Watch out Wonder Woman, "ionized" or energy bracelets have gained recent attention, claiming everything from the ability to "energize the whole body" to "relieve the body of pain". Ions are electrically charged molecules, and are thought to optimize the body's natural positive energy or chi. The majority of these bracelets contain a high percentage of copper, which is a metal that holds a positive electrical charge, while being a good conductor of electricity.
In typical fallacy fashion, these bracelets usually have flashy infomercials, famous celebrity endorsement, use big, fancy words, and can run you hundreds of dollars. The infomercials show the miraculous aligning of positive energy to improve one's strength, right before our eyes. An easy tug on the bare arm of an unsuspecting volunteer pulls off-balance like a wet noodle. However, after the bracelet is placed on the wrist, the same, easy tug is able to barely budge the now more balanced, strong Wonder Woman of a volunteer.
Some have even compared the effects of these bracelets to ions that happen naturally in nature. Ions exist in the air, and are thought to have an impact on serotonin, which contributes to our feelings of well-being and happiness. In other words, more serotonin, more happy feelings. Even WebMD has put out an article that many bracelet companies use to confirm negative ions bring about euphoria, similar to that experienced at the beach, in the mountains, or beneath a waterfall.
What Does the Research Say?
It is true that research supports the ability of nature to help combat negative moods and depression. For example, a simple walk in nature has shown positive benefits to mood and cognition in individuals with depression.1 I also believe in this power of nature. However, can one of these televised bracelets made of copper and other metals capture, and then transfer the ionic power of nature? Based on the research evidence, these claims do not look promising.
Mood and Positive Emotions
A recent review and meta-analysis6 looking at concluded that "no consistent influence of positive or negative air ionization on anxiety, mood, relaxation, sleep, and personal comfort measures was observed." The results were mixed, and no solid conclusion could be made.
Pain Relief and Arthritis
Claims of providing pain relief has been debunked. Actually, these bracelets have not gone without ridicule, and has had an injunction filed by the Federal Trade Commission. One of the most popular was the Q-Ray bracelet, whose claims of pain relief were found to be false and unsubstantiated. You can read more on that complaint from the FTC here.
With a large sample of 305 participants, a group of researchers from the Mayo Clinic compared changes in musculoskeletal pain between the Q-Ray ionized wrist bracelet and a placebo bracelet.2 After 28 days, self-reported pain decreased in both groups, but no difference was found between the ionized and the placebo bracelet groups. The researchers make a great point, "New treatments in alternative medical therapy must be shown to be effective through vigorous, unbiased, objective testing before physicians acknowledge potential benefits or recommend these treatments to patients."
Similarly, other studies have since followed this 2002, and found similar results, that ionic and magnetic bracelets do not work better than a placebo bracelet on pain relief for osteoarthritis are rheumatoid arthritis.5,7,8
Strength, Power, and Balance
We may believe the supernatural abilities of these bracelets, especially if all we had to go on was this cool vintage ad for Joe Weider's Strong Arm Bracelets, modeled here by a young, statuesque Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The ad says, "Are you man enough to wear them? Slip on these electrifying New 'Hell-Bent for LEATHER N' LEAD' Strong Arm Bracelets – and instantly, in a second, you arms start oozing 100% more power! You body takes on the appearance of ferocious strength – striking fear and terror into anyone who even thinks of attacking you! Your manhood and virility 'comes alive' and across swiftly to women – they instantly sense your sexual power and want to be in your arms!"
Whew, I thought the bulging, oily muscles had something to do with it!
Unfortunately, despite bold claims, research does not support the ability of the ionic bracelet to improve muscular strength, power, endurance, posture control/balance, perceptuomotor performance, or cognitive function.3
Similarly, hologram bracelets have also been promoted to optimize the energy flow through the body, thereby improving performance. In a hologram versus placebo bracelet study, the holographic bracelet was found to have no influence on balance or muscle performance amongst a sample of soccer athletes.4
But, the Informercials Said...
So, what about all those infomercials showing improvements in balance and strength with the addition of the energy bracelet? Well, first off, the first arm pull is usually unexpected, while the second pull (with the bracelet on) is expected. We brace ourselves. But, even more cleverly, the way the salesperson pulls on the arm makes a difference. Check this video out for more evidence.
The Placebo Effect
To me, the most interesting thing about this research is the positive effect of the placebo bracelet! So, if some believe it works, it may work for them, which is a common phenomenon called the "placebo effect". I know people that wear these bracelets, and will go to their grave claiming their positive effects. If the bracelets give them relief and hope, despite most likely due to a placebo effect, then why not let them enjoy it?
In conclusion, despite bold claims and convincing salesmanship, the present research does not support the claims of these ionized energy bracelets. Rather, any positive effects experienced are most likeky due to a placebo effect in those believing it works.
If you are craving more energy, and are not susceptible to the placebo effect, then stick to what the research has shown to be effective: Eat healthy diets, be physically active, find stress relief outlets, get enough sleep, enjoy nature, pray, and spend quality time with your loved ones.
1. Berman, M. G., Kross, E., Krpan, K. M., Askren, M. K., Burson, A., Deldin, P. J., et al. (2012). Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, 140(3), 300-305.
2. Bratton, R. L., Montero, D. P., Adams, K. S., Novas, M. A., McKay, T. C., Hall, L. J., et al. (2002). Effect of "ionized" wrist bracelets on musculoskeletal pain: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. In Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 77(11), 1164-1168.
3. Bringman, E., Kimura, C., & Schot, P. (2011). Effects of an Ionic Bracelet on Physical, Cognitive, and Integrative Tasks. Pacific Northwest Journal of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities, 2(1, Article 4).
4. de Paula Lima, P. O., Rebouças, N. S., Chaves, S. F., e Silva, R. L., Medeiros, M. N., & de Oliveira, R. R. (2013). Effects of holographic bracelet on balance and muscle performance in soccer players: A quintuple-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover randomized clinical trial. Isokinetics and Exercise Science, 21(4), 273-278.
5. Nimal, K. S., & Schwartz, K. (2003). Are ionized wrist bracelets better than placebo for musculoskeletal pain?. Journal of Family Practice, 52(3), 194-194.
6. Perez, V., Alexander, D. D., & Bailey, W. H. (2013). Air ions and mood outcomes: a review and meta-analysis. BMC Psychiatry, 13(1), 29.
7. Richmond, S. J., Brown, S. R., Campion, P. D., Porter, A. J., Moffett, J. A. K., Jackson, D. A., ... & Taylor, A. J. (2009). Therapeutic effects of magnetic and copper bracelets in osteoarthritis: a randomised placebo-controlled crossover trial. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 17(5), 249-256.
8. Richmond, S. J., Gunadasa, S., Bland, M., & MacPherson, H. (2013). Copper Bracelets and Magnetic Wrist Straps for Rheumatoid Arthritis–Analgesic and Anti-Inflammatory Effects: A Randomised Double-Blind Placebo Controlled Crossover Trial. PloS one, 8(9), e71529.