Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?

Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?
Alternative Psychotherapies: Evaluating Unconventional Mental Health Treatments

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

For [Heaven's Sake] Never Amber [Necklaces]

Has anyone else stumbled across the recommendation to put necklaces of amber beads on teething babies, to act as a “natural analgesic”? I just came across this idea, on the Internet of course, but I’m not going to provide a link, because why encourage this stuff? If you want to see what they say, you can Google “amber” and “teething” and you’ll see plenty... including one or two expert debunkers at work.

When I first read about these necklaces, I was reminded of the “teething coral” necklaces of Victorian times-- but the amber necklaces are not meant to be chewed on and are not just to relieve the irritation of itchy gums. The basic claim appears to be that amber contains a substance called succinic acid, and this substance is absorbed by the skin, resulting in reduction of discomfort and increases in immunity, nervous function, etc. But there appears to be no evidence whatever that succinic acid has such an effect, or even that the small amounts contained in amber, if absorbed, would be sufficient to have any effect at all. One necklace website, by the way, claims that amber will help asthma and other disorders as well--- again, an unsupported claim.

The obvious concern is that an infant wearing a necklace could either catch it on something and strangle, or could break the necklace and choke on the beads. Websites advertising the necklaces advise against keeping the necklace on at night. Some necklaces are described as hand-knotted, with knots between each pair of beads, just like real pearls, so a break means that only one bead will come off the string. Others are said to have magnetic clasps that will break away under pressure.

So, what we have here is a situation where the sellers of the necklaces themselves recognize the potential danger of strangulation, resulting in death or (almost worse) near-death and severe, incurable brain damage. The necklaces are potentially harmful, and only anecdotes suggest that they are in any way helpful. Yes, the amber contains succinic acid as well as many other components, but there is no reason to think that succinic acid could possibly have the desired effects.

Why would anyone choose such a method, then? One reason seems to be the everlasting conviction that anything that is “natural” must also be beneficial. This belief perseveres in the face of the facts that illness, injury, and death are all natural events, and in spite of the clear evidence that naturally-occurring substances may have evolved ways of protecting themselves by harming creatures that consume them. What about a healthy, natural meal of oleander leaf salad, death cap mushrooms on toast, polar bear liver (get your Vitamin A, folks) and a pokeberry crumble (mmm, those scrumptious-looking, juicy purple berries)? The survivors, if any, might then enjoy a soothing massage with natural oils from poison sumac and poison ivy.

A second reason for the amber necklace idea is the lingering commitment to folk beliefs--- what you might call the trailing edge of medicine. Amber itself was an ingredient in pre-scientific medicine and could be consumed as a powder or used in other ways. But stones of all kinds were believed to have specific powers and connections with body parts and functions. These ideas were part of sympathetic magic and the belief that when two things resemble each other or “go together” in some way, they have some sort of cause-and-effect relationship. In modern life, we still see some of this focus on stones in the custom of “birthstones” and the characteristics associated with them; astrologers and alchemists associated not only the birth month, the stone, and the characteristics, but features of the heavens, body parts, and geographical areas. The attention paid to amber is only one facet of this (sorry, talking about gems made me think of that word!).

Be their reasons what they may, devotees of amber teething necklaces seem to have forgotten the caution common sense would advise for treatments that are potentially harmful AND that lack evidence of usefulness. And, regrettably, merchants of snake oil are also happy to supply amber necklaces to the naïve. They won’t be standing by to help a choking baby, though.

7 comments:

  1. Much like anything else people argue against a lack of eviadence that these work
    People are really stupid! I hope a bloggers bany gets half strangled so someone else speaks out against them. Thank you for this post

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  2. Well-- maybe only a tiny bit strangled would do the trick well enough.

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  3. I think those that need 'evidence' for everything in life, lacks the ability to form their own opinions, and thus can't posably have faith in anything aside from what they visibly see, feel and taste.
    It is not stupidity to use natural elements when done safely - eg. knotted necklaces, safety breakaway clasps. What IS stupid is the use of pharmaceuticals just because 'proffesionals' say its 'ok' despite the MANY PROVEN and LISTED side effects both mild and / or fatal.

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    1. I wasn't going to post this statement-- but then I decided it was useful in its display of a certain mentality associated with a preference for unconventional treatments.

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  4. I just happened upon this article while searching for something completely unrelated. My 18 month old daughter has worn one of these since she was just a few months old. It has a breakaway clasp and the way it is constructed I'm pretty sure it would tear/break easily w/just a small amount of pressure, though I've never tested that thought.

    I WILL say this. My daughter was quite cranky and not sleeping through the night before we got one. The first night she wore it she slept the entire night through. The second night it came off early in the night and she woke up 5 times that night. Since then she seems to be more moody if we take it off and forget to put it back on.

    She has never once played with it and never once had a problem. Could she, I'm sure, but she could get harmed from so many different things and this truly seems to work. We'll continue to have her wear it and be a happy, bubbly baby!

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    1. It's your decision,obviously. If you've never seen a child in a vegetative state after near-strangulation, I don't suppose you'll consider the potential for harm here, and if you don't think about the multiple factors that may affect here mood, you will easily conclude that the necklace is beneficial.

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    2. Yeah the whole t has a breakaway clasp and the way it is constructed I'm pretty sure it would tear/break easily w/just a small amount of pressure, though I've never tested that thought" doesn't really exude a healthy amount of caution for the possible outcomes huh....sigh.

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