Fashionable fit for healthy livingKoreans have always been highly conscious of items that have alleged health benefits. From bitter herbs and the blood of freshly cut deer antlers to pickled snakes and ginseng, foods considered good for the body are eagerly sought after and priced at the upper end of the market. Koreans will travel hours to a certain region to eat a special local delicacy and indulge in an assortment of bottled tonics to boost their stamina.
Accessories as well as food, bracelets in particular, have long been popular, especially among the elder generation, for health purposes. While in the past, jade and magnetic bracelets were worn mostly by women in their 60s and above, health bracelets have recently become a fashion item among younger people.
Notably, the fad is not only followed by teenagers, but people of all ages, from small children to middle aged men. Additionally, unlike the thick, heavy jade or stone health bracelets of the past, modern health bracelets are lightweight and flexible. Some are very colorful and resemble charity bracelets.
The most popular health bracelet these days is the tourmaline bracelet - a hollow silicon tube filled with tiny bits of tourmaline, a mineral that contains various metal components such as iron, magnesium, calcium, lithium, and sodium. Tourmaline is supposed to create negative ions that assist blood circulation and speed up your metabolism.
Sold practically everywhere - on the street, in drugstores, on the subway and on the Internet - the bracelets sometimes come in sets with a necklace. The cost ranges from 3,000 won ($2.90) to several tens of thousands of won, depending on the manufacturer.
Other “new” health bracelets include those that use titanium, such as one made by Phiten Korea. Titanium supposedly stabilizes the somatic electricity that runs through our bodies, relaxing muscles and assisting in fatigue recovery.
Other makers, like MIK, focus more on the fashion aspect, creating tourmaline bracelets in rainbow colors that look like rubber bangles.
Some scientists, however, say belief in the benefits of health bracelets is absurd.
Lee Duck-hwan, a professor of chemistry at Sogang University, said that Koreans' belief that negative ions benefit the body is illogical.
“Rather, there are many negative ions that are known to have fatal poisonous effects on the body, such as super oxides,” he said.
“People are just awed by the unfamiliar names of the materials used in the bracelets, such as tourmaline, titanium and germanium. The claims that advertisers of the products make are scientifically incorrect,” Mr. Lee said. “People who buy the bracelets are not only wasting their money - they may also be worsening their health.”
For people like 27-year old restaurant manager Lee Hun, however, the health benefits don’t really matter. “A lot of people wear bracelets these days so I thought I may as well wear something that may have health benefits. Even if it doesn’t, it’s not going to kill me,” he said.
Kim Se-yeong, a 43-year old office worker, said his reason for wearing the bracelet was political. “I want to show people I’m taking extra concerns for my health. Hopefully my boss will think he’s overworking me and my wife will cook me some better food. I’m not so sure it’s had any effect so far though,” he admitted.
For whatever reason, the bracelets are selling. In the past month, discount retailer Lotte Mart has sold more than 200,000 health bracelets. E-Mart says that sales of health bracelets have gone up by 20 percent every month for the past few months.
by Wohn Dong-hee