“I wanted to be a self-healer.” So says Chloe Angeline on Instagram, where she goes by the name “Self-Healing Mama.” Antidepressants and anxiety medication made her feel like a zombie, so she decided to heal herself. Except that’s not the full story. Expressions like “self-healing” and “helping the body heal itself” often mean paying for unproven and disproven interventions outside of medicine.
Angeline is part of a multilevel marketing machine dedicated to selling a family of products known as Healy. The devices themselves—looking like palm-size remote controls that deliver a mild electrical current via bracelet or earlobe electrodes—are very expensive, ranging from 605 to 4,833 Canadian dollars (not including taxes), and they must be accompanied by programs for smartphone apps, some of which are one-time purchases while others require a monthly subscription. There’s also a watch, a wireless transmitter, a nutrition app, a digital cloud service, and a variety of accessories.
The Healy is a case study in how pseudoscientific health gadgets are allowed to thrive in a regulatory environment that is not kind to consumers. The device’s claim of supporting health using “frequencies,” meanwhile, is yet another example that pseudosciences rarely die. They hibernate, then wake up, clad in the latest fashion, ready to start tempting a new generation.
Rife with pseudoscience
Healy’s parentage can be traced back to the frequency medicine devices of Dr. Albert Abrams and of Royal Rife. This area of pseudoscience goes by different names: bioresonance, bioenergetic field theory, even radionics. They are based on the claim that living things have some sort of energy field. Often, this energy is mystical in nature. Sometimes, like with Healy, it is electricity. This energy field is said to vibrate at a certain frequency when the body is healthy and at a different frequency when the body is ill. Bioresonance devices are meant to deliver the right frequency back to the body, so that its field is once more harmonious.
None of this is supported by our scientific understanding of living things—an understanding that is quite extensive and complex—and even though these simplistic ideas surrounding “frequencies” have been debunked before, they keep resurfacing. The skeptical community is a rich reservoir of knowledge on the history of cons, scams, and health frauds. Websites like Quackwatch, The Skeptic’s Dictionary, and Science-Based Medicine come in handy when we are confronted with a new wellness device and its alleged mechanism of action. Very often, it’s just repackaged woo.
The Healy is professed to focus not on a mystical energy but on the electrical voltage that can be measured on either side of a living cell’s membrane. This voltage is real. Contrary to what is claimed for the Healy, though, our healthy cells do not all have a voltage between -70 and -50 millivolts, and our diseased cells do not simply lose this electrical potential until they reach 0. (In Healy promotional material and in webinars, this claim is supported by the work of two professors, Becker and Nordenström. As Arjun Nidigallu points out in his video critical of the Healy, these two men had some wild ideas….) There is also no mechanism by which a device like Healy, delivering mild electricity to our body through electrodes, could restore the “right” voltage to diseased cells while leaving healthy cells unaffected. This kind of intervention is indistinguishable from wishful thinking.
In an era of personalized health, however, the Healy is a triumph of marketing. Whereas its ancestors, like Royal Rife’s devices, were meant to tap into universal frequencies, the Healy gives you personalized frequencies by allegedly scanning your body to find out what it needs in the moment and feeding it the right healing frequencies. (While this is an oft-mentioned selling point, only the most expensive Healy devices offer this scanning feature.) The idea that the device caters to your specific needs is certainly enticing, but it also makes its claims unfalsifiable. If your body’s “frequency needs”—whatever that means—are changing every minute, how could we distinguish between what the Healy tells us we need and what a computer randomly choosing a frequency program would give us?
The Healy is thus based on a gross oversimplification of biology and is sustained by assertions that are both implausible and unfalsifiable. This is not evidence based. Don’t take it from me; take it from the company itself. In a webinar on how the Healy is supposed to work, a highly ranked salesman for Healy World, Zac Deane, reads a disclaimer which states that, apart from one set of specific interventions (which we will get back to), “all other applications of Healy are not recognized by conventional medicine due to lack of evidence in the sense of conventional medicine.”
He goes on to claim that the Healy is FDA approved in the United States, which is not true.
How does a device like the Healy manage to exist within a regulatory environment that is meant to protect consumers from unsubstantiated health claims?
The official seal of the Food and Drug Administration carries a desirable weight, which is why so many companies selling pseudoscientific products seek it out. But the devil is in the details. In the case of dietary supplements, for example, the small print will reveal that the supplement itself was not approved by the FDA (which does not have the authority to approve dietary supplements for safety and effectiveness). Rather, the FDA logo is used to indicate that the supplement was produced in an FDA-registered facility. That’s it. The content of dietary supplements is not typically analyzed by the FDA, as they do not have the resources to do it. Buyer beware.
In the case of the Healy device, it is not approved by the FDA; rather, it received clearance from the FDA. Receiving clearance does not mean your device has been shown to be effective. It simply means it was judged to be substantially similar to a device that the FDA has already cleared or approved. Here, the makers of Healy claimed their device was similar to a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) device already on the market. The idea behind TENS is that tiny electrical currents delivered to the skin can temporarily relieve or distract from pain. (According to PainScience.com, there isn’t much evidence that it does help with pain, actually). Given that the Healy has been cleared by the FDA based on this analogy with TENS devices, any claim outside of this, such as the whole bioresonance theory, is highly suspect.
There is also a whole linguistic dance that works to Healy’s advantage. On an Instagram Live chat, a business strategist who goes by the name “Colette High Vibin Mama” made the following faux pas while talking about the Healy: “The amount of synergistically healing that you can do—we’re not supposed to say ‘healing,’ but ‘optimizing’ or ‘harmonization’ of the body, however you want to say it….” Claims that a wellness device or dietary supplement can heal you are a no-no. That is why the American version of the Healy website has what has been called in skeptical circles “the quack Miranda warning” tattooed to the bottom of every page: “[Healy’s microcurrent frequency programs] are not intended to cure, treat, mitigate, diagnose or prevent disease, and have not been reviewed by the FDA.” The company can’t claim that Healy cures, but some of its salespeople occasionally slip up.
Some claims, however, are legally fine. They are known as “structure-function claims.” Saying that a supplement will improve cell integrity is verboten, but if the supplement contains antioxidants, an allowable structure-function claim would be, “antioxidants maintain cell integrity.” It is then left to the consumer to infer or not that the antioxidant-containing supplement will improve the integrity of their cells.
Promotional material for the Healy is full of these vague claims which, when looked at on their surface, may appear to mean more than they do. The Healy is said to “support your health” and its Beauty program for your smartphone is “intended to bioenergetically harmonize your inner and outer beauty,” whatever that means. You can even “start supporting your pet’s wellbeing” because, of course, the Healy can also be used on animals. The mechanism of action of a Healy product designed to wirelessly transmit frequencies to your body, the Healy Coil, is explained using a thick veneer of “quantum” gibberish, before revealing that this is all “according to our opinion and hypothesis.” Should a product be sold based on a hunch?
While the company itself tries to stay within the limits of what they are legally allowed to claim (although once being fined 26,640 Australian dollars for false advertising), the salespeople who have joined the multilevel marketing plan and who often call themselves “mamas” on Instagram are frequently seen traipsing into more contentious territory. Mallory Demille, who denounces on social media the excesses of wellness influencers, has documented numerous instances of Healy salespeople making dangerous and potentially illegal claims. One of the Healy programs is said to “work on any bacteria, viruses, and parasites,” while the Healy device and its programs “can literally heal every single thing in your body.” One person says she healed a car with the Healy! You may be wondering how Healy could not work and still garner this kind of support from its users, but non-specific effects can easily muddy the waters: symptom fluctuations, self-limiting illnesses, feeling financially invested in a potential solution, and the use of other, real treatments concurrently.
Many users of the device recount their health journeys with the Healy. They do not claim that the Healy helped treat their cancer, but the “before and after” stories they tell strongly imply it. Testimonials become the hallway pass that allows companies selling you bunk to more or less escape from the confines of regulations.
There is so much more to touch on when it comes to the Healy, from the New Age connotation of its claim to “realign your body, mind and soul with the natural cycles of the sun, moon, and the earth,” to its seemingly endless collection of frequency programs, all with their own prices and symbols, that reminded me of how astrology, with its birth charts, feels like doing science. There is also the fact that, like your typical multilevel marketing structure, there isn’t much money to be made here: a third of Healy members make an average of 427$ a year, while the top 31 members make an average of 73,070$ yearly.
Made-up quotes from Hippocrates, beloved by wellness influencers, are here traded in for a disputed citation by Nikola Tesla about thinking in terms of frequency to find the secrets of the universe. Never underestimate the persuasive power of quoting men held up as geniuses to help sell your product. And don’t be fooled by the live blood analysis shared on social media, alleging that the Healy improved someone’s blood under the microscope. Live blood analysis is not a legitimate practice.
The Healy offers programs meant to help with your tonsils, prostate, crown chakra, skin elasticity, scars, extreme stress, fertility, and everything under the sun. As we like to say, if something is claimed to cure everything—sorry, “help support” everything, it usually helps support nothing.
- The Healy is a family of expensive products that are supposed to use frequencies to help support health
- It is the latest iteration of a long line of disproven gadgets, such as Rife devices, that claim to be able to reharmonize an alleged bioenergetic field
- Pseudoscientific gadgets and supplements can often look more legitimate than they are by using the FDA seal when only the manufacturing facility has been registered with the agency or when a device has been certified, and not approved, by the FDA; by making vague structure-function claims; and by letting users testify to the product’s benefits