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Ballplayers like titanium bands, but science doesn't say whether they work

Boston Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett wears a titanium necklace. Manufacturers’ claims of health benefits aren’t backed by any research.

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Boston Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett wears a titanium necklace. Manufacturers’ claims of health benefits aren’t backed by any research.

Shane Scully is no big league ballplayer like Josh Beckett or Dustin Pedroia. But the 12-year-old from Tampa has something in common with the two stars from his beloved Boston Red Sox, and a growing legion of other players from Little League to the majors.

They all wear colorful titanium-laced necklaces and wristbands that the manufacturer claims may help alleviate discomfort, enhance circulation, promote relaxation, stabilize energy flow, reduce stress and soothe tension.

The company, Japan-based Phiten, touts such technologies as a "micro-titanium sphere" and an "energy transport system," which its Web site says "amplifies the energy management system increasing the efficiency of each and every single cell."

But despite hearty endorsements from the likes of Beckett and New York Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain, and inspiring Web site testimonials from other elite athletes, there is no U.S. scientific evidence to back the claims.

"There are no studies that have looked at whether or not wearing one of these necklaces or bands has any impact or any change in one's body," said Jeff Konin, executive director for the Sports Medicine and Athletic Related Trauma Institute at the University of South Florida. Konin's view has been shared by many others in the scientific and medical communities.

But Konin says they may provide the wearer with a psychological boost, which can be a powerful thing for athletic performance.

"If somebody puts it on and they feel it's helping them, who are we to say it's not?" said Konin. "And that's okay."

That can be especially true of younger athletes, who look up to big league stars. "They're symbols of some kind," Konin said. "And when they're successful, the child looks at the way they walk, what they wear and whatever they're doing that's contributing to that success."

Phiten was founded in 1983 by Yoshihiro Hirata, a Japanese chiropractor. The company sells a variety of products, including $6 titanium discs, $15 bracelets and $47 necklaces, which are available online and at retailers including Sports Authority.

Konin considers the products harmless. He likened the titanium bands' popularity to other products such as BreatheRight nasal strips, which were marketed successfully for athletes, despite a lack of evidence or science to back the manufacturer's claims.

"If you can have celebrity endorsement, that tends to sell the product a whole lot better than any research study, whether it proves it works or not," Konin said.

Shane Scully, a seventh-grader at Davidsen Middle School in Westchase, received a Red Sox-themed titanium necklace on his 12th birthday in July, and "really hasn't taken it off since," said his father and Little League coach, Kevin Scully.

Shane, who recently added a titanium bracelet to his collection, readily admits he has no idea whether the products enhance circulation or stabilize his energy flow.

"I think it's all mental," he said. "Once you put it on you think that it helps."

Richard Martin can be reached at (727) 893-8330 or rmartin@sptimes.com.

Ballplayers like titanium bands, but science doesn't say whether they work 04/06/09 [Last modified: Monday, April 6, 2009 10:29pm]
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