Testing the water

January 27th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in adverts, bad science, references, water | 3 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday January 27, 2005
The Guardian

Promoting the public misunderstanding of science this week we have Waitrose Food Illustrated, talking about Penta bottled water: “It’s ‘ultra-purified, restructured micro-water’ that offers ‘optimal cellular hydration’.” Sounds expensive. I wonder how it works. “By disrupting the naturally occurring molecule clusters in water with high-energy sound waves, they are able to pass more easily through the body’s cell membranes, quenching the thirst better.” Apparently it offers significant health benefits.

So I try to find out how and whether it works. Just watch as I waste a whole morning. First I go to Penta’s website. It’s dripping with scientific terminology and links to research, which end at best with a couple of very tenuous papers published in obscure Russian journals. Here’s a sample. “There are many types of bioactive molecular structures, including clustered water that scientists are continually researching, for instance at Cambridge.” Follow the link and you find a serious page about physics from a scientist and the disclaimer: “LINKS FROM ANY COMMERCIAL ORGANISATIONS TO THIS SITE ARE ENTIRELY UNAUTHORISED AND UNWELCOME. THE MAINTAINERS OF THIS SITE HAVE NO CONNECTIONS WITH ANY SUCH COMPANIES OR THEIR PRODUCTS.” I phone him. He roars with laughter, but isn’t in the mood to be quoted on something that has nothing to do with him. And rightly so. I get on to Penta. Got any peer-reviewed data, I ask? Apparently not yet. All the stuff on performance isn’t out yet, they’re keeping their heads down while they do the research. While they’ve been keeping their heads down, the Penta website quotes Metro as saying “hydrates at the intercellular level and has many recorded health benefits”, Men’s Health said it is “proven to hydrate more quickly” and the Daily Mirror said it will “increase the body’s cell survival by over 200%,” meaning I will die sometime after the year 2200. “The claims aren’t as far-fetched as they sound,” says the Evening Standard. I can’t wait to see the coverage they get when they go public with this.

But they do have a published paper, I’m told, on liposomes in vitro with aquaporins in an artificial membrane, “or something”, that shows the water is absorbed faster. They’ll email me the reference. Instead I get a call from the MD, who gets very upset that I am trying to catch her out on the science and asks that I don’t quote her. So I didn’t even get a confirmation that the paper exists. The morning is over, and confusion reigns supreme.


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3 Responses



  1. Penta_Water_UK said,

    December 4, 2005 at 10:56 am

    I am currently conducting a pier review of one of Penta Waters claims:
    I am not a scientist, so I therefore consider myself pier to their equally unscientific comments.

    Ben Goldacre asked Q.I wonder how it works.
    Penta and/or Newspaper Article response: “By disrupting the naturally occurring molecule clusters in water with high-energy sound waves”

    So I conducted an experiment: I placed a loudspeaker beside a bottle or ordinary tap water and played ACDC music to it for an hour…..the volume was set to…er…really high energy levels….my knob goes upto 11!

    The result, the tap water tasted the same as the bottled water after the experiment….SO the technique works then!

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