What’s Up With Those Necklaces MLB Players Wear?

Did you watch the World Series last night?

You may have noticed something hanging around the necks of  players on both sides- a twisted rope necklace in a variety of colors.

I became curious about it and searched the internet to find out what they are. And the answer is: Phiten Necklaces!

Phiten necklaces have become the must-have accessory for many professional athletes, especially in Major League Baseball. Some of the MBL players seen wearing them include Jon Lester, Justin Verlander and Justin Pedroia. Athletes claim that the necklaces improve their performance on the field.

Is there any truth to this?

What is Phiten?

Phiten is the company that produces these necklaces, as well as bracelets, body supporters and athletic tape. Phiten was in 1982 by Yoshihiro Hirata, an alternative medicine practitioner in Japan.

The products are infused with titanium, a strong, light metal. The company claims that the titanium is converted into a substance called Aqua-Titanum® and used as a dye to infuse the titanium into materials of which their products are made:

Aqua-Titanum per Phiten

Aqua-Titanum- as depicted on the Phiten website

phiten biocurrentThe company explains that the titanium in their product works like small magnets to realign the body’s biologic electrical fields. Their Hong Kong website explains:

“Your body has a small amount of electricity running through it – a bioelectric current. When this electricity stimulates the nerves, the muscles receive orders.

The electrical system is the control system in the body. But in some cases it does not function well. Stiff shoulders and tired muscles may indicate a disorder of your bioelectric system. This means the electricity is not running through your body in a normal manner.”

Is there any scientific evidence to support these claims?

There is very little to no scientific evidence to support the claims made by Phiten. The Phiten website transfers those who wish to view scientific evidence to another website: The Society for Aqua Metal Research. Note: Before you go that website, there is a disclaimer from Phiten which states that “Phiten USA, Inc. is not responsible for the privacy policy, the content or the accuracy of any website accessed though a link on the phitenusa.com.”

The site lists 5 research papers, some of which primarily involve the effects of titanium implants on surrounding tissues. One study, published in the the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Excercise did look at the “effect of titanium-permeated garments on on the performance of and recovery from a high-intensity intermittent exercise.”  They found that any improvement in performance  when wearing Aquatitan-treated garments “are likely of trivial consequence.”

phiten necklaceDr. Orrin Sherman, chief of sports medicine at the New York University Hospital for Joint Diseases says   “There’s just no way the chemical structure of the body can be influenced by magnets that small. It’s all superstitions with no scientific basis.”

How do you explain the large number in professional sports community who swear by the product? The small differences found can easily be attributed to an important factor- the placebo effect!

The placebo effect is what happens when you takes a medication that you think will help, even though it actually has no proven therapeutic effect for your particular condition.
In about 30 percent of patients, placebos make them feel better. Sometimes, placebos can actually lead to the same activation pathways that our bodies normally use to control things such as sensitivity to pain.

St. Louis area orthopedic surgeon Dr. Rich Lehman has studied athletes with and without these special necklaces/bracelets and finds no difference in the scientific parameters you can measure, such as pulse, blood pressure and so on. He has seen players who seem to perform better with the necklace or bracelet, but believes the change is psychological, not physical:

“The athlete believes they are getting a boost or pop from the necklace. The necklace is increasing their energy level and it kind of chills them out and puts them on an even keel. The athlete goes out thinking ‘I’m invincible’ and going to play much better and respond accordingly it tells you that your brain has a whole lot to do with performance and you know that because athletes that have very strong constitutions, don’t get nervous and perform well under pressure.”

And professional athletes do tend to be somewhat superstitious and ritualistic about their game day routines: MLB icon Wade Boggs would only eat chicken before games, Atlanta Braves’ Elliot Johnson chews on a piece of Super Bubble grape-flavored bubble gum when he is playing defense, but changes it to watermelon-flavor when it’s time to hit, other players always wear the same pair of socks, or underwear or cap on game days. Many of the Boston Red Sox players won’t shave as long as they still in the playoffs.

So before you plunk down anywhere from $10-50 for a necklace up to over $60 for titanium infused compression pants, hone your critical thinking skills at Resounding Health’s Baloney Detection Kit and then decide.

 

 

 

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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