Charmless Bracelet 

I'm in a marathon-training group and one of the guys I run with (who is also my dentist) wears a weird-looking bracelet on his wrist. It's not copper or magnetic like the ones people wear for arthritis. It's metallic gray with two little balls on the ends. He says it's ionized, but can't remember the name. His high school coach recommended it years ago and he's worn one ever since. He's convinced it helps him run better and recover faster. Sounds like hocus-pocus to me. What do you think?

—Eric

If he's had that bracelet since high school, it's probably a Q-Ray—a company that takes great offense at its product being compared to magnetic bracelets. The enmity extends the opposite direction as well; magnetic bracelet manufacturers consider it an affront to be lumped in with the ionization heathens. Imagine the dreadful actors Hayden Christensen and Rob Schneider getting insulted by being equated to one another and you'll get the idea. At least at the movies, you can sometimes get a refund. Try that with Q-Ray and you'll be waiting longer than it'll take for Deuce Bigelow to win Best Picture.

The C-shaped Q-Ray bracelet is capped on the ends by small metal spheres. These little balls are supposed to be worn either facing up on the right wrist or down on the left wrist. The owner is cautioned that these ends should never, ever, touch each other. You see (whispering now) the Q-Ray is ionized in a mysterious and secret way to give it special healing powers. The process is so extremely classified that even scientists and metallurgists must scratch their heads, knowing that the physical laws of the universe say it is impossible to ionize a solid metal.

The Illinois company that merchandises the bracelet focuses their attention on the lucrative market niche inhabited by golfers and runners. Years ago, in the initial promotion blitz, hundreds of Q-Rays were given to high visibility sports teams to spark interest in the bracelets. At that time, claims for the Q-Ray were broad and vast. An example: the secret ionization technique removes excess positive ions from the body where they are responsible for musculoskeletal pains, headaches and tendonitis. What's not to love about that?

In a 2002 study inspired by the relentless questions of his golfing buddies, a Mayo clinic researcher designed a double blind, placebo controlled experiment. More than 600 participants with musculoskeletal complaints received seemingly identical bracelets supplied by Q-Ray—half were supposedly ionized, half were not. After 28 days, the results showed that although both groups had significant pain relief, there was no difference between the real and fake bracelets. An initial questionnaire had, however, revealed that two-thirds believed a bracelet might help their pain. Inadvertently, the study had provided further evidence of the placebo effect, and for that won an award for notable research. A very different kind of recognition was at hand for Q-Ray.

Shortly after the study, the Federal Trade Commission had enough complaints regarding deceptive advertising, infomercial inaccuracy and disregard of refund requests to charge the company with making false and unsubstantiated claims. Ultimately, a temporary restraining order was issued that included the freezing of all assets. Other companies selling similar bracelets also found unsmiling Men In Black at their doors.

Q-Ray has now returned to business with a somewhat cleaned-up act. Their $60 to $250 bracelets are being marketed as "part of a healthy lifestyle," rather than as a cure for all illness. Squishy promises to "balance your bioenergy" are about as far as they go these days. Evidently, the new strategy is to imply medical benefit without actually saying it; warnings appear throughout the marketing material that caution against wearing the bracelet if you have a pacemaker or if you are pregnant. The only danger I can imagine would be from raising a braceletted arm above your head on the 15th fairway during a lightning storm.

Now from the regulatory safety of the Mediterranean island of Mallorca, the Q-Ray originator now markets the Bio-Clip, an IUD-shaped object you wear inside your underwear. This one promises to improve male impotence and female menstrual discomfort. Good luck with that.

Back to the bracelet—there's nothing wrong with a little costume jewelry during your marathon; just ask the guys who run in drag. As for your dentist, if he believes he runs faster wearing his Q-Ray, that belief just might help him along. But if he's also got a Bio-Clip in his pants, I'd recommend he stay far away from the 15th fairway.

Dr. Ed Rabin is a chiropractor practicing at Life Chiropractic Center in Boise. Send mood rings and health-related questions to theantidote@edrabin.com (on the Web at www.edrabin.com).

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