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Non Pharmaceutical Health Care and Unique Water
(This web site disappeared during 2005, along with Russell Beckett who had been promoting the scam.)

It reappeared in 2011
Unique Water

This site was Highly Commended in the 2002 Millenium Awards.

Highly Commended 2002This site received four pages of free advertising in a high-circulation Australian magazine. Over the next few days, the magic water was featured on two high-rated evening television "current affairs" programs, a top-rating daytime lifestyle show, and some more follow-up stories in the Sydney Morning Herald. The result of this concerted public relations campaign was the sale of almost $2 million dollars over the next week. From a small bottling factory. For water.

Here is what I wrote at the time:

How quackery gets started (6/4/2002)
One of Australia's largest media chains puts out a magazine called Good Weekend which is included in the Saturday editions of their papers in the country's two largest cities (The Age in Melbourne and The Sydney Morning Herald in Sydney. Good Weekend itself does not have a web site). The cover story for the Good Weekend for April 6, 2002, showed a glass of water with the words "Miracle water? Can something as simple as this mineral-rich water really combat arthritis, fatigue and osteoporosis... and help you live longer?" The article was a four-page promotion of a "magic water" (yes, those words were actually used) which, it is claimed, has the potential to cure all sorts of diseases (arthritis, asthma, Alzheimer's, dermatitis, influenza, inflammation, fatigue and osteoporosis are mentioned) by delivering magnesium bicarbonate into the interior of mitochondria (small structures within cells which manage chemical reactions) where it can combat the destructive effects of carbon dioxide.

It's a long time since I studied either chemistry or physiology, but I would have thought that any amount of dissolved magnesium bicarbonate in water which didn't make it too awful to drink would be neutralised by the acid in the stomach. In the remote possibility that any of the chemical made it through the stomach, there is no known means of getting it into cells, let alone into the mitochondria within the cells. If that could happen, though, another interesting problem arises. For every molecule of acid neutralised by magnesium bicarbonate, two molecules of carbon dioxide are released. This would seem to defeat the purpose of fighting carbon dioxide, but the problem is worse than that. Think of what happens when you put a seltzer powder into water and imagine that foaming going on in every one of the billions of cells in your body. This would not be a pretty sight.

The article could become a classic primer, because it contains many of the traditional elements of pseudoscience and medical quackery:

  • anecdote ("It happened to me!")
  • cures many different incurable illnesses
  • celebrity endorsement
  • ignored scientist, working outside the mainstream
  • blind orthodoxy
  • simple answer to a complex question
  • repression by big pharma (the domain name "" is a clue)
  • patent not publication
  • "natural"
  • works with animals (so not a placebo effect)
  • very clever scientist (only six people in Australia understand him)
  • etc

I don't have the space here for a full response to the article, but I will leave you with this thought. What is your opinion of someone who talks about chemistry but thinks that mineral water with "a low pH" would be useful in the battle against acidity? If you don't know, ask a chemist.

Here are a few more thoughts I had about this.

When Russell Becket applied for a patent, did he mention Colfax Mineral Water? (this link no longer works)

"In the fall of 1875, while prospecting for coal, water started flowing from the drill site. A thirsty workman tasted the water and pronounced it much different in taste than the water from the town wells.

"A sample was sent to Iowa City for analysis and the report came back revealing it was a very pure water with great medicinal qualities. The water possessed a high content of calcium, magnesium, bicarbonate, potassium, sulfates, and sodium.

"By 1876, a small hotel was built to accommodate the many people coming to benefit from the water. In 1878 a three-story hotel was built for this purpose, and in 1884 a 300-room hotel was dedicated. An inclined railway was completed to carry people from the depot, one mile east of Colfax, to the hotel located 170 feet up the bluff. In 1909, this hotel surmounting the city expanded to 500 rooms and its guests came from all over the country, flocking to Colfax to take in the water and experience the hot mineral water baths. They came on crutches, in wheel chairs, even on stretchers and a few weeks later many walked to the depot with no evidence of the infirmity with which they came.

"In 1892, Colfax mineral water was shipped to the White House on orders of President Clevelandís physician to relieve the Presidentís stomach problems."

Magnesium carbonate might have been a better choice, but using magnesium carbonate would not make money for anyone, as Australia is hardly suffering from a shortage of magnesite. The world's largest magnesium carbonate mine is at Kunwarara in Queensland.

When I looked at the magazine article, I wondered how happy Audi would be to be reminded that they had to pay a significant amount of money to buy two pages of advertising which appeared within someone else's free four-page advertisement.

Much is made of the seven farms in the Monaro district with ancient sheep. Was it just the livestock, or did the people on the seven farms live longer than their neighbours? I remember driving past two farms (outside Cooma, as it happens) where one was a purple carpet of the weed Patterson's Curse and the next was not. The purple/green boundary was a straight line with a fence along it. I put this down to different farming practices, not some trick of geography or geology.

Medline has no papers which can be found using the keywords "monaro" and "sheep", so I guess the researchers at the CSIRO haven't got around to publishing anything about this medical marvel of longevity in the last 45 years. Then again, I suppose they figure there is no rush now that they have found out how to extend their careers by decades, if not centuries.

A search for "booroola", however, turned up 114 papers. Remembering that the article in the Good Weekend said that the CSIRO people spent 20 years looking for a gene and "[t]hey didn't find anything", it was surprising to me that these papers seemed to be talking about something called the "Booroola fecundity gene (FecB)" which "increases ovulation rate and litter size in sheep and is inherited as a single autosomal locus".

It will be interesting to observe the cognitive dissonance of the alt-med believers as they tout how this is a marvellous breakthrough in the treatment of disease which came from observing nature and finding out what it was in the water that made the difference. The poisonous fluoride, on the other hand, was discovered by observing nature and finding out what it was in the water that made the difference. Oops! That can't be right!

One of the places where I expressed my concern about this "news" story was the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Media Watch program. You can see their story about this here.

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