BY MICHAEL TELIAS
When I was a kid I became fascinated by the “water from Queretaro” (Tlacote, Mexico) when my most admired basketball hero Magic Johnson, after being diagnosed with HIV, made a pilgrimage to the well to drink the magical water that could allegedly cure any and every disease on Earth. Buses full of sick tourists from around the world lined up to enter the compound where the well was (for a fee of course), but the magical water did not help Magic, or anyone else. By contrast, thanks to advanced anti-retroviral drugs developed by real scientists at real medical research facilities, Magic Johnson is living a normal healthy life.
Many thousands of miles from Queretaro is the Kaaba at Mecca, the holiest place in the world for 1.6 billion Muslims. The famous Zamzam Water (ZW) well is located 20 meters east of the Kaaba. The ancient well is believed by faithful Muslims to contain holy water that can cure any and every disease. But, unlike the water at the Queretaro well, Muslim researchers have taken their belief a step further, producing a series of pseudoscientific papers “demonstrating” the healing properties of ZW. Here I will review the available data regarding the use and composition of ZW, as well as the quality of the evidence showing putative therapeutic properties.
Prevalence of ZW Treatment among Muslims in Jordan and Saudi Arabia
The literature surveying the incidence and prevalence of ZW treatment in the Middle East is scarce. PubMed only lists two studies, both published in CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine) journals. Both suggest that ZW treatment is very popular. The studies covered only cancer patients: 123 living in the Kingdom of Jordan1 and 453 from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia2. The two studies used different methodologies. The first focused on a number of alternative practices the patients simultaneously engaged in and the relative prevalence of each, while the second used a more straightforward approach of looking at the percentage of patients using different CAMs, including ZW. That study claims that 59.8% of cancer patients in the survey used ZW as a CAM therapy. Both papers are of very low quality, but assuming the data collection was not biased, they suggest that ZW treatment is widespread among Muslims in those two Middle Eastern countries.