Microwaved Water Kills Plants

Status: Undetermined
microwave experiment I've posted before about theories that microwaved food is bad for you, but this is slightly different. Some guy has posted pictures of his granddaughter's science fair project in which she tested the effect microwaved water would have on a plant. The result: the plant died. (Yes, the water had been cooled before she watered the plant with it.) But the plant given water that had been boiled on a stove did just fine. So what does this prove? That microwaved water is toxic? Not necessarily. The guy notes:

We have seen a number of comments on this, such as what was the water in the microwave boiled in. The thinking is that maybe some leaching took place if it was in plastic. It was boiled in a plastic cup, so this could be a possibility. Also it was not a double blind experiment, so she knew which was which when watering them. On top of that she was wanting the microwaved ones to do poorly, and although most scientists would dismiss the idea, it is possible that her thoughts toward each plant had an effect as well. Bottom line is, the results are interesting, and duplicate the results that others have reported (try Googling '"microwaved water" plants') more experiments need to be done with better controls and as a double blind study. But this was a simple 6th grade science fair project, and was never intended to be anything more than that. The plants were genetically identical, they were produced from graphs from the same parent plant, so that variable can be eliminated.

Intriguingly, the Straight Dope (a source I usually trust) has written an article about the controversy over microwave cooking, and he notes that scientists actually do not fully understand the chemical changes that take place when food is microwaved, and so there may indeed be some kind of "microwave effect." He notes a 1992 Stanford study that found microwaving breast milk mysteriously reduces its infection-fighting properties, as well as studies that have found that microwaves can accelerate certain chemical reactions. He writes: "'One suggestion,' a bunch of chemists wrote recently, 'is that this is some form of 'ponderomotive' driving force that arises when high frequency electric fields modulate ionic currents near interfaces with abrupt differences in ion mobility.'" He doesn't attempt to explain this theory.

I would repeat the girl's experiment myself, but everything I try to grow mysteriously dies, so there wouldn't be much point. (via The Greener Side)

Food Science

Posted on Fri Apr 21, 2006


I think this is probably down to the containers that the water was heated in. As for microwaved breast milk, since the main things heated by a microwave are water molecules, by rotating them, this could easily mess up the shape of proteins, who's effects depend on their precise shape.
Posted by cthelmax  in  england  on  Fri Apr 21, 2006  at  10:08 AM
Alright Alex, I'll be the first to suggest- "On top of that she was wanting the microwaved ones to do poorly, and although most scientists would dismiss the idea, it is possible that her thoughts toward each plant had an effect as well."

With that in mind, perhaps the next time you try to grow something, you'd do well to think in a positive manner towards the success of the LIFE of the plant, rather than it's presupposed imminent death... LOL
Posted by Christopher in Joplin, Missouri  in  Joplin, Mo  on  Fri Apr 21, 2006  at  11:08 AM
As for the milk, it's not 'mysterious' at all.Food is pasturized by heating it to deactivate biologically active compounds.
Posted by Vegas Vic  on  Fri Apr 21, 2006  at  11:09 AM
Here's a link to an abstract of the 1992 Stanford study. And here's the text of the abstract:

In intensive care nurseries it has become common practice to use microwave thawing of frozen human milk for more rapid accessibility. Twenty-two freshly frozen human milk samples were tested for lysozyme activity, total IgA, and specific secretory IgA to Escherichia coli serotypes 01, 04, and 06. The samples were heated by microwave for 30 seconds at a low- or high-power setting and then reanalyzed. One-mL aliquots of 10 additional human milk samples were microwaved at low (20 degrees C to 25 degrees C), medium (60 degrees C to 70 degrees C), and high (greater than or equal to 98 degrees C) setting before the addition to each of 1 mL of diluted E coli suspension. E coli growth was determined after 3 1/2 hours of incubation at 37 degrees C. Microwaving at high temperatures (72 degrees C to 98 degrees C) caused a marked decrease in activity of all the tested antiinfective factors. E coli growth at greater than or equal to 98 degrees C was 18 times that of control human milk. Microwaving at low temperatures (20 degrees C to 53 degrees C) had no significant effect on total IgA, specific IgA to E coli serotypes 01 and 04, but did significantly decrease lysozyme and specific IgA to E coli serotype 06. Even at 20 degrees C to 25 degrees C, E coli growth was five times that of control human milk. Microwaving appears to be contraindicated at high temperatures, and questions regarding its safety exist even at low temperatures.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Fri Apr 21, 2006  at  11:30 AM
As a regular reader of your site, I'm very surprised you dignified a this "science project" by even mentioning it.

While there seems a possibility that something other than convective heating due to molecular motion and the impact on bonds, anything more is just pseudoscience.

You'd have been better off not posting at all.
Posted by DCL  in  MA  on  Fri Apr 21, 2006  at  11:35 AM
Well, DCL, that's the benefit of this being my site. I get to post any crap I like. wink

But seriously, if this little experiment is real, I do find that pretty interesting. Of course, I find it hard to believe that microwaved water would kill plants. But given the many odd, little understood properties of both microwaves and water, I'm not willing to dismiss the possibility altogether.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Fri Apr 21, 2006  at  01:59 PM
I'm glad you posted it Alex. It's a good way to discuss experimental design. Here's how the test should be run to see if this isn't a case of irreproducible results.

First, the sample size should be much greater than 1 for each group. I'd like to see an experimental group (microwaved water) of 30 plants, a group of 30 that gets boiled water, and another "control" that gets tap water.

Come on--the death of one plant could've been due to any number of reasons.

Both the boiled water and the microwaved water should be done in the same container (pyrex would work).

I predict in this design you'd get no significant difference among the plants. (By the way, was her plan to measure the health of the plants strictly "lived" or "died"? What about measure stem length or number of leaves or something?)
Posted by Joe  on  Fri Apr 21, 2006  at  03:22 PM
yes, obviouly the sample size is a major problem in this 'experiment'....
Posted by katey  on  Fri Apr 21, 2006  at  08:22 PM
"Expecting the plant to die" can result in a lot of more obvious problems than "bad thoughts." Someone could handle the plant more roughly, could under- or over-water it, could give it slightly less good light, and so on.

That's why a double-blind study would be great, with a lot more samples. The person doing the watering wouldn't know which group was getting which water until the study was over.
Posted by cvirtue  on  Sat Apr 22, 2006  at  11:56 AM
Water is not the same as "food". It's a simple compound H2O and heating it by microwave doesn't change that one bit.
Posted by somebody  on  Sat Apr 22, 2006  at  11:54 PM

On several websites I found that microwave ovens were banned in Russia. What do you think Alex, is this a hoax or true? I think with your experience you should be able to find out.

Has anyone here ever tasted anything out of a microwave oven? I think it's a miracle how that machine can turn decent food into a tasteless rubery substance I wouldn't even consider feeding a pet.

Feeding a plant water that has been heated in a microwave oven is a bit sadistic. But it's not half as gross as actually trying to eat microwaved-food. I tried it a couple times, with different ovens, yuck. Anyone who believes more in his own experiences than scientists who keep changing their theories every couple of years knows microwaves do a lot more than just heating things up.

Imagine, like 50 years ago, some weirdo tried to tell you that one day their would be small boxes, with no wires. If you pushed a couple buttons, you could speak to someone else with a similar box, hundred of miles away from you. And it would be possible that millions of people would have a device like that... Who would have believed that? We would have called it science fiction from people with overactive imagination.

Cellular phones. And what do they use to transmit information? Microwaves... It's about the same frequency range as used by the ovens.

We don't need to look far to see proof that microwaves can do a lot more than heating things up. Who wants to wait until scientists agree on what causes the headache after a couple minutes of microwaving our brains with our mobile phones? Maybe they'll believe it's the heat. Maybe they'll give an explanation we totally don't understand. Maybe they'll just ignore it, because who wants to pay for such research?

What's the use of researching things any sane person can experience anyway?
Posted by Luc  in  Belgium  on  Sun Apr 23, 2006  at  01:18 PM
I eat food that has been warmed up in a microwave oven regularly, and I have been since sometime long long ago. I can't remember when my parents first bought a microwave, but it was very early on, I'm thinking mid '70s. So far I haven't noticed any abnormalities that can't be attributed to normal wear and tear. I don't actually COOK food in the microwave, because it does tend to have texture issues, but for reheating, or warming things it works just fine. I also don't boil water (or any other liquid) simply because it's faster to heat it up on the stove.
Posted by hcmomof4  on  Mon Apr 24, 2006  at  10:07 PM
Okay, let's consider the nature of water. Everybody learns in school that water is H2O, but unfortunately schools have a tendency to leave people with an oversimplified view of things. When you turn on the tap in your kitchen sink, you are not getting a stream of pure H2O. What you're really getting is a solution, with all sorts of salts and gases and biological things all mixed into the water. So it's not just H2O that is being microwaved, but all this stuff as well.

Now, despite what some people might think, there is no abnormal nuclear fusion or fission going on in your food when you microwave it (there will be the odd atom of some radioactive isotope in there breaking down, but that would happen even without the microwave). Things get heated up and molecules will recombine, but the atoms themselves stay the same. Oxygen is not going to break down into boron and lithium, and carbons and nitrogens are not going to combine into plutonium. Any changes are going to be on the molecular level, not the nuclear.

So, what happens to all those molecules of all the various solutes when the water is microwaved? As far as specifics go, I don't really know. But on a general level, they will be gaining energy. This may cause some of the molecules to break apart, or other atoms to combine into different molecules. These changes, though, would be dependent on all that added energy, and once the energy is taken away (by the microwave turning off and the water cooling down), many of them will likely change back to whatever they were before. Whatever such changes may be permanent wouldn't be all that much, because otherwise we would have noticed by now that microwaved water is suddenly full of high levels of cyanide or whatever. And since every organism on Earth has to deal with unwanted compounds in its environment every day, plants' and peoples' bodies all have means of handling small amounts of unpleasant molecules.
Posted by Accipiter  on  Tue Apr 25, 2006  at  11:49 PM
Another change that would happen to the water would be that some of the dissolved solutes would come out of solution and float away as gases. Carbon and nitrogen compounds from the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, are usually found in some amount in water. Microwaving the water would reduce the amount of these. However, the same thing would happen when you heat water any other way.

Water from your sink is also full of bacteria, fungi, algae, dinoflagellates, diatoms, and all manner of other little critters. Most of these don't have any effect on people or plants in the first place, and microwaving them would kill many of them. So for your health from the standpoint of the loss of these biological things, microwaving your water is beneficial at best and neutral at worst.

There is at least one other aspect of water that must be looked at. Even if you did manage to filter out all of the bacteria and salts and gases that have been mixed into the water, you still wouldn't have pure H2O. Water molecules are constantly swapping atoms around, so in any measure of water you'll have a small amount of other compounds such as H3O+ and OH- forming and disappearing in a certain balance. This is one of the basic properties of water. What microwaving the water might do to the amounts of each of these compounds I don't know, but it might increase or decrease the levels of each, or it might shift the balance more towards one or the other. If the latter, this could cause the water to take on a charge, or to become slightly more acidic or basic. Again, though, any such changes would likely only occur while the water had a constant source of energy, and when you take the water out of the microwave and let it cool the water will probably go back to its earlier state.

Yes, there are aspects of microwaves and what effects they have that we're not familiar with, but that doesn't mean that we don't know anything about them.
Posted by Accipiter  on  Tue Apr 25, 2006  at  11:52 PM
The pictures were photoshopped and misdated.
The original pictures are posted on the site. There are no photos of the microwaved plant looking healthy. The supposed day one and day three pictures of the microwaved water plant have cut-and-paste leaves on top of them from the other plant.
Posted by another person  on  Tue Apr 25, 2006  at  11:55 PM
One possibility that I am surprised nobody brought up is that the granddaughter is lying, or that she cheated to get a predetermined result. I know that little girls generally are made of sugar, spice, everything nice, etc., but we do live in an age of academic dishonesty. Also, the purpose of the experiment was to show that we have been lied to all these years about the harmful effects of microwave water. I bet she, or someone close to her (perhaps someone made of snakes, snails, puppy dog tails, etc.) abused/killed the plant on purpose.
Posted by Matthew144  on  Fri Apr 28, 2006  at  08:17 AM
In addition, if you look at the pictures there are clear indications of sabotage, and the first picture even tacitly acknowledges this by including in the caption "pruned back to record new growth". My bet is that the "pruning" each day was a little more vigorous on the plant that was doomed from the start.

Of course all of this is probably overthinking as the most likely scenario is that the granddaughter is nonexistant, and the "experiment" is a hoax manufactured by someone with a grudge against health nuts and other OCD types.
Posted by Matthew144  on  Fri Apr 28, 2006  at  08:34 AM
"another person" has got it 100% right, as can clearly be seen from the pictures on the site.
I wonder if this was just created in hope of making an internet meme, or if there is some anti-microwaving mentality behind it.
Posted by K.  on  Fri Apr 28, 2006  at  11:54 AM
In the pictures of days 1, 3 and 5 the microwave dirt sure looks wetter than the other dirt. By day 7, the healthy looking shoot from the microwave pot has been removed, and on day 9, it appears that only the purified pot is getting water...
Posted by hcmomof4  on  Fri Apr 28, 2006  at  02:27 PM
According to Dr. Mercola's hugely popular website, the dangers of microwave ovens are proven. His article at http://www.mercola.com/article/microwave/hazards2.htm points out the tactics that have been used to squelch information that should be more thoroughly disseminated. He states:

Today's established science and technology argues forcefully that microwaved food and irradiated foods do not have any significantly higher "radiolytic compounds" than do broiled, baked or other conventionally cooked foods-but microwaving does produce more of these critters. Curiously, neither established science nor our ever-protective government has conducted tests-on the blood of the eaters-of the effects of eating various kinds of cooked foods. Hertel and his group did test it, and the indication is clear that something is amiss and that larger studies should be funded.

For a deeper discussion of what occurs, see his article, but this is noteworthy:

Cooking by microwaves begins within the cells and molecules where water is present and where the energy is transformed into frictional heat."
In addition to violent frictional heat effects (called thermic effects), there are also athermic effects which have hardly ever been taken into account, Hertel added. "These athermic effects are not presently measurable, but they can also deform the structures of molecules and have qualitative consequences.

The natural repair mechanisms are suppressed, and cells are forced to adapt to a state of energy emergency: they switch from aerobic to anaerobic respiration. Instead of water and carbon dioxide, hydrogen peroxide and carbon monoxide are produced." It has long been pointed out in the literature that any reversal of healthy cell processes may occur because of a number of reasons, and our cells then revert from a "robust oxidation" to an unhealthy "fermentation".

The same violent friction and athermic deformations that can occur in our bodies when we are subjected to radar or microwaves, happens to the molecules in the food cooked in a microwave oven. In fact, when anyone microwaves food, the oven exerts a power input of about 1,000 watts or more. This radiation results in destruction and deformation of molecules of food, and in the formation of new compounds (called radiolytic compounds) unknown to man and nature."

Why are we so quick to denounce efforts to reveal the truth when those truths may affect capitalistic enterprise or our modern conveniences? What is wrong with admitting that we may be making assumptions of safety that are based on flawed, incomplete, or tainted information? Why can't we accept that there are things happening in our world that are making people sick...sicker than we have ever been before, and maybe, just MAYBE the answer lies in what we are putting in our mouths that are not natural?????
Posted by pattyf77  on  Fri Apr 28, 2006  at  07:35 PM
We may be "sicker than we have ever been before" but since the life expectancy in the U.S. is higher now than it has ever been, it would appear that we aren't VERY sick....
Posted by hcmomof4  on  Fri Apr 28, 2006  at  08:11 PM
"since the life expectancy in the U.S. is higher now than it has ever been, it would appear that we aren't VERY sick...."
Let me argue that point very easily...just because we may have a longer life expectancy, that says nothing about quality of life. And truly, the quality of life of those longer years is argueably BAD, very bad, with seniors more drugged, doped up, and langushing in nursing homes for years than ever before. Your supposition that we aren't very sick just doesn't hold true given the current statistics of the World Health Organization. Autoimmune disease has increased at alarming rates. Diabetes is at epidemic levels. Cancers are higher than ever. Alzheimer's statistics are frightening. No, we aren't very sick at all....if you believe that, you haven't been doing ANY research.
Posted by pattyf77  on  Fri Apr 28, 2006  at  08:19 PM
"According to Dr. Mercola's hugely popular website, the dangers of microwave ovens are proven. His article at http://www.mercola.com/article/microwave/hazards2.htm points out the tactics that have been used to squelch information that should be more thoroughly disseminated."
-- posted by pattyf77 on Apr. 28th

Actually, what that article shows is that the author either has a very poor grasp of logic and the most basic and well-proven science, or else that he's throwing in lots of irrelevancies to try to "dazzle people with science" in order to push his own views. And it also shows how to conduct an experiment in such a poor way as to result in nothing useable, and how to then take the useless results of the experiment and jump to conclusions.
Posted by Accipiter  on  Sat Apr 29, 2006  at  05:05 AM
The following is a summary of the Russian investigations published by the Atlantis Raising Educational Center in Portland, Oregon. Carcinogens were formed in virtually all foods tested. No test food was subjected to more microwaving than necessary to accomplish the purpose, i.e., cooking, thawing, or heating to insure sanitary ingestion. Here's a summary of some of the results:

Microwaving prepared meats sufficiently to insure sanitary ingestion caused formation of d-Nitrosodienthanolamines, a well-known carcinogen.
Microwaving milk and cereal grains converted some of their amino acids into carcinogens.
Thawing frozen fruits converted their glucoside and galactoside containing fractions into carcinogenic substances.
Extremely short exposure of raw, cooked or frozen vegetables converted their plant alkaloids into carcinogens.
Carcinogenic free radicals were formed in microwaved plants, especially root vegetables.
Decrease in nutritional value

Russian researchers also reported a marked acceleration of structural degradation leading to a decreased food value of 60 to 90% in all foods tested. Among the changes observed were:

Deceased bio-availability of vitamin B complex, vitamin C, vitamin E, essential minerals and lipotropics factors in all food tested.
Various kinds of damaged to many plant substances, such as alkaloids, glucosides, galactosides and nitrilosides.
The degradation of nucleo-proteins in meats.
Microwave sickness is discovered

The Russians did research on thousands of workers who had been exposed to microwaves during the development of radar in the 1950's. Their research showed health problems so serious that the Russians set strict limits of 10 microwatts exposure for workers and one microwatt for civilians.

In Robert O. Becker's book, The Body Electric, he described Russian research on the health effects of microwave radiation, which they called "microwave sickness." On page 314, Becker states:

"It's [Microwave sickness] first signs are low blood pressure and slow pulse. The later and most common manifestations are chronic excitation of the sympathetic nervous system [stress syndrome] and high blood pressure. This phase also often includes headache, dizziness, eye pain, sleeplessness, irritability, anxiety, stomach pain, nervous tension, inability to concentrate, hair loss, plus an increased incidence of appendicitis, cataracts, reproductive problems, and cancer. The chronic symptoms are eventually succeeded by crisis of adrenal exhaustion and ischemic heart disease [the blockage of coronary arteries and heart attacks]."
Posted by pattyf77  on  Sat Apr 29, 2006  at  08:29 AM
For reference:

Posted by pattyf77  on  Sat Apr 29, 2006  at  08:33 AM
In another experiment, anthroposophist A. Bohmert, reported that water samples were heated, some in a microwave oven and others conventionally, and then left to cool before use. These water samples were used to bring grain to germination. The grain in contact with microwaved water was the only one that did not germinate.

It's obvious that a controversy exists and we are not likely to find any clear-cut answers anytime soon. But what I want to suggest to you is that this controversy exists for a reason. People are not just running around and making things up because they have nothing better to do. There is a reason for the concern. If you have never been sick, you will not see the need for a cure. But if you have been seriously ill, you will never again take your health for granted, and will begin to question everything that previously looked safe or benign on the basis that some corporation or person claims it is. I've been there...and found that there is much, much more going on behind the scenes than our government or medical professionals will admit. I choose God's natural design over anything man-made, simply because man is fickle. God is not.
Posted by pattyf77  on  Sat Apr 29, 2006  at  08:54 AM
So far, all of the evidence against microwave-cooked food has been of the following types:

1. Microwaves can be harmful. This is true. However, we're not talking about microwaves. We're talking about food. Heat can be harmful, so do we say that food cooked in an oven is dangerous? We can drown in water, so do we not eat food that has been washed?

2. Scalding hot food can scald people. Again, that is true. Again, that isn't really relevant.

3. Microwaving food reduces its nutritional value. True. That's what cooking does. And though we have, by hearsay basically, one anonymous experiment published in a very minor journal that may show that microwaving food greatly reduces the nutritional value of food, we have plenty of other widely-known tests (you can check with the FDA for some of them, if you want) showing that it can actually leave more nutrients than other forms of cooking.

4. Washington D.C. and the microwave producers are conspiring to suppress the evidence against microwave ovens. This idea is just ludicrous. First, if they were conspiring, then they wouldn't allow all these websites and publications to be out protesting against microwaves and showing off the information that they're working so hard to suppress. Secondly, since when has Washington had complete control over China, and Russia, and Japan, and Germany, and France, and all these other countries out there?
Posted by Accipiter  on  Sat Apr 29, 2006  at  12:39 PM
5. Russian tests have proven microwaved food is harmful, and they banned microwaves. Well, the first bunch of tests all concluded that microwaves are harmful, not microwaved food (see the first point above). And due to the possible effects of microwaves leaking from poorly made microwave ovens, the ovens were banned. But notice that now microwaves are common enough in Russia.

And as for the "Russian investigations published by the Atlantis Raising Educational Center in Portland" that are constantly being alluded to, since when have the results of a single test, which was published in a journal for peer-review (publication in a journal does not automatically mean that something is conclusively proven) and then re-worded and given out second-hand by biased sources, been considered reliable evidence? And why is there no further word on these tests, such as news of them being validated?

6. A Swiss scientist proved that microwaved food is harmful, but has been suppressed by "the establishment". First of all, this is again just one test. Secondly, it was tested on a tiny sample size, apparently without any independent check on the experiment or the results. Third, he really made some rather huge assumptions when explaining his conclusions. And finally, in the dozen or so years since it was carried out, nobody else (even those who believe the guy) have apparently duplicated his results.

7. A woman was given microwaved blood in a transfusion, and she died. This is true. Microwaving the blood causes the blood cells to burst, due to all the heat. This makes the blood unusable, filled with nothing but dead cells. This is only a concern, though, if you make a habit of microwaving your blood. It has nothing to do with food being harmful.

8. Various random bits of trivia about such things as how the Nazis invented microwave ovens, or that microwaves have been tested for use in brainwashing, or that microwaves are a form of radiation. All of which may be true, but is also totally irrelevant. It's just thrown in to form negative mental associations for the reader (e.g. "Nazis are bad, therefore what the Nazis did was bad, therefore microwave ovens must be bad").
Posted by Accipiter  on  Sat Apr 29, 2006  at  12:39 PM
"In another experiment, anthroposophist A. Bohmert, reported that water samples were heated, some in a microwave oven and others conventionally, and then left to cool before use. These water samples were used to bring grain to germination. The grain in contact with microwaved water was the only one that did not germinate."


And I have used microwaved water to germinate seeds on quite a few occasions. I would heat it up to better dissolve plant food and suchlike in it.
Posted by Accipiter  on  Sat Apr 29, 2006  at  12:42 PM
Actually, I think I may try doing the experiment with seeds myself, and record the results. Hmm...I'll need to work out the best way to limit variables and things like that.
Posted by Accipiter  on  Sat Apr 29, 2006  at  12:53 PM
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