bellywand

The patient doesn’t choose the Healing Life Wand. The Healing Life Wand chooses the patient.

If you wanted to design and market an ineffective treatment with the best chance of successfully fooling consumers, it would have to include a certain set of key components in order to maximize profit. A connection to nature is extremely important, the more emotional the better. Although trickier to pull off, your product would need to call upon ancient wisdom while also being associated with cutting edge science. But keep the association vague and let the consumers connect the dots. A hint of conspiracy, where the consumer believes that they are being let in on a secret or suppressed cure helps too.

The mechanism of action should be unclear in order to avoid easy refutation, and should preferably involve concepts such as removing toxins and balancing energy or hormones. Again, it’s important to combine science with your magic, so include things like lymphatic drainage or increased blood flow. The ailments your treatment would remedy need to be subjective and likely to respond to numerous placebo effects. And the treatment should be simple, even a bit fun, in both concept and execution. Finally, throw in a catchy slogan or two and you’ll be rolling around on a pile of hundreds in no time at all.

Ilchi Lee, the founder ChangeYourEngergy and an “international mind-body expert”, has done exactly this, perhaps minus the pile of hundreds, and it is a thing of pseudomedical beauty. In an effort to help consumers naturally achieve “total body health” by stimulating the body’s “reset button” and harnessing the power of our “2nd brain”, Lee developed the process of Belly Button Healing (BBH) as well as a special tool for home therapy. If you think this sounds like something a clever CAM satirist might have come up with, you’re right. Unfortunately, Lee came up with his version years before I discovered the miraculous healing powers of the navel.

What is Belly Button Healing?

Belly Button Healing involves the “regular and mindful stimulation of the entire abdomen using the navel as the point of contact to relieve pain in the body, release toxins, improve digestion, boost energy and elevate mood.” It’s an “internal workout!” Sounds simple, and it is. It’s just acupressure with a gimmicky focus similar to the kind we’ve seen before involving the ear or the feet. The key to BBH is the use of a specialized belly button stimulating wand known as the Healing Life Wand.

The Healing Life Wand is a small plastic device with 4 different sized points that was, according to Lee’s website, modeled on an inspirational branch of the sacred Hwangchil tree that Lee found one day. The Hwangchil tree, again according to the BBH folks, is known as the “cure all tree.” Most of the sources I could find discussing it were associated with Lee, however there are a few Pubmed references that look into possible medicinal uses.

It’s hard to imagine how the medicinal properties of a tree branch might come into play when poking yourself in the belly button with it. Regardless, the Healing Life Wand is made out of plastic. It does boast an ergonomic design, a textured surface so your sweaty hands don’t slip, and those aforementioned points, which allow consumers to poke themselves in the belly button in various ways without fear of muscle fatigue. Why the different points matter isn’t explained on the website or on any of the available videos. Maybe it’s explained in the illustrated how-to book, which you can own along with the wand and access to an online course for only $99.

In addition to assisting with the therapeutic component of BBH, the wand also serves as a diagnostic tool:

The belly button is energetically connected to every organ and body part. You can target different pain points around the body by focusing on and stimulating the corresponding point in the navel.
Think of it as a line of energy extending from the navel to the corresponding organ. By using the special wand to detect tension or tightness at different points, you can easily determine where you need healing the most.

 

That’s right. As long as you know up from down and left from right, you can use the want to detect where the problem is and poke your aches and pains away. And if not, the kit includes a helpful diagram. But there is apparently much more to BBH than simply treating pain.

As we have seen with many similarly questionable treatments and products discussed on the pages of Science-Based Medicine in the past, the makers of BBH provide a list of generic reasons that a consumer may want to check out the product. The list is made up of vague complaints and problems that everyone experiences, like stress or tense muscles. There are also some that appeal to people who have already self-diagnosed themselves as having problems with digestion or unbalanced hormones. They also clearly want to appeal to the TCM and mind-body crowd.

  • Have digestive issues, IBS, frequent constipation or diarrhea, or a weak stomach
  • Have tense muscles or residual pain from a previous injury
  • Have drastic mood swings or feel depressed
  • Want to balance hormones
  • Frequently experience stress
  • Want to cool off the head and heat up the belly
  • Want to improve your digestion
  • Are looking to reconnect to your authentic self and strengthen your mind/body connection

How does BBH help people with the above concerns? Not surprisingly, the proposed mechanisms of action for this trifle of pseudomedical nonsense are almost entirely made up of vague and subjective claims no different than with thousands of other products and therapies. Cupping is a good example that recently found itself in the spotlight. There is nothing specific to poking yourself in the belly button on this list.

  • Promotes blood circulation
  • Warms abdomen, increases body temperature
  • Improves digestive and excretory functions
  • Relaxes body and mind
  • Increases immunity and detoxification
  • Boosts physical vitality
  • Clears head and improves concentration
  • Relieves pain and tension in joints
  • Expands physical and mental well-being
  • Makes skin lustrous and smooth
  • Creates feelings of centeredness

Ultimately their proposed mechanism of action is simply the manipulation of energy or “chi”. This is glorified acupressure after all. But as you will soon see, they attempt to link the prescientific notion of energy imbalances and stagnant chi with our scientific understanding of the enteric nervous system and the so-called “brain-gut connection.” It’s a blatant means of giving this ridiculous example of theatrical placebo more credibility in the same way that medical acupuncture proponents might invoke the release of endorphins.

Why the belly button?

This one is actually pretty obvious in my opinion. Other than serving as prime raspberry blowing real estate and a natural trap for navel fluff, the belly button, also known as the umbilicus, is likely an anatomical structure of significant importance in our collective unconscious. It serves as a constant reminder of our origins, our connection to the life-giving womb that was severed so that we might enter the world as an individual entity.

It’s also a visual focal point approximately at the center of our bodies. So I can certainly understand how it came to be a focus in various cultures and traditional medical systems such as TCM and Ayurveda. That’s where things stop making sense.

According to the website, “just below the surface” of the belly button is a number of vital structures, key neurotransmitters, and other important sounding stuff:

  • 90% of the body’s serotonin – the happiness hormone
  • 50% of the body’s dopamine – the joy hormone
  • An extensive network of fascia tissue (holds all your organs together)
  • About a third of the blood in the body
  • Enteric Nervous System
  • Digestive System
  • Lymphatic System

Of course the same would be equally true of any other location on the abdomen, but I guess that “McBurney’s Point Healing” is considerably less sexy and wouldn’t have the same widespread recognition as the belly button.

This is simply a list of things associated with the intestines, not all of which make sense scientifically or would in any way be influenced by poking them around a bit. The gut does produces serotonin and dopamine, for example, but they can’t cross the blood brain barrier and make us happy or joyful. In fact, a thorough discussion of the brain-gut connection is worthy of it’s own post because of the sheer enormity of pseudoscience out there taking advantage of such a complex biological system to fool consumers and patients.

Lee and the BBH team want the consumer to make a connection between the belly button and the gut more meaningful than simple proximity. Once established, and I’m sure you have seen this coming from a mild away, they attempt to pull a bait and switch. The BBH folks further explain this connection between the belly button and health:

While it may sound strange at first, the belly button is actually incredibly important to your gut and overall health.

Why? Your gut is known as your 2nd brain and hosts a plethora of neurons, nerves that directly linked to the brain, major arteries and hormone producing glands.

As the center point of your gut area, the belly button is like the gatekeeper to this inner world of health and vitality. In East Asian Medicine, major energy lines, or meridians, run through the abdomen, so when you stimulate your belly button, energetic blockages are released.

So because the belly button is near the gut, and the gut plays a large role in overall health, the belly button must be important too…because energy. There is certainly some truth to the concept of the gut as a “2nd brain”, but it is often used in the marketing of bogus treatments or in overzealous assumptions about the origins of psychiatric disorders. The enteric nervous system doesn’t think on it’s own, as is sometimes implied, but there is a complex relationship with the brain and it does play a potential role in mental health and mood. Again, this would make a great topic for a focused post.

Aside from testimonials on the BBH website and recommendations found on the websites of other proponents, there is no evidence to even review for Belly Button Healing or navel acupressure in general. Not even poorly designed pragmatic trials designed to yield positive results. And taking into account the utter lack of plausibility, the evidence would need to be pretty impressive.

Conclusion

Belly Button Healing is acupressure with a gimmick device and a silly underlying philosophy that attempts to connect the magic of TCM with the science of the enteric nervous system. It’s just another example of the theater of alternative medicine that might appear to be of benefit through myriad placebo effects. There is absolutely no plausible scientific reason to make a connection between the intestines, the enteric nervous system, or nearby organs with the belly button any more so than anywhere else on the abdominal skin, and there is no reason to believe that manipulation of the belly button would yield systemic benefits as described on the products website. Don’t waste your money.

Posted by Clay Jones

Clay Jones, M.D. is a pediatrician practicing at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Newton, MA, and a regular contributor to the Science-Based Medicine blog. He primarily cares for healthy newborns and hospitalized children, and devotes his full time to educating pediatric residents and medical students. Dr. Jones first became aware of and interested in the incursion of pseudoscience into his chosen profession while completing his pediatric residency at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital a decade ago. He has since focused his efforts on teaching the application of critical thinking and scientific skepticism to the practice of pediatric medicine. Dr. Jones has no conflicts of interest to disclose and no ties to the pharmaceutical industry. He can be found on Twitter as @skepticpedi and is the co-host of The Prism Podcast with fellow SBM contributor Grant Ritchey.