By day: mum of an autistic tot. By night: mum of an autistic tot.
This is an off topic rant and probably more Vaximom’s territory. It has nothing to do with autism, vaccines and definitely zero to do with Pwd because I would have never been so stupid as to put the strangulation and choking hazard that is an amber teething necklace around his neck.
These things are everywhere. As pretty as they are, I hate them. I hate them so much that I have lost friends over them. A few weeks ago, a friend I have known for some time (and in real life too) posted a picture of her beautiful year old daughter with one of those wretched things around her neck. I was polite. I sent a private message asking mum if she was aware of the dangers of putting anything around the neck of a child so young. No reply. As is only natural and to be expected when a picture of an adorable, smiling baby gets posted on Facebook, people will comment. The thread soon turned to “What a pretty necklace,” and my once friend extolling the virtues and supposed benefits of amber teething necklaces and where the credulous can pick one up.
I couldn’t help myself. I took a look at the website selling these baby strangling devices. The claims being made therein were nothing short of ludicrous. The FAQ section, in particular, was rife with new age and pseudo scientific bullshit. Let me illustrate:
Of all the assertions in that little paragraph, the only one that is one hundred percent true is that Robert Koch won a Nobel Prize, though that was actually in 1905 and not 1886, for his work on isolating the mycobacterium Tuberculosis bacillus, the causative agent of TB. As far as his work on succinic acid goes, this is what I have found:
Scientists seem to have a fascination with autoexperimentation…Robert Koch was no exception. He decided to eat 1/2 kg of butter everyday and measure the concentrations of succinic acid in his urine. Not surprisingly, it made him so sick that he soon gave up the idea.
This vomit inducing work formed part of his work for his doctorate and his findings, entitled “Ueber das Entstehen der Bernsteinsäure im menschlichen Organismus,” were published in a 1865 edition of the journal, Zeitschrift für rationelle Medizin.
Amber does, indeed, contain succinic acid. Succinum is the Latin name for amber. However, to call it an “active ingredient” is disingenuous in the extreme. Relatively large amounts of succinic acid are safe to consume. It is an additive used to give a certain variety of sweetness and is often referred to on labels as succinate. Being a byproduct of fermentation it is also found in wines, beers and other alcoholic beverages. In the pharmaceutical industry succinic acid is used to balance acidity. Succinic acid is also the basis of the popular Ameren which claims to alleviate some of the more troubling aspects of the menopause.
Remember, though, that here we are talking about ingesting succinic acid. The beads on amber teething necklaces are not meant to be chewed or gummed and certainly not swallowed. So, how does the succinic acid found in amber beads have its effect? Back to the FAQs:
Now, I like amber jewellery (for adults) as much as the next woman and even had some amber beads. Never noticed them breaking down or becoming more brittle with wear, which is pretty much what you would expect if the “healing oils” contained in the beads were being transferred from the amber into the skin. I have also noted that amber does not become appreciably softer when in contact with the skin so just how are these oils being released? Now, after a beer or two I think I’m one hot momma but not 185-189 degrees celsius hot – the melting point of succinic acid and definitely not the 350-370ºC required to extract oil of amber. Further, if it was being released by the skin it would be released onto the skin. Succinic acid is an irritant. Why no warnings of such? Oh wait, that would because the very suggestion that amber delivers succinic acid transdermally to relieve pain or modulate the immune system is a LIE.
With all of this in mind, I wrote a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority. Here is the gist of it:
“The suggestion that amber, when in contact with the skins, breaks down sufficiently that “healing oils” can be absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream in any appreciable amount is clearly a nonsense. Therefore, the claim that these amber necklaces can ” assist with alleviating pain and will provide assistance with restlessness, irritability and acidity.” is demonstrably false. Further, these items are not recommended for children under 36 months, an age by which, for the majority of children, the worst of teething is over. These products pose a significant choking, strangulation and even hanging risk to babies and toddlers made to wear them and should be banned outright.
The claims that “Recent scientific research has also proved that succinic acid has a very positive influence, it strengthens the body, improves immunity and the balance of acids,” is a lie. Indeed, some studies have shown that succinic acid actually inhibits the function of certain cells involved in immune responses.*”
I have to say, that all in all, I was pleased with the response I received and the fact that this particular website’s FAQ page seems no longer to exist. Here is part of the Advertising Standards Authority‘s response to my complaint:
Thank you for contacting the Advertising Standards Authority. We have viewed the claims you refer to on this website’s FAQ page and concluded that they are likely breach the advertising Code we administer and the established position the ASA has on the advertising of amber jewellery – you can read the online advice entry our sister organisation the Committee of Advertising Practice provides for marketers here. Given this, we have passed the matter to our Compliance team, who work to ensure that advertising in breach of the advertising Codes is removed or amended.
In essence, within the UK, amber teething jewellery is allowed to be advertised as available to purchase. No claims can be made about pain relieving or immunomodulating properties (not that they exist).
Moreover, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has confirmed that the products are not medical devices and would not be medicinal products because the transdermal effects of any remaining oils in the beads would not have a meaningful pharmacological effect.
Sadly, amber teething jewellery is still being sold in the UK. Many of those hawking it claim that knotted necklaces pose little choking risk as only one bead at a time can break off. The fact that seems to be overlooked is that a child can choke on just one bead. Some claim their necklaces to be exceptionally strong – this poses a strangulation/hanging risk to a child whose necklace catches on an object. Some have magnetic clasps to overcome this making the necklaces easy to pull of and so, put into the mouth. These items are not safe for any child. They are certainly unsafe for those under the age of 36 months.
Marketers of these products should market the products on an availability-only basis unless they hold convincing evidence based on humans (Rule 12.1).
If you see anyone marketing these items otherwise, feel free to use any or all of my complaint to report them.
Just a sample!
*Rotstein O.D., Nasmith P.E., Grinstein S. The bacteroides by-product succinic acid inhibits neutrophil respiratory burst by reducing intracellular pH. Infect Immun. 1987;55:864–870.
The reduction in intracellular pH was sufficient to account for both the irreversible and reversible impairment of the neutrophil respiratory burst. Thus, short-chain fatty acids appear to exert their inhibition, at least in part, by reducing intracellular pH. These data also demonstrate the potential for interactions between Bacteroides species and their microenvironment to increase the virulence of an infection.
Rotstein O.D., Vittorini T., Kao J., McBurney I., Nasmith P., Grinstein S.A. A soluble Bacteroides by-product impairs phagocytic killing of Escherichia coli by neutrophils. Infect. Immun. 1989;57:745–753.
Succinic and acetic acids were measured in high concentrations, while lactic, formic, and fumaric acids were present in lower concentrations. Reconstituted media mimicked the inhibitory effect of B. fragilis filtrate on neutrophil killing capacity. In further support of the hypothesis that short-chain fatty acids were responsible for the inhibition, the filtrates of other Bacteroides strains were found to be inhibitory only after bacterial growth had entered the stationary phase, a period during which fatty acid production is maximized.
Rotstein O.D., Pruett T.L., Fiegel V.D., Nelson R.D., Simmons R.L. Succinic acid, a metabolic by-product of Bacteroides species, inhibits polymorphonuclear leukocyte function. Infect Immun. 1985;48:402–408.
Succinic acid, a major fatty acid by-product of Bacteroides metabolism, was tested for its effect on neutrophil function to determine whether it might play a role in enhancing the virulence of Bacteroides-containing infections…succinic acid at concentrations commonly found in clinical abscesses profoundly inhibits in vitro neutrophil function. It virtually obliterates phagocytic killing of Escherichia coli…