Beware the Woo: Nausea Relief Bands

Once upon a time there was a show that specialized in debunking the myths that surround us on a daily basis. That show was called Mythbusters. Unfortunately for those of us still trapped in the real world of today, Mythbusters only ran for 20 seasons and their last season was in 2016. The show ended the year where it seemed we needed mythbusting the most and the real world has only gotten more mythbegotten since 2016. Beware the Woo is a tribute to the science that was present in-between the explosions that were in pretty much every episode of Mythbusters.


The Wife handed me a set of flimsy little fabric sweatbands. On the insides of the bands there were these little plastic dimples. I just looked at her.

“Those go against the bottoms of your wrists.” She said. “They worked wonders for me when I was pregnant. Give them a try, please? It can’t hurt.”

She was right. It couldn’t hurt. Nothing else had worked for me so far in the vertiginous hellhole that had opened up and threatened to consume me since my Meniere’s symptoms had accelerated and started to occur almost weekly. So I placed the little plastic bumps in what I thought was the right place on my wrist and wore the glorified sweatbands around for weeks. It felt like weeks, at least.

The vertigo, nausea and vomiting happened anyway so I threw them away in disgust and went on to the next thing, which was probably dosing myself with meclizine if I remember my timeline correctly. Who can say? I really can’t say for certain because I had forgotten everything about those silly little wristbands until this post appeared on the subreddit a few days ago:

I was wondering if anyone else had tried a ReliefBand yet and what their experiences were.

r/Menieres

I didn’t understand the reference at first. I though they meant Sea-Bands, which was the sweatband with the plastic pimple on the inside. So I riffed on that subject for a bit before I even googled ReliefBand and discovered that it was basically a wrist-mounted TENS unit that sent electric shocks into the point on the wrist that the Sea-Bands just pressed on. A wrist-mounted TENS unit that costs a few hundred dollars. I would have sworn I’d never heard of them before. Then I googled a little further and I discovered that there was a Mythbuster’s episode on the subject:

youtube.com

…an episode where they not only tested the Sea-Bands but they tested a version of the ReliefBands and about a half-dozen other anti-nausea myths. The only thing that proved to work reliably was taking a ginger tablet when you feel nauseous. I drink a ginger beer when my stomach starts to give me trouble, so this result doesn’t surprise me. I probably picked up the idea of eating ginger for tummy troubles from watching this very episode and then forgot all about it.

In a nutshell the idea that you can quell nausea by poking the P6 spot on your wrist is quackery. There is no established (or establishable) mechanism for these bands to do anything at all, much less reduce nausea. The Sea-Bands that I was mistaking the ReliefBands for work on exactly the same (non)principle. The P6 spot is an acupuncture point:

This wrist acupoint is known by various names: the Nie-Guan point, pericardium 6 or, more commonly, P6. Look for the skin crease that denotes where your palm ends and your wrist begins, and go down the wrist two to three fingers’ width, and you will have found P6.

mcgill.ca/oss

…and acupuncture is a pre-scientific attempt to explain why people get sick by ascribing healing and or sickness causing powers to rivers and streams of Qi (Chi) energy that supposedly flows through the body, power that can be harnessed by doing an oriental version of bloodletting; now reformed into sticking needles into your body, although some practitioners will still practice a version of bloodletting in certain circumstances. (see cupping. –ed.) The premise that both these types of bands are supposed to work on is the same one as the acupuncture point they utilize. One type of band is just more expensive than the other and has electrical stimulation to make it seem more effective.

…On the other hand if you convince yourself that these bands work and that stops the symptoms then there is no reason not to keep using them. I mean, you’ve already spent the money, might as well get your use out of the device. Half of the problem of dealing with symptoms is just reassuring yourself that you are dealing with them, even if the thing you are doing is just reassuring yourself. There is no arguing with what works. However, if all you are doing is tricking yourself into a feeling of non-nauseous normalcy, you could also trick yourself with a free piece of string tied around the same place on your wrist. Or any old bangle that creates the sensation that you associate with preventing the nausea.

The Wife says I’m an asshole on this subject. She still swears the Sea-Bands worked for her. She swore that even after watching the same Mythbusters episode that I now remember watching with her and the children; although she did question the wisdom of a wrist-mounted TENS unit when I brought up the subject of the ReliefBand. Then and now. I’m certainly not going to buy one.

The price of these woo devices varies based on the misery of the group being pitched to and their relative level of wealth. Sports teams pay a fortune for the silly tape they put on players and that is every bit the same kind of snake oil that all of these bands are. Magic magnetic or electrical surface contact that alters the perception and makes the person who is being treated believe that something in them has altered. Which is, as I already observed, half the problem.

If there is any doubt remaining on this subject after the Mythbusters deft analysis is over, a Pubmed article should put it to rest:

Neither band nor placebo prevented the development of motion sickness, regardless of whether the bands were used correctly or incorrectly.

nih.gov

Save your money for the ginger beer. You’ll enjoy that more anyway.

Author: RAnthony

I'm a freethinking, unapologetic liberal. I'm a former CAD guru with an architectural fetish. I'm a happily married father. I'm also a disabled Meniere's sufferer.

Attacks on arguments offered are appreciated and awaited. Attacks on the author will be deleted.

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