free debate

September 11, 2009

Radioactive Water- "The Cure of the Century"

In the beginning of the 1900's, scientists discovered radioactivity.  With this discovery, it was found that many natural hot water spas were radioactive.  Some people made the correlation of health spa to radioactivity and boom; you had the birth of a medical pseudoscience.  So, why did so many people buy into something that we now know to be so harmful?

In the 1920's and 30's, ads for radioactive water, as well as other radioactive products, were very similar.  The Radium Spa was an at-home radioactive water cooler. One of their advertising slogans was "Radium Spä Duplicates Nature's Process! The Radium-Spa is a Water Jar, permanently lined, with especially selected high grade radium ore. This ore imparts to any water placed therein, millions of tiny gaseous particles known as Radio-activity, in exactly the same manner as Nature does herself."  

Notice that the ad tries to use scientific sounding language to build credibility.  They also invoke the all-natural claim.  Another ad for the "Curie Re-Generator Jar" uses that same approach.  "The Curie RadioActive Re-Generator and Stone Water Filter is a Water Jar in which is placed your local drinking water. In  this jar is also placed a Radium Ore Disc  -  this Disc throws off light Rays thereby forming Niton Gas, making the water RadioActive, the same as the Great Health Springs.  Radioactive Water is a proven means to Health as millions can testify."  Notice the use of anecdotal evidence to try to bolster the claim.

At the time, little was known about radioactivity. The medical community, however, showed their opinion in the November issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), in review of one of these radioactive water dispensers (ad pictured above).  The articles states "As is commonly the case with latter-day pseudo-medicine having large financial resources behind it, the Revigator concern puts forward an hypothesis for which there is no foundation."  In the same article, the effectiveness of radioactive treatments is equated to that of a two dollar watch.

The advertising techniques for these quack cures are, unfortunately, all too familiar.  We look back on this, and it is easy to say that these people must have been really gullible.  Maybe so, but are we any less gullible now? There are many, very popular, alternative medicine practices and "cures" today that the medical community has spoken out against.  Science-based medicine works by sorting out what works from what doesn't.  Treatments that are unsupported by evidence, even if they are popular, can be very dangerous.  Radioactive water was popular until a wealthy spokesperson and celebrity, Eben Byers, died of radiation poisoning in 1932.  

For more on radioactive treatments see
and you can read the JAMA article at