ASEA is a diet supplement described as a “life-changing” health aid that can benefit everyone:
ASEA is trillions of stable, perfectly balanced Redox Signaling Molecules suspended in a pristine saline solution—the same molecules that exist in the cells of the human body. Redox signaling is a function that is central to all life. Signaling molecules are created within every cell in the body. After the age of 12, our cells make fewer and fewer of these molecules. ASEA is the world’s only source for replenishing them.
Promotes enhanced immune function
Supports the vital activity of cellular communication
Provides superior “support” to athletes
Boosts efficiency of the body’s own antioxidants by 500%
Protects against free radical damage
ASEA doesn’t (can’t legally) claim to be effective for any disease, but since a number of diseases are related to immune function, free radical damage, etc., it’s only natural to assume that ASEA would benefit a host of conditions. The claims are deliberately vague, and there is the usual disclaimer that it has not been evaluated by the FDA and is not intended to treat or prevent any disease; but testimonials and innuendo suggest all kinds of specific benefits ranging from better sleep to cancer.
What’s in this miracle product? The ingredients are listed on the label: water and salt.
But they explain:
ASEA is a mixture of 16 chemically recombined products of salt and water with completely new chemical properties. It is no longer salt or water just like table salt is no longer chlorine gas or sodium metal.
OK, so what exactly are these 16 chemically recombined products of salt and water with completely new chemical properties and how did they determine they are there? They don’t say. They only explain how ASEA is made:
ASEA is made in Utah from municipal water that is highly purified using both reverse osmosis and distillation. The pure water is then combined with pure salt and allowed to cure, before undergoing a patented process that oxidizes and reduces the saline solution into the final product. During processing most of the chloride ions are integrated into redox molecules. Sodium ions are not effected [sic] and help to maintain electrical neutrality. Hydrogen and oxygen also contribute to the formation of redox molecules, but most of the water forms a matrix of clusters around the active redox molecules and ions. This micro-clustering further contributes to the stability and electrical neutrality of the product. The final product is no longer a saline solution. It is not salt and water. It is a balanced buffet of redox molecules. The raw materials have been transformed into a new product. Ingredients: Some people ask why redox Molecules are not listed as an ingredient on each bottle of ASEA. By comparison, when we look at the ingredients on a loaf of bread, we find flour, water, eggs, sugar, oil, yeast, etc. Nowhere on the list does it say “bread”. The raw ingredients have been blended and heated and forever transformed. You can no longer locate the eggs or oil that we know went into the process. It’s the same with ASEA.
This is very creative, but it’s not science. It’s just an attempt to baffle you with bullshit.
They have some scientific studies that they say “prove” the presence and effectiveness of those “chemically recombined products,” but they actually do no such thing. Their evidence is indirect and unconvincing. They say the product contains an equilibrium of several known reactive molecules that are stable in ASEA and measurable using standard analytic methods. But they never name any of those known molecules, and their analytic method is to use a fluorescent indicator as a probe for unspecified “highly reactive oxygen species.”
They tested 17 athletes and found a 3% increase in VO2max. They didn’t have a control group and either didn’t bother to calculate whether the observed changes were statistically significant or calculated that they were not statistically significant and chose not to mention that.
A small study of cyclists was done with a crossover control but with no placebo control. It measured a number of changes in metabolites that “may represent effects on inflammation, oxidative stress, and physiologic stress.”
Not a single placebo-controlled study. Worse, these studies were “in house” studies that were never published in a peer-reviewed journal. Steven Novella recently pointed out the unreliability of such studies.
Nothing listed in PubMed. Without replication, peer review, and better designed studies, this research does not constitute any credible evidence to support the claims for ASEA. They have made what Carl Sagan would have called extraordinary claims and they have not even provided any ordinary evidence, much less any extraordinary evidence.
Redox refers to reduction/oxidation, the loss or gain of electrons. Redox signaling is a process whereby free radicals, reactive oxygen species, and other compounds act as biological messengers. Nitric oxide, hydrogen sulfide, and carbon monoxide can be classified as redox signaling molecules. Redox signaling is involved in a number of biological processes from inflammation to cancer. As one online commenter said:
The science may be valid, but that doesn’t mean this product is!
They claim it is proven to be completely safe, with zero toxicity, but:
“ASEA is not recommended for pregnant or nursing mothers.”
The webpage listing safety studies consists of cell culture and studies on mutant bacteria (!?) and animals (rabbits, mice, dogs, usually only 4 or 5 of each).
It is supposedly so effective that it might increase the efficiency of certain message carriers in the body, such as hormones, insulin, adrenaline, etc. Patients taking any of those medications are advised to carefully monitor themselves and make adjustments to compensate, with the aid of their doctor if needed.
Knowing that something appeared to be safe for a few mice and dogs over the short period of a study does not strike me as very reassuring. On the other hand, if the product contains only salt and water rather than the alleged 16 undefined “chemically recombined products” there’s no reason to worry about safety.
ASEA is sold through a multilevel marketing scheme with “7 ways to get paid.” It is expensive. The cheapest way to try it is to order 64 oz for $75. It costs less if you choose the autoship option where they will continue to charge your credit card every month, and even less if you become an associate (but that requires an investment of $120 to $818). At a recommended dosage of 2-8 oz per day, that works out to between $2 and $9 a day.
A Google search yields an article headlined “ASEA Exposed – Learn the Truth about ASEA. 9 Things You Should Know Right Now.” It simply links to a promotional site. This is a devious ploy to capture both the credulous shopper and the “skeptical but curious” and also to divert traffic from genuinely skeptical pages.
Criticism in online forums
One commenter said:
This is bullshit. It’s salt water for $1 an ounce. The science-babble is meaningless. “Reactive molecule stabilization technology” is the kind of phrase that’s probably best translated as “it may just look like water, but it’s magic water that we’ve trained to do tricks!”
Another commenter, a chemist, said:
That’s just a load of nonsense. “Reactive molecule” isn’t an established term with some specific scientific meaning other than it’s literal meaning. And the literal meaning is so generic that it’s useless. (And if anything, a ‘reactive molecule’ is something that’s bad for you. Chemically reactive substances = toxic substances. And ‘reactive’ and ‘stabilization’ isn’t something you’d normally see in the same sentence. A reactive compound is by definition not very stable.)
“Redox signaling molecules” sounds like a scientific term as well, but isn’t. “Redox” means reduction/oxidation reactions, and signaling substances are anything that has a biochemical receptor of some kind that changes something else due to that molecule’s presence or absence. Again, it’s a couple of vague scientific-sounding terms strung together to sound like they’re talking about some established scientific concept, when they’re not. It’s not an established term and the literal meaning is too vague to say anything at all. Just because something sounds ‘sciency’ doesn’t make it science, or vice-versa: “sonic hedgehog” is a more established chemistry term than “redox signalling molecule”.
Other water scams
The list of water-related scams is long and is constantly getting longer. A retired chemist maintains a handy website critiquing them.
Here are three of my favorites:
Vitamin O is still for sale. I recently wrote about Vitamin O. The Rose Creek Company marketed oxygenated water that didn’t contain any oxygen. Their own advertising said it was tested in a lab and found not to contain any oxygen. They explained that the lab’s precision equipment couldn’t measure over 40 ppm of oxygen and there was so much oxygen in their product that it had registered as zero.
Sea Salt Colon Cleanse is an easy way to cleanse your colon. Their pseudoscience is just as imaginative as ASEA’s. I’ll quote it at length for your enjoyment, since it is rolling-on-the-floor hilarious:
A solution of sea salt and water has the same specific gravity as human blood. Due to this reason, it is not passed to the kidney for further purification like normal liquid solutions. Instead, the sea salt and water solution pass through the digestive tract almost wholly intact till the end, cleansing your stomach, small and large intestines. The components present in sea salt not only dislodge the waste particles sticking to your colon and hampering other digestive organs, they also effectively kill all parasites present in your digestive organs. A sea salt colon cleanse is almost like an oral enema because it is just as effective without being invasive at all.
Another major advantage that sea salt has over and above normal table salt is that it does not raise your blood pressure. This is because the sea salt and water solution, if mixed correctly, is not broken down into its components and is not made to pass into the blood stream. You also do not need to fear any water retention like you would have by consuming large amounts of normal sodium chloride… You cannot achieve the same or even similar results by using common table salt because it not only lacks certain essential minerals that are present in sea salt, but also contains iodine, which is not present in crude sea salt.
Hado Water is Masaru Emoto’s contribution: a geometrically perfect hexagonal water with a message imprinted in it that transfers vital energy to your body.
The bottom line
ASEA is salt water. You can make your own salt water at home for much less than a dollar an ounce. The only value of the product is the entertainment value that can be derived from reading the imaginative pseudoscientific explanations they have dreamed up to sell it.
Harriet Hall, MD also known as The SkepDoc, is a retired family physician who writes about pseudoscience and questionable medical practices. She received her BA and MD from the University of Washington, did her internship in the Air Force (the second female ever to do so), and was the first female graduate of the Air Force family practice residency at Eglin Air Force Base. During a long career as an Air Force physician, she held various positions from flight surgeon to DBMS (Director of Base Medical Services) and did everything from delivering babies to taking the controls of a B-52. She retired with the rank of Colonel. In 2008 she published her memoirs, Women Aren't Supposed to Fly.