My recent jaunt through one of America's great natural treasures was desecrated by snake oil.  

A day trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park included a stop at a restaurant in Cherokee, N.C., the unfortunately touristy town in the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians reservation.  Here, the hulking Harrah's Casino rises up in an incongruous heap among the majestic mountains of the park.  Had we not been hungry, we would have sped right through and back to nature.  But stop we did, and while waiting to place my order I spotted a "Free Edition" of "Healthy Living News."  Couldn't resist.

The "news" was exclusively concerning "Alkaline Antioxidant Water," the one true cure for all diseases of man and beast.  Here's a testimonial from Sam, who, in just four months of drinking this stuff daily, lost over 30 pounds, six inches off his waist and came off of 6 prescription drugs.  Gout and acid reflux disappeared too.  Bill was told he had Stage 4 throat cancer. After "massive doses of chemotherapy and radiation," his doctors were pleased with the results, his tumor not having "grown anymore," but they told him there was "nothing left that they could do" so they "sent me home to die."  That same month, Bill starting drinking Alkaline Antioxidant Water.  HIs mouth sores were gone within 48 hours.  Seven months later, the doctors were "in awe of my progress." No more cancer. (One wonders why he was scheduled for this checkup if they doctors "sent him home to die.")   Donna defeated Type 2 diabetes.  While on diabetes medication, she started drinking AAW and her blood glucose level became normal and she was able to get off medication.  Chris gave Alkaline Antioxidant Water to her 8-year-old "German Shepherd dog" (so described, I assume, in case we might think Chris has a human shepherd from Germany). The dog started acting like a puppy again. But that's nothing.  Brenda overcame diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, acid reflux and constipation without the need for medications.  There are more stories, but we'll leave it there.

In case these compelling testimonials might not be convincing enough, actual MDs, a DVM and a PhD weigh in on the benefits of Alkaline Antioxidant Water. Here's Marianne W. Rosen, MD, a board certified dermatologist, who thinks AAW "assists the body in achieving optimal health."  And who wouldn't want "optimal health," whatever that is.  Tim McKnight, MD, a family doctor, is a big fan.  In fact, he wrote a whole book about the stuff. According to Dr. McKnight,

Alkaline Antioxidant Water complies with natural law and beautifully demonstrates the principles of harmony, order, and interdependence.

Which is about as meaningless a word salad one could cram into a single sentence of modest length.  Dr. McKnight further informs us that 

Research can be found to support the benefits and healing that can occur when the water is used topically and internally.  Studies also report a possible role in the treatment of infections, diabetes, kidney disease, skin cancer, asthma, neurological disorders, and more.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, Dr. McKnight does not tell us where this research can be found.

The alleged benefits of AAW are that it reduces the acidity of the body caused by exposure to "toxins" from such sources as stress, sugar-laden drinks and acidic waters, by making the body more alkaline. Proponents also claim that a water deionizer removes impurities from tap water and gives your water "powerful antioxidant properties." 

Healthy Living News doesn't tell us about a specific product.  Readers are simply told to call Todd and Lisa for more information. (According to their area code, Todd and Lisa are in Colorado.)  I didn't call, but I did find out that "Healthy Living Media" sells these "news" handouts to distributors of certain products, although these products are simply referred to by what appears to be a model number.  Further googling led me to a Japanese company called Enagic.

Enagic has pioneered the way of continuous Kangen Water® generating systems. Since 1974, Enagic has specialized in providing in-home, alkaline water ionization technologies. 

These "in-home, alkaline water ionization technologies" are machines, costing from about $1,500 to $6,000, that you hook up to your home water supply to produce your very own ionized water.  They are sold by individual distributors, who can also supply you with some pricey accessories and dietary supplements.  The distributors buy their products from Enagic, along with materials to help them market their products.  The distributor page is password protected, but from what little you can see, it appears to be a multi-level marketing operation.  

What is this ionized water?  Pure snake-oil. (But I'll bet you already guessed that.) No less authorities than SFSBM's own Drs. Mark Crislip and Steve Novella have both weighed in on the subject and come to the same conclusion. Skeptoid agrees.  If you want an exhaustive analysis, a real chemist, as opposed to a salesman, also debunks all of the health claims made for ionized water.  As it turns out, in addition to the lack of evidence of benefit, promoters of ionized water don't even get the basic chemistry right.  

So there you have it: a multi-level marketing operation selling quack machine, all wrapped up in the guise of "Healthy Living News."  It is all the more galling that someone is preying on the Cherokee Tribe with these false promises of a quick and effortless avenue to better health.  Tribe members suffer from a higher poverty rate, poorer health and less access to health care than their neighbors in North Carolina. (And North Carolina isn't exactly excelling in these areas in the first place.) It sickens me to think that they would be lured into buying a worthless machine costing several thousands of dollars in an attempt to improve their health.

It is unfortunate that the quack-friendly American regulatory system can only play catch-up here. Not a lot can be done, even at that.  These snake oil salesmen and their quack devices could be reported to the Federal Trade Commission or a state agency regulating home water systems.  (For example, in California, you would go here.)  As with the FDA and dietary supplements, or medical boards and discipline of doctors, all the regulators can do is go in and mop up after the damage is done.