necklaces.pdf

    These products have also been banned for sale from pharmacies in France as part of their ethical obligation to “contribute to the fight against quackery”. Therapeutic claims made about them in advertising are also not allowed in Switzerland, and over safety concerns they have been banned from sale for infants in Ireland (http://www.consumerhelp.ie/amber-teething-jewellery).

    Various countries’ regulators have also issued safety warnings, such as:
    - New Zealand’s Minstry of Consumer Affairs (http://www.consumeraffairs.govt.nz/for-consumers/goods/product-safety/keeping-kids-safe/amber-teething-necklace)
    - The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (http://www.productsafety.gov.au/content/index.phtml/itemId/989385)
    - The UK’s Trading Standards Institute (http://www.tradingstandards.gov.uk/extra/news-item.cfm/newsid/874)
    - Health Canada (http://web.archive.org/web/20120301044312/http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/cps-spc/child-enfant/equip/necklaces-colliers-eng.php) <- that's an archived URL but I've had it confirmed by Health Canada that the warning is still relevant

    I've also written about these products myself on my own blog (http://honestuniverse.com/2013/02/13/amber-teething-necklaces/), although most of the points I made are also made in this article.

    Again, thank you for writing this!

    1. Thor says:

      Good to hear about your efforts on this, Mark. Talk about being in synch with Dr. Snyder’s post! Small world, huh. Underscores the fact that not one piece of land anywhere on Earth (inhabited by people, that is) is free from the “waves of woo”.
      Thanks for commenting.

    2. Monica says:

      Does anyone know how we can go about dealing with the misleading advertising in the US?

      A store near me has been posting on Facebook that the necklaces have analgesic properties. Is it legal for them to claim that?

      Because I cloth diaper my daughter and use babywearing, I seem to find myself in groups with moms who also use these necklaces (I don’t really understand the link). I’m worried for their children’s safety and would love to see the necklaces banned. I just don’t know how to start the process to make that happen. Any help is appreciated!

      1. Erin says:

        I don’t get the link, either, but as a fellow cloth diaper user & babywearer (and a breastfeeder!), I, too, am in the minority in my friend group for my skepticism of amber teething necklaces. I’m also alarmingly in the minority as a pro-vacc mama. {shrugs}

        This was a fantastic article and it’s going in my arsenal for those who won’t leave me alone about these necklaces!

  2. Windriven says:

    Amber works for teething. At least it did for me. When my kids were teething and cranky I would pour three fingers of beautiful amber Scotch over an ice cube or two and sip it through the evening. The crankiness of teething began do diminish about 15 minutes after the beginning of treatment. Sometimes I miss those kids teething.

    1. mouse says:

      Scottish amber is cure all. It not only works for teething, but also bickering, whining, talking back, picky eaters, dance and piano recitals and one small dose does wonders after a wet, cold soccer game.

      Really, amber’s only downside is that the occassion for use far exceeds responsible use.*

      *That’s my required disclaimer.

    2. irenegoodnight says:

      I was known to dip my finger in the whiskey and gently rub a dab on the sore gums!

      ——-

      What on earth is wrong with these parents? I didn’t need a pediatrician to tell me not to put things around my babies’ necks, or that teething was normal and didn’t need any folklore to deal with–and I was a (married) mother at 19.

      1. mouse says:

        Irene “What on earth is wrong with these parents?”

        It’s probably too much texting. It can kill you, ya know. ;)

      2. Lytrigian says:

        Russian grandmothers swear by vodka for the same thing. Seems to me that applying alcohol to the site of an erupting tooth would more likely sting than anything else, but they all insist it works.

      3. Windriven says:

        @Irene

        I used it too, though only a couple of times when frozen tethers just weren’t cutting it.

        @Lytrigian

        In my experience the babushkas are right. It works. I’m not sure if from true analgesia or because of a new taste and sensation. In any event it seemed to break their focus on the discomfort.

      4. Lucas Beauchamp says:

        I think you are misapplying the amber treatment. The recommendation is not to apply it to the baby’s gums but to the parent’s tongue. Recommended dose is either 29.5735296 or 44.3602944 cc’s; fortunately the better supply companies sell devices that measure precisely those two amounts. Inhale before ingesting; do not ignore its aromatherapeutic qualities.

        Then, by quantum nonlocality, the baby’s crying diminishes.

    3. Thor says:

      Funny! Beer, whiskey; I would hope that wine gets highlighted soon in a comment on an upcoming post. Cheers.

      1. Calli Arcale says:

        Oh, once you have kids, you get plenty of whine, believe me.

        :-P

        Teething was never that much of a problem for my kids. They drooled like crazy (I mean *buckets* of drool), but they weren’t too uncomfortable. But then, my basis for comparison is CalliBaby 1.0′s two solid months of colic. Worst two months ever. I can see why parents try all manner of woo for that; you get so sleep deprived and so desperate that you would quite happily sacrifice a chicken to the dark nether gods if you thought it had even a glimmer of a chance of helping.

    4. Republicus says:

      Huh, I get the same result from a good bourbon. Someone should really put together a controlled trial to test which is the most effective treatment.

      1. Windriven says:

        “Huh, I get the same result from a good bourbon. Someone should really put together a controlled trial to test which is the most effective treatment.”

        I did. Scotch won. ;-)

        1. CHotel says:

          n = 1 isn’t a very good trial though, I think we should probably get a larger group of us and see if you produced replicable results.

          You know, for the sciences and stuff.

          1. ScienceBear says:

            n=2 for Bourbon being a superior treatment. It appears to be a panacea, suppressing anxiety during teething, walking, beginning school and similar independence-related activities as well as ear infections and general three-year-old-ness.

          2. Frederick says:

            I can be the control : just drinking beer to see the difference! :-)

          3. Windriven says:

            ” I think we should probably get a larger group of us and see if you produced replicable results.”

            I suggest the first annual SfSBM annual meeting … presuming there is one. Mark … ?

  3. Angora Rabbit says:

    “Succinic acid (also known as 1,4-butanedioic acid) is found naturally in the body as an intermediate in the all-important Krebs cycle. Altering the levels in the body could therefore have potential physiologic effects.”

    Not for amber and not for this proposed mechanism. One can’t increase flux through a pathway by increasing substrate midway through the pathway; succinate is generated near the end of the TCA cycle. And the levels are vanishingly small compared to the quantity of TCA intermediates in the body. Finally, it’s the substrate for succinate dehydrogenase, which is not rate limiting for the TCA cycle. From the biochemist’s bible, aka “Lehninger”:

    “SDH has some attributes of an allosteric enzyme: it is activated by succinate…and inhibited by very low concentrations of oxaloacetate. However, it is not certain that these effects play a role in setting the overall rate of the TCA cycle, since SDH activity is usually far greater than the activity of other enzymes in the cycle and greater than the activity of the electron-transport chain.” In other words, SDH isn’t the rate limiting step and thus can’t be used to enhance TCA flux.

    Thanks for sharing your research on the amber. If I may, I’d like to share this story with my biochem class when we review TCA cycle – it’s a nice demonstration of how a little learning is a dangerous thing. And a nice opportunity for them to reconsider Vmax and Km (topics that invariably cause student brain freeze). Thanks for a great article!

    1. John Snyder says:

      @Angora Rabbit: Thanks for your comments. I winced as I wrote that, but I had to put something in the “going for it” column. I did preface it by saying it was a very liberal use of the word plausible…

      1. Angora Rabbit says:

        John, after I hit submit I thought I might not have been clear – you hit the issues spot-on. My comments were meant as additional information / support – in no way was it meant as a correction. I kinda get excited when I get to talk about Kms. :)

  4. tgobbi says:

    Dr. Snyder cites the following “implausible mechanisms of action” vis-a-vis amber beads:

    “Activates the solar plexus and root chakra
    Bactericidal and electrostatic properties
    A powerful antioxidant that helps fight toxic free radicals
    Slight sedative effect
    Amber is electromagnetic and produces large amounts of organic, natural energy
    Ionization helps protect the human body from various magnetic fields (amber absorbs some waves, including radioactive ones)”

    New? It doesn’t protect against subluxations? What good is it??? Everyone knows that 95% of kids have/develop subluxations and that thousands succumb to them every year. (I learned that 20 years ago on the ABC television show about chiro-pediatrics).

  5. Sastra says:

    There probably is a soothing and calming effect associated with the amber beads — two of them, in fact.

    One, it makes the mother or father think they have done something. Even if the baby is still crying you can always imagine they would be crying worse if they weren’t wearing amber beads. You are not incompetent. You are wise.

    And two — depending on the age of the child, the beads may distract and amuse. As long as the necklace doesn’t break and choke them, that is.

  6. What you all are missing is how our society is set up; Freedoms and Capitalism, marketing and sells, overt lying and cheating, deceptive practices and poor mechanisms to prosecute the offenders.

    We know humans are a generation from hunting and gathering and believing the earth is flat. Blaming humans for being human is missing the point.

    Blame and focus your efforts on society as a whole, notify the AMA, DEA, FDA etc and your congress person.

    1. weing says:

      “marketing and sells, overt lying and cheating, deceptive practices and poor mechanisms to prosecute the offenders.”

      We know. That’s how you get away with what you do.

      1. Who ever you are you are blinded by this isolated, narrow view blog. Of course we are all part of this crazy unfair system.

        Please give me a list of the corrective measures you wish could be implemented to make the world a better place?

        Destroying my ideas, concepts and experiences can not be included in the list.

        1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          1) The United States could implement a full, federally-funded health care system.
          2) Registration of all clinical trials would be mandatory, and no trial could be published if it were not pre-registered.
          3) The ability of the FDA to police and enforce against its mandate could be expanded, both in resources and authority.
          4) Politicians would be barred from influencing the decision-making process for medicine and science.
          5) CAM would have to give actual informed consent – that the products either are unproven, or proven not to work, and the actual risks be reported to all patients.
          6) DSHEA would be repealed; in order for an herb, product or supplement to be sold, it would have to be subject to a series of clinical trials just like a conventional drug.
          7) Doctors would not be allowed to give financial advice – that’s for you Steve, you’re not a financial planner (you’re also a naturopath I believe, which means you’re not a doctor either).
          8) Naturopathy would not be a recognized discipline.
          9) All individuals who wish to practice medicine would require certification, registration, training and mandatory courses on ethics and science.
          10) Drug manufacturers (and supplement manufacturers, though in practice they are often the same company) would be prohibited from advertising directly to consumers, or sponsoring events, training, etc.
          11) “Natural” would not be permitted on a label of anything.
          12) All end-stage clinical trials would be paid for by pharmaceutical companies, in trust, to universities where they would actually be run, with strict separation between the two.
          13) Genetic modification of subsistence crops would be encouraged in Africa to encourage drought tolerance and foster local production.
          14) In-plant nitrogen fixation would be a heavily-funded branch of plant research, to eliminate the need for fertilizer.
          15) Homeopathic products would be barred from sale in pharmacies.
          16) Individuals who recommend vitamins and supplements would not be permitted to sell them (hello chiropractors, you unethical douchebags!)
          17) Public funding for genetic modification would increase dramatically, with fixed and realistic safety protocols and intellectual property rights that allow free and easy sharing and distribution of resulting products.
          18) Capital gains taxes would be raised.
          19) The Glass-Steagall act would be re-enacted, and strengthened.
          20) Professional lobbying would be made illegal.
          21) Political donations would be capped at a reasonable per-person limit (say, $1,000)
          22) Voter districting would occur in a sensible manner that does not allow gaming.
          23) A carbon tax system would be enacted to more realistically price the externalities of fossil fuels.
          24) No tax-exempt status for the Creation museum in Kentucky.
          25) Legalization of marijuana and equitable criminal penalties for crack and cocaine.

          There’s 25. Some would have the result of destroying your ability to practice by taking away your ability to lie to your customers, but that’s not the ultimate intent. It’s a fringe benefit.

          1. Windriven says:

            William-

            On point 7, IR is actually a licensed MD. Texas, as I recall.

          2. Windriven says:

            And on point 24, the Discovery Institute in Seattle is a much more dangerous collection of bible thumping morons that the green-toothed hooligans in Kentucky who demonstrate little more than the tragedy of cousins marrying.

          3. brewandferment says:

            re #21: you set a fixed amount, then it doesn’t get updated or else politicians start loading on exemptions. Make it simple: donate however much you want, but absolutely full disclosure.

            No hiding behind PACs or bundlers or whatever: your clear identification available on a public website for all to see. No anonymous donations for anything by anyone. Probably need some mechanism to manage harassment or other efforts at intimidation–so if I donate to a cause my neighbors disapprove of, they can’t run me off on a rail (but they don’t have to be friendly anymore).

            If an organization wants to donate it has to post the names of all the legal principal persons–you know whoever would be listed on SEC filings, legal ownership documents, that sort of things and if they all didn’t agree to have their names revealed then the company can’t give its name and company funds can’t be used. If you don’t want to give away your privacy, fine–you don’t get to donate. You have full free speech but you also have to own your speech and if you aren’t willing to do so then you don’t get the benefits of being a donor either.

          4. Good start! My issue is more about what you as a single soul are aware of and their are others single souls in niche positions who would be able to add in a few more.

            That is the beauty of a balanced community who blends in all relevant idea discuss them and come to a conscious. My 10 yrs have been in R&D of CAMs, some are probably worthless and the ones I enjoy are so natural and true they would have to be included. Just because you can not see this doorway and venue does not mean it is invalid.

            #26) NO political, professional or person in power who has authority over others is not allowed to willful, with malice or gain, twist the truth. If twisting the truth does harm or injury a person is liable without any possibility of ignorance as a defense.

            #27) Legalize the sale and use of Acupuncture needles in pharmacies so people can begin home therapy for muscle and skeletal pain syndromes.:)

            1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

              Stephen, people can get needles now. And they can easily puncture a lung, or a blood vessel, or damage a nerve or muscle. Acupuncture is generally harmless (and worthless) but that doesn’t mean it’s always harmless. It’s not a loaded gun, but that doesn’t mean poking yourself with them unnecessarily is a good idea.

              Does your #26 include lying to patients about the efficacy for, and evidence for a treatment? Do you disclose to your patients that your use of acupuncture needles has essentially no good evidence behind it, that it doesn’t require penetrating the skin? Or are you merely a hypocrite?

              1. @ willlawutri
                Weak and deceptive directing the attention to me.
                Are you a real person or are you a paid avatar?

                5000 years!!! That carries no weight in your mind? Why would a culture with so much wisdom, logic and insight carry on a discipline that was fake? That is some powerful brainwashing! I wonder how they did that too!!!

                In the future, I will have to try very hard not to say “I told you so — STUPID!!” :)

              2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                Steve, you keep bringing up the allegation that I am paid to distract from the fact that you can never respond to my points. How about this – I’ll tell you who I am if you admit the only reason you ask is because you can’t find any factual or logical errors in my reasoning.

                What matters more than 5,000 years is the past 200, where we have learned so many orders of magnitude more than our predecessors. There’s no reason to expect the opinions of our 5,000 year old ancestors to be right – in fact, because they based their understanding on myths and stories instead of empirical results, there’s very good reason to think they are wrong. Pointing to the age of something rather than the evidence for it is merely more evidence that you can’t prove it works.

        2. Jamie Gegerson says:

          Destroying my ideas, concepts and experiences can not be included in the list.

          Your ideas contain their own self-destruct mechanisms, therefore there’s no need to destroy then in any lists, except for amusements sake.

          1. Hmmm, so you are as stuck as the rest of these folks. That is ok, your choice. You to are embarrassing yourself.

            Who are you?

            1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

              You to are embarrassing yourself.

              That’s hilarious :)

          2. https://www.linkedin.com/in/jamiejag

            I don’t see any references to medicine or biology or histology?
            So where do you get your biological science experience from?
            If you are a genius, then follow my authors and you will begin to see find the truth.

            1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

              Steve, if Jamie’s linkedin profile (assuming it’s the same person) indicated he were a post-doctoral fellow in biology, histology or medical research, how would that change your assessment of his post?

              Drs. Hall, Gorski, Weing and Crislip have all pointed out errors in reasoning and fact in your posts; they are all physicians, Dr. Gorski is even a practicing researcher as well, so they appear to have the qualifications you seem to think necessary in order to criticize your thoughts. Yet their criticisms didn’t change your posts, or repair the errors in logic and fact that existed.

              It’s almost as if nothing matters except you defending your own flawed reasoning and beliefs. Which would make you human, and nothing more. Most humans prefer to maintain an erroneous belief rather than admit an error. Which is too bad, you learn more when you admit mistakes.

            2. Jamie Gegerson says:

              Stevie, hate to break it to you buddy, but it doesn’t take an advanced degree to recognize the abject idiocy of the woo you constantly spew. Any time you have to end a comment with a statement saying that your ideas are off limits and not subject to debate proves your position is worthless.

              1. Let me try a different angle.

                If someone here spends a week reading and analyzing research articles on wound care and concludes that cream X with protocol Y is the bomb for leg ulcers and will surely revolutionize this field.

                Then blogger WoundCare who is a specialist who has treated ulcers and wounds for >5 yrs, notices that some of the products and protocols are not as successful as the studies or drug reps may claim. Then he makes a statement that the protocols of the 80-90s still work great if applied more aggressively. Then he admits that sometime uses honey on some of his cases.

                What would be a logical reply to WoundCare?
                Will the group accept WoundCare clinical observations?
                Will the group ask questions for clarity? Advise? Ideas? Define what he means by aggressive and what protocol?
                Or will the group will disregard and disparage WoundCare?

              2. Harriet Hall says:

                Logical reply:

                Dear WoundCare,
                We have no objection to your using honey, since there is good evidence to support it as a valid option. We have good evidence from scientific studies showing that X and Y are better than the old protocols. Do you have any evidence that the old protocols work better if applied more aggressively?
                Surely you’re not saying that the experience of one person, even if it’s you, trumps all the published evidence! You don’t really expect us to just take your word for it, do you? You owe it to yourself and your patients to set up a controlled study and find out if you are right. If you are, we and the rest of the world will follow the better evidence and benefit from it. If you are wrong, learning the truth would better serve your patients.

                In other words, we would tell WoundCare exactly what we have told you; only WoundCare might listen. We have no double standard, just the scientific one.

              3. @hall.
                As I suspected a narrow view of the scientific methods. Once a study is completed it is true forever?? Is that true?
                NO long-term followup and revisions?
                NO duplication in a study to reenforce if the conclusion are still valid?

                Practitioners be damned to think that you know better than what you see with your own eyes.

                You all say, “Follow the rules set by the scientist or we will ostracize you! You worhtless puny minded beings. Who told you to think. We will replace you with another human robot if you don’t!”

              4. weing says:

                @SRR,

                “Practitioners be damned to think that you know better than what you see with your own eyes.”

                Check this out.
                http://www.smart-kit.com/s868/optical-illusion-tables/

                I know, by measuring, that the lengths of these tables are identical. But my own eyes still lie to me. Which brings me to. Who you gonna trust? Me or your lying eyes?

              5. An optical illusion is 2 dimensional, people are 3 d and in the office we get to exam all aspect to better clarify what may be real and review our assessments.

                Do you treat patients in any way?
                Do you do any repairs around the house?
                do you cook?
                All those require the same concepts and abilities to accomplish. No possibility of illusions that will cause harm. No magic, or fiction and doable. The cooking is very scientific and if you get it wrong, everyone will know.

              6. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                As I suspected a narrow view of the scientific methods. Once a study is completed it is true forever?? Is that true?
                NO long-term followup and revisions?
                NO duplication in a study to reenforce if the conclusion are still valid?

                Um…replications (in the form of extensions) are quite common, as are simple replications, and comparative effectiveness studies. Nobody believes that a scientific truth is inviolate – but as more and more evidence confirms a finding, the hurdle the evidence to disconfirm it must become correspondingly more convincing.

                For instance, there are many, many studies showing that acupuncture is a sham, a placebo – that it doesn’t matter where you put the needle, if you pierce the skin, or if you even use needles at all. All that matters is that the customer thinks they are getting acupuncture, and the practitioner is warm and compassionate (which isn’t the same thing as being right). A whole lot of evidence supports this. Your counter to this is “it works when I use it”. The evidence you muster to contradict the mountain of studies is your own self-confirming personal experiences and beliefs, which have not been tested with scientific controls, which have not been peer reviewed, and which does not include the careful record-keeping that would indicate if large numbers of your patients abandon your care after a single, ineffective treatment.

                That is why your examples and counter-arguments do not convince, as has been said repeatedly. Personal experience is deceptive, which is why science isn’t easy.

                Practitioners be damned to think that you know better than what you see with your own eyes.

                Yes, exactly. You’ve said the right thing here, but as usual by accident, not through understanding.

                Do you treat patients in any way?
                Do you do any repairs around the house?
                do you cook?
                All those require the same concepts and abilities to accomplish. No possibility of illusions that will cause harm. No magic, or fiction and doable. The cooking is very scientific and if you get it wrong, everyone will know.

                The difference is, if you fix something, there is no interpretation by the object fixed to see if it worked. The pipe leaks, or it does not – and you don’t have to ask the pipe. Humans, on the other hand, have opinions, will lie, will be mistaken, and will have endorphin releases in response to simple comfort, illusory treatments, etc.

                As for cooking – telling someone this is a cheap meal or wine versus an expensive one can alter their perception of the meal or wine. Thus. Perhaps you might benefit from reading the whole book.

    2. Calli Arcale says:

      You might want to read the article before getting into a lather, Stephen. Then you’d realize it didn’t mention regulation anywhere at all, but instead appears to be addressing the *social* problem of how human beings (you and me included) are not very good at judging relative risks outside our areas of expertise.

      1. Yes, but to cover all issues related to woo, we should address all of the techniques of deceptive tactics.

        The reason we are in this situation is because, we as humans have tricked and corrupted the key regulators of medicine, business, government and the insurance industry to design our present sinking ship.

        People, me and you, need to be protected from our own ignorance and stupidity and most importantly the engineuity of those who which to take advantage of us. Remember if society is well balanced we progress, if it cheats and robs us for personal gain we decline.

        Remember this country was founded on sound principles that were written in chaotic times. Americans especially are very good at taking advantage of one another by finding ways around a law or regulation due to the craftiness of our upbringing. IMO, I think that a laws should be written such that it can be unlawful to break the “essence” of the law, not the written words. Less paper and more cautious and humane capitalist and businessmen.

        1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          Yes, but to cover all issues related to woo, we should address all of the techniques of deceptive tactics.

          What, you mean like failing to disclose the risks of a treatment, for instance acupuncture’s potential to puncture a lung? Or failing to disclose the research limitations, weaknesses and negative results, like how acupuncture is just as effective if it doesn’t penetrate the skin, doesn’t involve needles, doesn’t matter where you needle, and mostly just matters if your acupuncturist is nice to you? Like not telling chiropractic customers that they face a small but real risk of cervical artery dissection? Like citing the harms of actual medicine as if it justified CAM? Like castigating Big Pharma without disclosing the lack of evidence for the alleged alternative?

          Deceptive tactics like that?

          The reason we are in this situation is because, we as humans have tricked and corrupted the key regulators of medicine, business, government and the insurance industry to design our present sinking ship.

          I agree. You are talking about DSHEA’s pernicious impact, right?

          People, me and you, need to be protected from our own ignorance and stupidity and most importantly the engineuity of those who which to take advantage of us.

          Yeah…that’s what the FDA and the drug approval process is all about. It would do a better job if it were fully-funded and had more enforcement powers.

          IMO, I think that a laws should be written such that it can be unlawful to break the “essence” of the law, not the written words. Less paper and more cautious and humane capitalist and businessmen.

          That’s great, how exactly do you suggest we do this?

          Say, while you’re at it, why not come up with some helpful suggestions like “we should only research effective drugs” and “wow, we, like, totally should stop having wars”.

          Way, way, way, way, way, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy smarter people than me, and in particular you, have tackled these problems and found them intractable.

          Good luck with your “brilliant” suggestions. Oh, and while we’re exchanging ideas, instead of picking the wrong lottery number, we should just pick the right one.

          1. Hey, if you still refuse personally study and investigate acupuncture, needles etc you and the people who believe you know it all are losing out on the best medicine in medicine.

            I promise I will not say “I told you so-STUPID.”

            This risk of injury are everywhere, don’t walk past a running lawnmower, walk carefully in a grocery store the floor may be wet, no cellphone while pumping gas, that penicillin that you have been taking all your life and suddenly kill you with little notice, ACE inhibitors have a nasty habit of causing severe angioedema of the upper airway(no informed consent needed).

            #30) Figure out away to reign in all these personal injury lawsuits.

            1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

              There are 3,000 studies that exist that demonstrate to me that I don’t need to study acupuncture. I’ve even tried acupuncture, because what the hell? Worthless.

              It’s “rein in” by the way. As in “reins on a horse”. Idiot.

              1. You have not read or studied an of the articles or text. Why are you guys here just to throw spitballs????

                Acupuncture is not what people and a lot of practitioner think it is.

                It is much more versatile and powerful, if use as a “tool” to treat myofascial pain and dysfunction.

                See Gunn, Travell
                Do not see the deceptive folks who refute trigger points.

              2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                How do you account for the large number of studies that find acupuncture to be a waste of time and money? That it is no more effective than toothpicks twirled against the skin?

                How many primary studies do Gunn and Travell cite in their books? Any? Or is it all based on their expert opinion i.e. their experience?

                If they’re onto something, if they’ve found something real – then they can demonstrate this in controlled trials. If they haven’t, if it’s illusory self-confirmation, they and you are wasting time and money.

                They might be onto something, which is why it is irritating that they’ve not done the proper work to demonstrate it in controlled tests.

  7. Windriven says:

    “Blame and focus your efforts on society as a whole, notify the AMA, DEA, FDA etc and your congress person.”

    Steve, what the fLick does that have to do with amber necklaces for teething infants?

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      I wonder about Poe sometimes.

      1. mouse says:

        “Trash of all trash!- how can a lady don it?
        Yet heavier far than your Petrarchan stuff-
        Owl-downy nonsense that the faintest puff
        Twirls into trunk-paper the while you con it.”

    2. Open your brain up to the entire medical-product legal systems and regulators.

      Example, I can not go directly to Medicare about billing deficiencies, I have to go the Congress.

      1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

        What, like when you charge Medicare for giving your patients financial advice?

        1. I do give patients advice within my ream of experience and then I default to a specialist. I’m not dumb enough to argue with someone how actually uses the methods you disavow. :)

          1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

            Why don’t you default to the specialists who research acupuncture as their full-time jobs? Many of them have acknowledged that acupuncture is little more than a placebo, so why not believe them? They’re specialists!

            1. I do not think people actually have full time jobs attempting to refute acupuncture.

              Hmmm I will actually look for such people and wonder who is financing them along with if their work has been duplicated.

            2. You know … what is your definition of a specialist?

              Is anyone on this blog a hands on, patient care or laboratory specialist?

              1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                My definition is someone who spends months and years studying acupuncture, trying to figure out if it works, how it works, what matters and what doesn’t. And their work has found that it doesn’t matter where you put the needle, it doesn’t matter if you penetrate the skin, it doesn’t matter if you manipulate the needle – but it does matter if the subject thinks they are getting acupuncture, and it does matter if the person giving the acupuncture is nice.

                The kind of people who don’t just assume it works – they test it in a variety of ways to see if it works at all.

                Hmmm I will actually look for such people and wonder who is financing them along with if their work has been duplicated.

                Who finances your work? Your patients, yes? Do you make a point of informing them of the extensive body of literature that finds that acupuncture is little more than an elaborate placebo?

                Why do you always default to “someone must be bribing people” as an explanation? Why not accept that there is a lot of evidence indicating that acupuncture isn’t particularly effective over the long term?

                Why not admit as well that you are biased by your own financial interests and by your desire to maintain your self-concept as an effective medical practitioner? One must note that money is not the only motivator, pride is another, and the unwillingness to admit one is wrong is a third. You’ve got all three.

  8. Frederick says:

    Protection against radiation… Yeah right, if so why nuclear technician don’t use that?
    That one of the most ridiculous claim ever. And not because it block them, like lead, no no, because of ionization… what do it have to do with radiation… At least these a not risky medical act or “natural” ( but still synthesize in a factory ) product. it is just a ugly necklace, that do nothing. Still it is stealing money from people.

    1. Alia says:

      Well, these necklaces are not very pretty, that’s true. But you can get some really beautiful things from Baltic amber, especially when combined with silver. I have some really lovely jewellery made from amber – and that’s probably the best use of it.

      Also, as for amber liquids – over here you can buy (or make yourself) amber liquor, which is basically amber diluted in 96% alcohol. And it’s touted as natural cure for everything, taken either orally or used topically. Although I do think Scotch or bourbon tastes much better.

      1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

        Ugh, pine sap tastes like crap when fresh, why would it improve after millions of years and fossilization?

        1. Windriven says:

          “Ugh, pine sap tastes like crap when fresh, why would it improve after millions of years and fossilization”

          Not a fan of retsina?

  9. Iorek says:

    Is this what those beads are for? It adds up actually, crunchy parenting might explain why so many of the little ones wearing them are toddling around barefoot in public, and I don’t mean on the beach. Let’s hope their tetanus jabs are up to date.

    They wear them quite tight which in the hot humid weather we’ve been having down under could be uncomfortable and may cause a skin irritation. Perhaps they sell the ‘treatments’ for that on the same websites/shelf in the health food shop?

    1. Desiree says:

      Sadly they probably have not received their tetanus shots at all.

  10. Laurenak says:

    Working as a paediatric speech pathologist I have been noticing these amber necklaces for some time and had been vaguely told by parents they ‘help with teething’. I also thought it was for the children to chew on which looked risky to me considering they were on a thin piece of elastic and could be a massive choking hazard. I had no idea they were meant to have all these magical effects simply by sitting against the children’s skin.

    Funnily enough though these same Baltic amber necklaces came up in conversation just a few days ago on a fibromyalgia support Facebook page I’m a member of with one of the members swearing it made amazing difference to her pain. I was very skeptical but had never heard of them before so this article was very well timed. Thank you for this great article as it will help me advise my parents at work if they ask me about these necklaces and may save some of my fellow fibro sufferers from wasting money on yet another piece of woo that sadly seems to permeate the fibro support groups.

  11. Max says:

    ‘Let’s again assume that succinic acid gets released from the Baltic amber necklace, and that it does actually cross into the baby’s blood stream in a concentration sufficient to effect a real physiologic change in her body. Why, I wonder, are the parents who put these things on their children okay with that?”

    This has pretty much been my problem with it as well. Assuming the succinic acid actually does enter the bloodstream, if it’s potent enough to diminish nociception, couldn’t there be potential for overdose or at the very least a tolerance buildup? No way to tell how much is released when leaving it on for days, weeks, or even months at a time! How is that ok???

    Probably not the case though. More likely that’s it’s as therapeutic as a plastic bracelet. Just put it on the ankle. At least if it’s there doing nothing, it’s at least not a choking hazard and the parents can believe they have some element of control over a frustrating phase.

  12. Rebekka says:

    Interesting side note, it’s not true that for “most of history” people thought the earth was flat. It may have been true for most of pre-history (although we have no way of knowing) but the Greeks had definitely worked out the earth was round by at least the 5th century BCE and possibly earlier, and the knowledge was preserved throughout the Middle Ages and in all major astronomical traditions. As a medieval historian it’s one of the many misconceptions about the period that drives me a little bit nuts.

    1. John Snyder says:

      Thanks and apologies, Rebekka. Very good point.

    2. Calli Arcale says:

      It’s normally one of my pet peeves too — amazing I missed it. ;-) We can go back to Eristophanes for the first measurement of the Earth’s diameter. And he was pretty darned close to the right number, too, which is astonishing considering the surveying equipment available to him at the time. He worked out that you can use sun angle observed at precise moments at different latitudes to calculate the curve of the Earth, from which you can deduce the diameter. And then he went and actually did it.

  13. Chris Hickie says:

    I’ve been seeing these on babies (usually on the ankle, but occasionally on the wrist) a lot more in the last few months, and (retrospectively) they seem to be put on infants by non-vaccinating parents. Well, now I have a small observation study for the new month or so . Thanks for the article, John.

    ps: Here’s something else incredibly bad to put on your baby (as you will immediately see from the picture): http://www.amazon.com/Inflatable-Learner-Float-Swimming-Collar/dp/B005XY8U8C/ref=pd_sim_t_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=0E4EY8TSDQCGKJDPQ78J

    1. Windriven says:

      Holy crap!!! I cannot believe anyone but an infanticidal maniac would think that a good idea.

    2. Chris says:

      I did the baby/toddle swim classes when my kids were young. Things like that were presented as to what NOT to put on kids. This was because the class was not so much to get babies to swim, but to learn how to handle kids safely around water and to get the kids used to water before they could take the real swim classes at around three or four years old. There is one thing a swim instructor hates is having a screaming frightened child in their class who has never been at a pool nor in the water, because their parent who thinks it is time for their child to swim and just signs the kid up, but has never spent any time with that child playing in water.

      There are life jackets designed for infants, along with those going up through the ages. The class had us learn how to put those on. Plus they will often not allow those kinds of unapproved swim aids in the pool, but will provide a real life jacket.

    3. Chris says:

      Hmmm, I wonder with summer coming if might not be a good idea for the resident pediatrician to write an article on water safety. Things like water acclimation, water intoxication, life jackets and what not.

      I only know some of the things because my younger son has been a life guard since high school, a job that has paid for his living expenses while in college. I can tell you from experience that one cannot watch an HGTV program on funky swimming pools with a lifeguard. He screamed at the TV on the dangerous situations brought on by the pool designs (like a swim-through cave).

      1. Windriven says:

        Excellent suggestion!

    4. John Snyder says:

      Holy crap, that’s insane!

  14. Kristen says:

    Great article (and comments)! The only thing that would make it better would be a picture to get the attention of my followers when I share it on Facebook.

  15. Thomas says:

    Thanks for writing this timely, comprehensive article.

  16. Thomas says:

    My previous comment has been lost or is still in moderation. In the meantime I posted this article and also the Clay Jones’ SBM post (Nov. 8, 2013; referenced above) to Face Book, with my thanks.

  17. HIPPIEHUNTER says:

    If succinic acid is released from amber at human body temperature and said amber is millions of years old how is there any acid left?
    How many days in the past few million years were close to or above 37c ?

  18. Sean Duggan says:

    Ran into one of these yesterday around the neck of my wife’s friend’s niece, but I chickened out. My wife and I feud a fair bit as it is about CAM (she’s not a huge believer in it besides chiropractry, but she has strong feelings about not questioning the beliefs of others), so I dropped it.

  19. 1..Who is the American Association for Cancer Research?
    2. I would like to become a supporting member of the ness but I do not do financials on line. Do you have a telephone number or mailing address I could send my membership fee to? Thank you, Sadie Kendall

  20. Desiree says:

    Thank you so much for posting this! I was actually thinking of contacting this organization to request a blog like this be posted. I am also a cloth diapering, baby wearing mother and like the others that commented before me I am bombarded with scary pseudoscience on a daily basis regarding; general health, treatment for physically or mentally ill children, breastfeeding, and vaccines. I can’t understand why mothers would want to use an object that presents a choking and strangulation hazard, not to mention supposedly releases an unstudied chemical at an unknown dose into their child’s body over Tylenol! At least with Tylenol we know the risks. I have no idea how to approach the crazy I’m exposed to on a daily basis. I wish there was a way to increase basic scientific education of the public. A little bit of knowledge truly IS dangerous. I’d be happy if the average person I encounter spewing misinformation at least knew how to evaluation information critically and the difference between a correlation and causation. I can’t thank you enough for you efforts at combatting dangerous misinformation and your efforts at public science education.

  21. Jessyanne says:

    I am so happy that I found this blog! I am about to have a baby and as a cloth diapering, breast feeding, baby wearing, “organic” eating individual, people throw things like this at me all the time! It drives me crazy!

    I have found myself resisting physical damage to some of these people in birth clubs or mom groups.

    I am also pro-vac….they hate that about me, its become humorous.

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Why do you bother with organic food?

    2. SciPeds says:

      Not humorous. It’s truly terrifying that their response is hatred. Sounds like religious extremism to me…..

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