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Do Amber Teething Necklaces Really Work?

Photy by hisks

If you practice any type of natural parenting or attachment parenting, chances are that you have already heard of amber teething necklaces. They are wonderful pieces of jewelry that have saved the sanity of many a parent over the years. But amber teething necklaces can be very expensive and many will attempt to thwart parents interested in more affordable necklaces by scaring them with stories about fakes necklaces and necklaces that do not work.

Instead of listening to the sellers of these necklaces who will perpetuate myths about the industry, either purposefully or through lack of education, have a look at the real properties of Baltic amber before choosing which necklace you will use.

Do Amber Teething Necklaces Really Work? The Science and the Myths Behind Amber's Rumored Curative Properties
More and more people are switching to a healthier and more natural lifestyle these days but converting can be confusing and overwhelming. Many find that it takes a lot of research. There are also a large number of people poised to take advantage of those just getting started on the road to a healthy lifestyle and without research and education, you may find yourself taken advantage of.

Amber teething necklaces are one area where parents are frequently and purposefully misinformed. Most of the information passed around the internet regarding amber teething necklaces is false and these rumors quickly become a sort of dogma to those who use the necklaces and swear by them. This article is an attempt to provide real and cited information to parents who are interested in learning the truth about Baltic amber teething necklaces.

Baltic amber teething necklaces are small strings of genuine Baltic amber beads which can be worn by babies and children to reduce the symptoms of teething such as fever, diaper rash, irritability, pain and red cheeks. The necklaces should never go into the child's mouth. They are not to be chewed. They are only to wear. Most parents agree that amber teething necklaces do, in fact, reduce the symptoms of teething in their young children.

Long used in Europe, Baltic amber teething necklaces have recently become popular among the natural parenting crowd in the United States. Because they are new in our country, most Americans don't know much about them. This provides an advantage to sellers who can make unfounded claims about the abilities of Baltic amber to buyers who will believe them. While many claims are true, most are false.

Websites that sell amber teething necklaces are not a reliable source of correct information, nor are articles on natural parenting blogs because they only repeat what they have read on dealers' websites and on other parenting blogs they have visited. Simply doing an online search on a specific phrase such as " "only Baltic amber contains succinic acid" will pull up numerous blogs all with the exact same copied and pasted article (Baltic amber is actually not the only type of amber that contains succinic acid). Deeper research into the science and history of amber will yield far better results for those considering purchasing an amber teething necklace.

TRUTH: "Baltic amber contains more succinic acid than any other type of amber." It is true, no other type of amber contains more than 3% succinic acid. Some types contain none at all. (22) Because of this, another name for Baltic amber is succinite. Baltic amber is the fossilized resin of several specific species of trees which lived in a massive ancient forest in Kaliningrad during the Eocene. (1)

TRUTH: "Baltic amber contains up to 8% succinic acid." Baltic amber can contain between 3% and 5% succinic acid. Rarely, some very pure specimens of bone amber can contain up to 8% succinic acid.(3)

MYTH: "Lighter colored amber has more succinic acid." It is not the lightness of the color but the white opaqueness of the stone which indicates a higher succinate content. Often called "bone amber" or "osseous amber," this amber is white and completely opaque and resembles a polished piece of bone. The white color is caused by gas bubbles suspended in the resin. These pieces of amber may contain the highest amounts of succinic acid - up to 8% and they are hard to find used in amber teething necklaces because their appearance is not as desirable.  Other colors of amber are created by the presence of dirt and plant particles and are not indicative of their succinic acid content. (2)(3)

MYTH: "Raw amber beads work better because they have more succinic acid on their surface. This is because polishing rubs the succinic acid off." This statement is false but was born from a grain of truth.
The truth is that when amber sits underground for millions of years and fossilizes, it slowly develops succinic acid over time. There is succinic acid throughout each stone but the highest levels of succinic acid are found on the surface of the stone when pulled immediately from the ground. So yes, when the stone is first pulled from the ground, it does have more succinic acid on its surface.
However, succinic acid is highly water soluble. Amber is gathered either from the ocean where the succinic acid has been thoroughly rinsed from the surface of the stone over centuries of exposure or it is mined from the ground using water extraction and then thoroughly cleaned by machine to remove all dirt and debris. This washing process quickly removes all of the succinic acid, which is easily water-soluble (like salt or sugar) from the surface of the stone. Raw amber beads are unlikely to contain any succinic acid on their surface. This myth may have been started by sellers desiring to sell lower-quality products (undesired, unpolished amber) for higher prices. A higher succinic acid content can be found on the surface of polished stones as the bare, washed surface has been removed, exposing the inner layers of amber. (4)(5)(6)(7)

TRUTH: "You should not allow the necklace to get wet." Because succinic acid is water soluble, it should not be worn swimming or in the bath. Water and soaps will remove the thin layer of succinic acid on its surface. Wetting the string of the necklace can also cause the string to break down and wear out more quickly over time or cause it to mildew under the beads. You can clean your amber beads regularly by gently rubbing them with a soft natural cloth.

MYTH: "Succinic acid (or "healing oils" as some sellers call it) is released from the beads when warmed against the skin." This statement is entirely fabricated. Amber cannot release any succinic acid unless heated to very high temperatures. Amber does not even begin to soften until it reaches 302 degrees Fahrenheit and it does not melt or release oils until heated to about 500 degrees. Succinic acid does not move through the stone and warming it against the skin does not release any oils or succinic acid even in trace quantities. The only succinic acid that will ever be obtained from wearing the necklace is what is directly on the surface at the time of purchase. Amber does not release oils. Amber is a fossilized resin and a solid which has held up to the elements for millions of years despite extreme temperatures and weathering. Warming it slightly against skin does not change its qualities in any way that fifty million years of exposure to the elements would not. Any claims to the contrary by sellers of amber teething necklaces is false. (8)

MYTH: "Necklaces made in China might be made from Chinese amber which has no succinic acid." Burmite or Burmese amber is a very rare type of amber that is Mined in one small area of China. Burmite is the oldest known type of amber at over 100 million years old and is also the hardest type of amber. It is prized for carving and because it contains more preserved flora and fauna specimens than any other type of amber. It is true that burmite contains no succinic acid however, because of its high cost and rarity and because of the fact that the only company which mines burmite is a Canadian-owned company which is the sole exporter of burmite in the world, it is highly unlikely that a piece would ever make it into a child's teething necklace even on accident. (23) Baltic amber is the least expensive type of amber and makes up the majority of amber in the world - about 80% of all amber that exists. 90% of the world's amber currently sold is Baltic amber mined in Russia. (5) Companies looking to use the lowest priced materials actually would go with Baltic amber above any other type which are all much more rare and costly.

MYTH: "You should only trust amber teething necklaces that come with a certificate of authenticity like ours do." A piece of paper printed by the seller claiming that their jewelry is uniquely authentic is still just a piece of paper printed by the seller. It can say anything they want it to say. A Baltic amber teething necklace does not have enough value to warrant any costly, official certificate of authenticity and you're unlikely to ever find a fake anyway. Supposed "certificates of authenticity" are merely a sales tactic.

MYTH: "Succinic acid is a natural pain reliever." The truth is that succinic acid is not and has never been a known pain reliever. Succinic acid is not capable of acting as a pain reliever. No information exists which shows that succinic acid is capable of relieving pain. It is found throughout the body because it is produced in every single cell and is excreted in larger quantities in urine. It is also contained in almost all plants as it is used in their cellular respiration. You eat large quantities of succinic acid every day. It is universal in our environment and even in the air we breathe, so even if it were possible to obtain a trace amount from a teething necklace, it would be nothing at all compared to the amounts you are already exposed to on a daily basis. (9)(10)(11)

Succinic acid is used in pharmacology, but not as a healing agent. Succinic acid is used to balance the acidity of medications. It is also used in the food and drink industry to control the acidity of many foods. It has been considered safe as a food additive, however, it is a harsh skin irritant. (12)

Some sellers will claim that succinic acid is beneficial for the body because it is part of the Krebs cycle. This is just one way in which sellers of teething necklaces attempt to make succinic acid appear to have health benefits when in reality they have no knowledge of the process and assume, therefore, that the buyer also has no knowledge of it.

The Krebs cycle is the name for a small step in the mitochondria of each of the body's cells which metabolizes sugar. Succinic acid is produced inside of the mitochondria of each cell through oxidation. The succinic acid in the mitochondria of each cell of a living organism is produced during the Krebs cycle and is not required from any outside source.(13)(14)

In fact, according to the Advertising Standards Agency,  companies in Great Britain are not allowed to advertise amber necklaces as having medicinal or analgesic properties due to their succinate content because succinic acid does not have the ability to relieve pain in any amount, large or small. (15) No such laws yet exist in the United States to protect consumers, so sellers remain free to perpetuate untruths about the efficacy of succinic acid.

Why, then do sellers tell their customers that amber teething necklaces work because they contain succinic acid? For a couple of reasons. Most sellers probably have no idea what succinic acid is, they are only copying information that other sellers have posted on their own sites. Most likely, the myth originated with a single seller who needed an explanation for their questioning buyers who did not believe in amber's traditional mystical properties.

A quick look online would have shown that Baltic amber contains succinic acid and a second search and a one minute read would have told them that succinic acid was part of the Krebs cycle and therefore an important ingredient in mitochondrial metabolism. This supposed "evidence" of its health benefits may have been all that was required to convince an uneducated person that succinic acid must, therefore, be the chemical reason responsible for amber's healing properties, an explanation easily believed by other unknowing buyers who accepted what sounded like science rather than magic. The abilities of succinic acid to reduce pain and inflammation are clearly fabricated as this information does not exist anywhere in the world where it can be cited or referenced. The only known medical effects of succinic acid on the body (studied in rats) is as a controller of mast-cell dependant anaphylaxis. (16)

MYTH: "Amber may protect the wearer against the harmful effects of electronics such as televisions, cell phones, microwave ovens, etc." Of course it "may." It "may" also protect against alien invasions, kraken attacks, and nosey neighbors. For real. It's true. By the way, I've got a bridge I'd like to sell you. I find it amazing that some buyers are not insulted by some of these sellers' baseless claims.

MYTH: "Baltic amber has healing properties not because of its succinic acid content, but because of its ability to create negative ions." There is no reason to think that negative ions are created by amber or that they can influence pain in the body. The only health effects that negative ions have ever been found to have are as either an air purifier (the negatively charged particles attach to pathogens and dust in the air causing them to become heavy and fall to the ground) or as a mood improver by influencing serotonin levels in the brain which regulate depression and feelings of emotional well-being. Any claims that negative ions can make you stronger, heal you when you are ill or relieve pain are a hoax and seem only to be used by folks trying to sell you amber or those negative ion bracelets. Because only manufacturers claim these benefits, not scientists or anyone who would have any knowledge of how negative ions work and are created, we know that they are not true. If it were true, there would be some science behind it from which they could base their claims. Otherwise, these statements are clearly just fabricated. (20)

Also, the benefits mentioned were only present when huge amounts of negative ions were generated. The incredibly tiny amount that a piece of jewelry could potentially generate is negligible and has not shown any effects on health.  Not to mention the fact that the skin does not absorb negative ions. They must be inhaled, so only negative air ions would be in any way beneficial to mental quality.

Negative air ions can only be created in a few ways: radiation (which knocks protons and electrons off of atoms creating both positive and negative ions), ultraviolet radiation (same as other types of radiation), high-voltage electricity (such as lightning or plug-in home purifiers), heavy friction of water (such as a waterfall or rainstorm), and from living plants in tiny amounts. So unless your amber necklace is highly radioactive, you're not going to be getting any negative air ions out of it. Amber does create static electricity, but not in any amount to create negative air ions and only when rubbed very vigorously on specific materials, not on skin. (19) (21)

The knowledge of the existence of negative ions is relatively new. Scientists only began to understand the existence of negative ions in the 1930s when experimentation with them began. The doctor who did all of the experiments on negative air ions and their health benefits died in 1982 and even his obituary laments the fact that the single health benefit discovered regarding negative air ions resulted in an explosion of quackery in which products for sale claimed they could cure or treat pretty much anything. In fact, Dr. Kreuger did an experiment on hospital patients to see if negative air ions improved pain relief. 50% of patients said they thought it helped and 50% said it did not, thus negating the idea that it can provide any relief for pain. (18)

TRUTH: "Amber has been used for centuries as a healing stone." Amber has, in fact, been used for centuries as a healing stone in many cultures. But the mistake must not be made in thinking that the stone was used as an actual pharmacological medicine. The origins of amber's healing properties result entirely from folklore in which occult properties have been attributed to the stone. It is said, for example, that Martin Luther carried a piece of amber in his pocket to protect against pain. It has been powdered and added to honey and other concoctions and given to cure nearly every sort of illness, some of which are still used to day in some areas of the world. Medallions of amber have been worn to prevent sickness and to give power to the wearer. (17)

But assuming that this automatically means that amber must have some sort of chemical healing properties is folly. Nearly every single stone there is has been given some sort of occult status, usually as a stone of healing, especially if the stone is valuable.

Amber is no different. Bloodstone has been though to cure the wearer of any disease. Carnelian is also touted as a stone of health and vitality. Any modern practicing witch can rattle off at least fifty different gemstones and non-medicinal plants and their associated magical properties. Amber has long been thought to be a powerfully magical stone because of its ability to produce static electricity when rubbed against fur. While amber is considered a potent stone of power and healing in occult practices and folk remedies, it cannot be sold under the pretense of having any sort of chemical medicinal properties.

And let us not forget that many false remedies have been used throughout history such as bleeding, leeching a patient, washing the patient with urine or feces, consuming crushed emeralds, drinking mercury and arsenic, heroin, cocaine, the list seems endless. Just point your browser towards the words "ancient medicine" and you'll wonder how humans ever made it this far. Tiger penises and rhinoceros horns are still considered actual medicines to this day.

MYTH: "You can recharge your teething necklace by putting it in the sun." I have this one listed as a myth but it may have some actual basis in truth. First, putting amber in the sun cannot "recharge" the amber's chemical content, including succinic acid. However, if you believe that amber has occult properties, then placing the necklace in the sun can definitely be a way of "recharging" the amber as part of a spiritual cleansing practice. These cleansing practices may also include putting the object in question into spring water, sea salt or moonlight or by smudging with sage. But the act of placing the necklace in the sun to warm it so that it releases "healing oils" is a myth. Amber cannot release any succinic acid unless heated to very high temperatures. Amber does not even begin to soften until it reaches 302 degrees Fahrenheit and it does not melt or release oils until heated to about 500 degrees. (8)

MYTH: "Polished amber beads don't work because they are coated with a sealant." Amber polishes easily and is never coated in a sealant. This statement is a complete fabrication. The outer surface of polished amber is pure amber. The only time a sealant is used is to preserve cretaceous amber which is very brittle and if it contains an insect inclusion, may be encased in preservative resin for display purposes. (8)

MYTH: "You must be careful who you purchase from because there are fake amber teething necklaces on the market." One of the most popular myths perpetuated among proponents of amber necklaces is that cheap amber necklaces are all made in China and that these necklaces are made of plastic, not real amber. This is false. You are unlikely to ever find a fake amber teething necklace. For more in-depth information on this subject, see How to Tell If Your Amber Teething Necklace is Real or Fake: Debunking Common Myths.

MYTH: "The teething necklace must be around the baby's throat in order to work, closest to the teeth." This statement may have originally been made in order to entice parents to purchase necklaces which are more costly than anklets and bracelets. Parents who use teething bracelets and teething anklets report the same pain-relieving properties as the necklaces, so necklaces and bracelets can both be used for teething if you prefer them. They do, however, pose a greater hazard because a child can easily reach them to bite them, breaking off sharp, glass-like pieces.

MYTH: "Amber teething necklaces are safe to leave on your baby all of the time." Some parents claim that it is safe to leave amber teething necklaces on all of the time because they did it and their child is fine. It's important to remember that almost all adults over the age of thirty today rode in cars with no car seats for their entire childhood and we are all still alive. This doesn't mean that cars are not dangerous or that children at that time never died in car accidents or that necklaces are not a strangulation hazard.

Necklaces are absolutely strangulation hazards for children. Young children have been and continue to be strangle by necklaces, so it is important to follow safe practices when using a teething necklace. Because most parents who use them also practice attachment parenting, it is unlikely that many of them leave their child alone for any period of time, so wearing a teething necklace can definitely be safe if attachment parenting practices are followed and the child is not left unsupervised with the jewelry.

There are generally three types of amber teething necklace. One closes with a plastic screw clasp, one closes with a plastic clasp that pulls apart easily and the third type has a strong magnetic closure. Each version has its own specific risks to be aware of.
Teething necklaces with a screw clasp may claim that their necklace will break if enough pressure is applied to strangle a child. This is not necessarily true. I own three teething necklaces, one from Inspired by Finn and the other two purchased from sellers with no shop names. All three have screw clasps and none of them broke when I applied heavy pressure, enough to definitely strangle a small child. A child can be strangled if the necklace becomes looped over an object such as a chair or the corner of a crib. A child can also insert an arm, tightening the necklace around the neck. A flexible baby may be able to insert a foot while playing and cause the necklace to become very tight around the neck.

A necklace which is capable of reaching over the chin can be bitten. Amber is hard but brittle and when it breaks, it creates pieces with edges as sharp as glass. A child can easily cut themselves on a fractured piece or ingest it. If the necklace breaks, beads may come off and could pose a choking hazard. Knotted necklaces prevent more than one or two beads from escaping, but the necklace itself can become a choking hazard and the beads can be chewed and broken off once the necklace is not longer around the neck.
Pull-off necklaces are less of a strangulation hazard, but the child will be able to remove the necklace easily and could chew on the beads. Magnetic clasp necklaces pose the same risk with the addition that if the magnets themselves are in any way able to be bitten and swallowed, they can become a serious, even life-threatening health risk.

While these safety hazards are something to take into account, they are by no means a reason not to use amber teething necklaces. Proper supervision is essential at any time, whether wearing the necklace full-time, part-time or not at all. While it is easy for many parents who do not always supervise their children to say that necklaces are the problem, the real problem is lack of parental attention, not necklaces.

MYTH: "Amber teething necklaces do not work." On the contrary, the above information is no reason not to try an amber teething necklace if you want to. Most people who use Baltic amber beads for pain relief report that it does help and almost all parents who have tried them will have stories of amber teething necklaces helping with their babies' teething symptoms.

The reasons why amber teething necklaces seem to work are unknown. It may be that the light pine scent of amber has a calming effect. It may also work as a sort of placebo effect, creating an analgesic effect in the adult wearer and perhaps even convincing a parent that the child's symptoms are no longer as bad as they were. To a parent of a teething child, it does not matter how they work, only that they do! Who cares if it is a placebo effect?

I personally have wondered if the gentle touch of the jewelry and its simple stroking of the skin with movement isn't what creates the soothing effect. I, myself, enjoy wearing necklaces and long earrings specifically for the soothing effect caused by jewelry brushing against my neck. Amber is warm to the touch and may simulate affectionate stroking. If you believe in the occult power of gemstones, amber may be a wonderful addition to your collection and can be worn for nearly any health issue or in general as a stone of power and healing.

Whatever the reason, amber teething necklaces are incredibly beautiful and can become well-loved and treasured family heirlooms. They are very attractive and look wonderful on adults and children alike. There is no reason not to purchase one for yourself or for your child and gain the full benefit of enjoyment from its beauty and its purported soothing properties.
If you are interested in learning how to test your Baltic amber teething necklace for authenticity, please see my myth-debunking article entitled: How to Tell If Your Amber Teething Necklace is Real or Fake: Debunking Common Myths

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amber
2. http://www.brost.se/eng/education/facts.html
3. Journal - Chemical Society, London, Volume 34 http://books.google.com/books?id=NT8yAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA324&lpg=PA324&dq=bone+amber+succinic+acid&source=bl&ots=K-lw4xWbmB&sig=6LP8CHz60qz1MXHjJZxZcqm4zZk&hl=en&sa=X&ei=B7oXU73mIsGxoQSH3oHgCw&ved=0CCwQ6AEwAjgK#v=onepage&q=bone%20amber%20succinic%20acid&f=false
4. http://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/summary/summary.cgi?cid=1110
5. http://englishrussia.com/2011/12/03/90-of-amber-is-extracted-here/
6. http://www.lithaz.org/arts/amber.html
7. Pharmaceutical Journal - http://books.google.com/books?id=tO4KAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA675&lpg=PA675&dq=succinic+acid+amber+surface&source=bl&ots=Z8DVFt31TF&sig=Ns7R1TT-7pCPisQvsGhUFIMwsG8&hl=en&sa=X&ei=osoXU76ZEsyGogTg4oHYDw&ved=0CDYQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=%22proportion%20of%20succinic%20acid%20than%20amber%20recovered%20from%20the%20sea%22&f=false
8. http://www.madehow.com/Volume-7/Amber.html
9. http://www.hmdb.ca/metabolites/hmdb00254
10. http://www.newtreatments.org/ga.php?linkid=336
11. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1469-8137.1949.tb05117.x/pdf
12. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Succinic_acid
13. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citric_acid_cycle
14. http://www.ruf.rice.edu/~bioslabs/studies/mitochondria/mitokrebs.html
15. http://www.cap.org.uk/Advice-Training-on-the-rules/Advice-Online-Database/Amber-Jewellery.aspx
16. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10227065
17. http://www.academia.edu/241848/Amber_in_the_Ancient_Near_East
18. http://www.nytimes.com/1982/12/16/obituaries/albert-krueger-80-bacteriologist-led-research-on-air-ions.html
19. http://www.eesons.com/article01.html
20. http://clinicaltrial.gov/ct2/show/NCT00809523?term=negative+ion+generator&rank=1
21. http://www.wisegeekhealth.com/what-are-negative-ions.htm
23. http://www.rareburmite.com/amber_info.html

Further reading of interest:

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