Energy bracelets, also known as ‘power balance bracelets’ are bracelets sold via the claim that they can increase athletic performance as well as curing many problems and disorders such as insomnia and addiction simply by being worn on the wrist. Of course this is a highly popular concept – we all want to be better athletes and we all want to get better sleep and feel healthier throughout the day but often we don’t have the time nor inclination to go through the necessary training and lifestyle changes to achieve those things. At other times we will turn to these promises in times of need when other attempts to improve our well being have failed.
However you’d be forgiven for thinking that the term ‘energy bracelet’ or ‘power balance’ was a little dubious and potentially off-putting. It certainly doesn’t sound like it’s founded in science and it’s uncertain how these items claim to affect the body. Here then we will look at how they claim to work and whether in fact they achieve what they set out to.
Energy bracelets are hugely successful and this is partly due to testimonials from athletes. For instance Shaquille O’Neal is quotes as saying ‘I came across Power Balance when someone did the test on me. That night, while playing for the Phoenix Suns, there were about three of my teammates with the product on and we won that game by 57 points! I kept feeling something when I wore the bracelet, so I kept wearing it. When I took it off I went back to normal. I’ve been wearing the bracelet ever since.’
However these testimonials are of course paid testimonials – shame on you Shaquille O’Neal…
How Energy Bracelets ‘Work’
Energy bracelets are claimed by manufacturers to use ‘holographic technology’ in order to affect the user’s ‘natural energy’. This is a classic example of marketing appealing to what sounds like science but which in fact has no real bearing on actual science.
The description is very vague and a little more digging will tell you that these holograms are believed to ‘resonate’ with the ‘natural energy field’ of the athlete. If you attempt to back this with any kind of theory then you can find claims that cells ‘resonate’ at a certain frequency and that this frequency has an optimal level and that the frequency can be ‘altered’ via exposure to other frequencies. If you tap a fork it will oscillate at a certain frequency due to the vibration, and if you then hold this near other forks or a guitar string that will oscillate at the same frequency – the idea is that your cells can do the same as a result of these power balance bracelets.
The problem is that for someone who isn’t read in biology, this can sound like a valid explanation, but it doesn’t take much to work out that it’s baloney. First and foremost a hologram can not cause a frequency – holograms don’t vibrate they simply refract light in an interesting way. Likewise our cells don’t vibrate either and even if they did they are connected and deep inside our tissue and this means that a nearby vibration wouldn’t be easily transferred to them. And then again… would you even want your cells to vibrate?? There’s no way this would be beneficial to your health – sitting on a bumpy bus doesn’t suddenly make you David Beckham.
Do They Work?
So the theory is way off and there’s literally no foundation for the claims made by the marketers. That doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t work, just that we don’t have a valid explanation for how it works…
On the other hand however the weight of evidence does necessarily mean it doesn’t work and there are plenty of studies that completely discredit Power Balance bracelets as you would expect. Studies carried out by RMIT’s School of Health Sciences, Olympic champion gymnast Dominique Dawes on behalf of Independent Investigations Group and even the television programme Today Tonight have all demonstrate no significant effect of the bracelets.
And the real icing on the cake is that the Power Balance company has even been forced to admit themselves that this is the case and were made by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to make the following statement:
‘In our advertizing we stated that Power Balance wristbands improved your strength, balance and flexibility. We admit that there is no credible scientific evidence that supports our claims and therefore we engaged in misleading conduct in breach of s52 of the Trade Practices Act 1974.’
Graeme Samuel, chairmen of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission was even more damning and stated:
‘It’s crock frankly. And we’re very disappointed that so many people have paid hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars to buy these power bands’.
They were also forced to stop mentioning the body’s ‘natural energy field’ and in 2010 Italy’s Antitrust Authority fined the company 300,000 euro.
In short then… no, energy bracelets do not work.
The Placebo Effect
If you wanted to grant power balance bracelets with any credit, it would be their effectiveness as a placebo. Placebos are anything that have a positive effect simply through the individual’s belief that they will. In other words, you might perform better in sports when wearing energy bracelets simply because you believe that you will.
The placebo effect has been demonstrated in many studies to be quite powerful and can even be instrumental in healing illnesses. However that said, as these energy bracelets are so expensive, you would be far better off taking a sugar tablet.
There is an important lesson to be learned here from power bracelets and that is not to look for ‘silver bullets’. Silver bullets are basically quick-fixes that sound too good to be true. The reason not to trust these? Well if they sound too good to be true, then they in most cases aren’t true. If you want to become better at athletics then train to be a better athlete and practice running and increase your diet. If you are suffering from an addiction then use resolve and possible therapy to help yourself get off of the substance.
At the same time the lesson is to think about the science behind your products. Remember – all ‘science’ means is the careful testing of products and theories to make sure they work. Science has no agenda and no stake in anything. At the same time you should think yourself about whether or not something is likely to work and do the research necessary to find out a) how the product claims to work and b) whether that makes logical sense. If you don’t do the research and think critically of these products then you can stand to waste a lot of money, and worse you might end up ingesting or using something dangerous, or foregoing medication that could have saved your life.