Water, being indispensable to life as we know it, has long been studied by man in order to get a handle on its chemical and physical properties, some of which are still not fully understood. For example, you may be amazed to read that under suitably controlled conditions it is possible to heat water at atmospheric pressure to beyond 200 °C (yes, that’s a leading “2”) at which point it explosively turns to steam. Do not try this at home.
Given water’s central rôle in our day-to-day existence, it is hardly surprising that, amidst genuine efforts to understand this common liquid, much flummery emerges as a by-product. The common forms of such swindles involve water retaining special forms of energy for release on demand, “adjusting” the shapes or structures of water molecules or “clusters” thereof, or infusing water with other special properties (e.g. mood memories à la Masaru Emoto) that are claimed to yield some measurable and usually beneficial effect. Homeopathy springs readily to mind here.
The main reason for raising the subject here is that a product called “CellFood” seems to be grabbing the attention of many of South Africa’s less critically minded people. Among CellFood’s many glowing claims is that it provides an abundance of oxygen at the cellular level through a “proprietary water-splitting technology.” This, no doubt, will be a shocking revelation to physicists and chemists who labour under the clearly mistaken impression that water dissociation takes a great deal of energy. Biologists will be equally stunned to learn that the hydrogen from the dissociated water is completely inert at the cellular level, perhaps simply disappearing without a trace.
Now it is possible that CellFood does indeed provide a nett health benefit since it is claimed to contain 129 nutrients (minerals, enzymes and amino acids). However, the types and dosages of these nutrients are not given, and CellFood’s effect on health is to be gauged by clinical trials, which are not in evidence. Further suspicion is warranted by its reliance on the water-oxygen-cell claims, and the furtherance of the outdated idea that muscle fatigue (stiffness) is the result of lactic acid build-up, instead of microtears of the muscle fibres.
The CellFood product has supposedly been studied at the University of Pretoria and resulted in a much-advertised slimming product called “O2-Lean.” The details of the Tuks study are unknown to me, but it is a fairly safe bet that the improvements noted in users of CellFood were at best marginal, and, as is their custom, the marketing types likely took the carefully phrased, tentative study results and turned them into ironclad facts for public, er…, consumption.
My efforts to collect some sense about such water woo has turned up this very useful resource that deals with a variety of chemistry follies, and has a whole section on water. Also, here (PDF – requires Acrobat Reader) is a report entitled “Gallery of Water-related Pseudoscience,” which lists a great many of these scams together with brief remarks giving the salient claims.