Can hazelwood or amber necklaces help with the pain of babies’ teething?

bWhy are some mothers buying hazelwood or amber necklaces for their babies? It isn’t a new-fangled fashion statement. It’s actually old fashioned nonsense. These necklaces are being promoted as the answer to baby’s teething problems. Put the necklace on and baby sleeps better, doesn’t drool and there’s no whining from teething pain. What rationale is provided by the people selling these necklaces? Hazelwood, they say, has the medicinal property of neutralizing the body’s acidity. And what do the amber necklace promoters claim as a mechanism for the miraculous work of their product? It releases succininic acid! It increases acidity!

There are several layers of nonsense here. First of all, the body isn’t acidic or basic. That concept makes no sense. Body fluids such as blood, sweat or urine can be acidic or basic, but not the body itself. As far as blood goes, it has to be alkaline with a pH between 7 and 7.4. If it wanders outside this range, it’s a life threatening situation. While it may be possible to slightly alter blood pH by diet, it certainly isn’t possible to do so by wearing a necklace. But in any case why should an alteration in acidity have anything to do with teething pain? It doesn’t. But moms swear that when they put the hazelwood necklace on the baby, their behavior improves. Those who resort to amber necklaces claim the same thing. What we are looking at here is some wishful thinking. There’s more. Not only do these necklaces eliminate teething problems, they’re also great against diaper rash. Just look at the testimonials.

And it doesn’t stop with diaper rash. These magical pieces of jewelry can even treat excess stomach acid. Yup, the hazelwood necklace absorbs the excess acid. Sucks it right out of the stomach and through the skin. A truly amazing item. I wonder why physicians bother with proton pump inhibitors and antacids when a necklace solves the problem. And it does it without side effects of course. Needless to say, it performs its magic without any nasty chemicals. Migraines, arthritis and even acne are no match for the power of hazelwood or amber. But I suspect these amazing necklaces would meet their match in the form of a scientific study. It wouldn’t be hard to make replica “hazelwood” necklaces from some other wood or “amber” necklaces from plastic. Enlist a group of moms who just “know” that these items work, and have them use a “real” necklace for a week and then a “placebo” necklace for a week. Let’s see if they can tell which is which. I’be willing to eat the proverbial hat if they can. Or the necklace.

There is no science here, just some testimonials, the same as one might get for any intervention be it a hazelwood or amber necklace, or a suppository made from earwax collected by albino virgins from Ethiopian mountain goats by the light of the full moon. One more thing. Putting a necklace on a baby is not a totally benign activity. There is always a chance of swallowing a bead if the necklace comes apart, a remote chance of strangling and a not so remote chance of an allergic skin reaction. What makes people buy into such folly? It’s the packaging. The necklaces come wrapped in a mix of scientific illiteracy, simple credulity and wishful thinking.

Joe Schwarcz

13 responses to “Can hazelwood or amber necklaces help with the pain of babies’ teething?”

  1. Kes says:

    Silly. They entire body is constantly maintaining homeostasis through acid base balance of hydrogen bicarbonate potassium and sodium. All these elements have charges that effect the ph. Your body is absolutely one big acid base machine. Take a class. Learn something. don’t spit your uneducated rants on blogs where everyday people might read them.

  2. Mandy says:

    I’ll admit that I bought a hazelwood necklace for fun, I wasn’t sure if it would work, there’s so many opinions on it. Worst case scenario, it looked cute.

    Then I went through teething without one, and I now swear by them!

    It’s great to have different opinions, but to completely ridicule people’s belief online, real classy!

    And honestly, to the people that are saying they’re not safe and they’re a choking hazard, come on! Just like you ensure your baby’s safety while playing with a toy, you practice safety with a hazelwood necklace…nap time, it goes around their ankle and hey they’re safe!

  3. sharon says:

    I would like to reply to the person who posted a link to a research paper on hazelwood. First, this was funded by people who have a financial interest in promoting this product. Secondly, if you actually read it, you will see that itis all about infusions and extractions made from twigs – most plants, if you crush them up and treat them with heat or put them in various liquids will give up all sorts of compounds, good and bad. That is in no way equivalent to simply holding the plant or twig or whatever against your skin. Some herbs can be used as a compress, but again, they are crushed and held tightly against the body.

    If you knowmanything about physiology you know that it is ridiculous to think that anything could be held against the body to draw out the acidity in the stomach or to change the pH of your blood – it just doesn’t work that way.

    Show me a double-blinded study where moms don’t know what they are using on their fussy babies and prove that this is not a placebo effect or just a coincidence. I wouldn’t really care at all except it seems extremely dangerous to me to market a necklace for babies -it is just an inherently risky situation. Not all parents are informed or attentive enough to watch their babies 24/7 – is that even realistic at all for most of us?

    • Brian says:

      Absolutely, yes the only work being done on hazelwood at the moment is being funded by one of the larger manufacturers. And unless you get a government grant or some other benefactor, we live in a world where most science is done for profit. That said, I think what they’re going for in this study is to find what it is within the wood that’s having an impact (hence the extraction). The results are observable (not talking fussy babies here, we’re talking dramatic changes in skin rashes) and we’ve heard of several dermatologists expressing incredulity and interest in hazelwood as a skin treatment after seeing the results from some of their worst off patients. Hopefully more studies will be done, there’s something here that’s useful, even if it’s not understood yet.

      With regard to the issue of babies and necklaces, I agree 100%. No one should be putting these around the necks of anyone under the age of three unless they’ve got eyes on them 24/7, which of course is impractical. Thankfully the hazelwood seems to work regardless of where it is on the skin, and many of these ‘necklaces’ are actually being doubled around a child’s leg, at least at naps and night, if not 24/7. Most people using hazelwood are adults though, for heartburn, ulcers, and acid reflux. Again, not sure how/why it works, but it does. Hopefully the exact ‘how’ will become more clear! 🙂

  4. Brian says:

    Hi Dr. J,

    Thanks for taking the time to address hazelwood. Originally a product of Quebec, our family helped to first introduce hazelwood jewelry to the US market. We started out because of our own experience of our daughter’s response to the hazelwood with the massive improvement in her eczema. It wasn’t scientific but we observed a connection between her wearing the necklace and her eczema going away and the coming back again when either it was removed for a several hours / days or when it had turned black and needed to be replaced.

    It worked like clockwork like that for years, and being natural skeptics it was only after that protracted observation that we were convinced that the two were correlated.

    Since we started retailing hazelwood jewelry five years ago, we have, as you mentioned in your post, a zillion testimonials that amount to the same story, several including before and after pictures that we’ve received. With the adult stories for sure there could be a placebo effect involved but many of these are from toddlers for whom that’s not a factor (as was the case with our daughter).

    However there IS now some scientific work being done on the potential impact of the wood of the beaked hazel plant (where hazelwood beads come from), funded by one of the larger makers of hazelwood jewelry. One paper has been published thus far, which you can download from this page:

    I’d love to hear your feedback on the paper, it’s fairly dense reading for laymen like ourselves. Our understanding of the exact mechanisms involved is evolving as more work is done, and we’re open to feedback.

    With regard to the safety issue, yes necklaces and baby’s shouldn’t mix. Though there are safety releases built into all of the jewelry, no child should be wearing a necklace unattended under the age of three. For naps and at night, the hazelwood will work just as well wrapped around their leg. Safety is paramount and parental wisdom needs to be employed with the use of these products.

    Thanks again, best regards!


    • Brian says:

      Oops, realized Dr. J didn’t author the original blog post, my reply was to both the original post and Dr. J’s reply. Sorry for the confusion! 🙂

  5. NaTasha says:

    Just so you know. The succinc acid in the Baltic amber is an alkiline “acid”, like lemon juice. So the hazel wood and amber can work together not cancel each other out.

  6. Dr.J says:

    To the people writing in who refuse to accept that there is no scientific evidence to back up what you “feel.” Let me help you.

    I usually don’t do this because (1) this is my job, and (2) because I believe adults should be accountable for their own faulty beliefs. However, when it comes to kids that have magical thinking imposed on them, I can’t keep quiet.

    I consult on marketing these and other products (e.g., negative-ion bracelets). I specialize in consumer psychology. There’s your first hint: why do they need a consumer psychologist? We use what’s called the fallacy of regression. What we do is promote trinkets towards people whose children are at their worst. Get them to put on these trinkets and when the child regresses to the mean (i.e., when the child shows signs of averaging out), we allow you to attribute causality to the trinket. The truth is there’s nothing special about it. In fact, most amber teething rings aren’t amber but plastic. The ‘industry’ isn’t regulated because there actually is no active ingredient. You would have to heat amber to an incredibly high temperature to pull anything out of it.

    The way this works is we scour history and cultures for any type of low cost ingredient (though not too easily attainable that you could get it free). We then setup a David and Goliath story about how big pharma doesn’t want you to know this ‘all natural, readily available secret.’ We then say the same thing every time: “If you can’t stop X and you have tried everything else [severity control] or if you just want an all-natural alternative [selection bias] try this.” We’ll even sometimes add in something along the lines of “don’t be fooled by “insert alternatives” [illusion of credibility] or by claims to the contrary. We then throw in an appeal to authority by talking about some made up evidence (though we are starting to get caught for this). Then we leave it to the testimonies. We actually refer to our customers as “marks.” Several of you will understand why.

    This is generally how it plays out. The idea is to play on the fact that humans like to be ‘in on the know.’ We also have a very powerful self-preservation mechanism, in that when we commit to something, we tend to defend it and are biased in favor of confirmatory rather than disconfirmatory evidence.

    I don’t mind conning the average Joe. Like one of my team says “it’s a tax on the stupid.” I just don’t believe it allowing us permission to push these silly beliefs on to our kids. Not all of these necklaces are of the size that a child would not choke if unsupervised. Use your head people.

    • David says:

      I always love how people who only think from the left side of their brain are incapable of believing in the unexplained. Try thinking from the right side once in awhile and you might realize that scientists prove things only based on what they know so far. So if we don’t understand how something works that doesn’t mean its bulls**t. Do you think the inventor of the sail had a clue what wind actually was? They just knew it somehow pushed the boat and that was way better than rowing. Also, try not to be such a condesending A-hole just because you think you are smarter than everyone. The fact that you are university educated just means you wasted a lot of money to say you are “smart”.

  7. Kim says:

    To the author of this blog my son is wearing a necklace made with Hazelwood and Amber. It has helped with his teething and drooling a huge amount. The necklace has a life of about 3 months or so before the wood starts changing colour and cracking. The amber beads in this necklace a small enough so if they do actually get them off and swallow them they would pass through the body. I would bet most necklaces sold for teething are knotted after each bead.I willcontinue to use them cause i believe they truly do work.

  8. Jaclyn says:

    Normally I am a cynic. Then I had a baby. I didn’t have the necklace on at first, screaming, tantrums and pain while cutting 3 molars and an eye tooth simultaneously. I bought the necklace to see if it was hokey pokey. Put it on (and left it on for 5 days), and I swear I have a different child. Tantrums drastically reduced, sleeping better and much happier. To see if it was a coincidence, I removed the necklace after 5 days and we were back to the pain and problems associated with it. I am a pharmacist, who understands science and that the what/how it works doesn’t make sense. But, now I say don’t knock it till you try it , it honestly works. Hey, even if it is in my head who cares. I really think he feels better. There are choking hazards everywhere in your house. Babies should never be left un-attended. At night, put the necklace around babies ankle don’t leave it on their neck. A little common sense is important when raising a child.

  9. Mark Gentili says:

    Thanks for the post on this. A friend recently purchased one of these, and I was immediately curious about the claims (sceptical might be more accurate), but could find no real science online to describe how the thing might work. My arguments to her that contact would be unlikely to affect acidity, and that the body isn’t acidic anyway didn’t go anywhere. Perhaps coming from you folks though, the argument will carry more weight. Love the blog. Keep up the good work. You’ve made my bookmarks list!

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