Melafix Dangers; Betta, Labyrinth Fish, Pencil Fish
Possible Melafix, Pimafix Dangers with use for Gourami, Betta, Pencil Fish
It was recently brought to my attention that there were real or possible dangers with Melafix via an email I received.
Admittedly I at first thought the email was a sham, as I get so many of these, but I was wrong and my apologies to the person who sent it.
I then researched (via specific Blog/Forum searches) to get some background about the complaints which stemmed from use with Labyrinth Fish such as Bettas) as well as Pencil Fish.
I then spent more time in university level research, mostly looking at veterinary and human studies of the known ingredients in Melafix (TTO/ tea tree oil) which is in the case of Melafix is not from the more researched Melaleuca alternifolia, but is from the lesser researched Melaleuca leucadendron version of TTO, more correctly identified as cajeput oil.
Although I have used and tested Melafix on many Labyrinth fish (in particular Bettas) and not found these results that some are claiming.
This does NOT mean these persons are making up the results, this just indicates that there are more than one factor in this equation, such as a chemical trigger, incorrect disease diagnosis, water parameter, etc.. I also know of many other aquatic professionals that have not observed the deaths in Labyrinth fish/pencil fish, but again this just tells me that we need to look deeper and not make non-scientific knee jerk proclamations based on anecdotal evidence which often all too common in this hobby, even by well meaning aquarists!
Another point, which I will cover in more depth later, is that Melafix is primarily for minor wounds & gram positive bacterial infections, NOT serious infections.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT? From my experience in the professional aquarium maintenance industry since 1978, often persons will treat with the wrong medication and then when their fish die, blame the treatment rather than realize that they used the wrong treatment in the first place!!
Back to the reason for this article;
In one such forum (Fish Lore) one member stated that the "oils" in both Pimafix and Melafix are dangerous to Labyrinth due to the need to "breathe air".
If this is the reason aquarists are contributing to Melafix, I can correct this in that part of the patent for Melafix (& Pimafix) is the process of refining of the oil out of Melafix (& Pimafix).
This can EASILY be proved by adding Melafix or Pimafix to the water and watching for it to float on the water, which it does not.
HOWEVER before implying that this member in the before mentioned forum does not know what she is talking about; Melafix can and does cause foaming, which at least in theory could be a problem with certain fish or more likely allowing for "consumption" of the TTO where the chemical reactions likely take place.
BTW, my using Fish Lore is in NO WAY an indictment on this forum, I have read many of their articles and forum posts, and many are reasonable, albeit at worst well behind better research with "cut and paste" in a few articles (such as UV Sterilizers Use & the Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle).
As of my most recent article update, Fish Lore has made an updated post that is more accurate, however it still ignores the real causes of Melafix Dangers, which omitting this valuable piece of information leaves me scratching my head especially when one considers the amount of misinformation that is truly disseminated in many aquarium articles such as the discredited Raw Shrimp Cycling method.
Many persons/forums also make similar mistakes of omission with Malachite Green.
From Aquarium Medications Part 4, Melafix, Pimafix, Usnea
First I will start off in pointing out that so much which has been said about Melafix or Bettafix dangers with Bettas and other Labyrinth Fish is based on observations, often by persons with little or no knowledge of how medications work or water chemistry and its effect on these medications. Sadly, even in the before mentioned forum one important point was not brought up and that is that Melafix is primarily effective only with minor injuries and gram positive bacterial infections.
This is worthy of note since MOST aquarium infections are gram negative and using a product such as Melafix for a disease such as Columnaris will likely result in failure.
So unfortunately the observation could be made that the medication killed their fish, which of coarse is totally incorrect (especially when Melafix or Bettafix is overdosed)!
Now that is not to say that some of these anecdotal observations were incorrect and that Melafix did indeed kill their fish (still generally in an extreme overdose), however there is a water chemistry explanation for this too, so please read on!
Currently the best scientific information shows that there may be link between the tea tree oil in Melafix and toxicity in Labyrinth fish/Pencil fish, but this link is NOT what many in aquatic forums are anecdotally assuming. The best information points to liver function, which would explain why some (such as myself) have not observed these problems in our tests (admittedly the studies did not focus on over doses).
Basically Tea Tree oil (Melaleuca, Melaleuca alternifolia) is a phenol-containing essential oil. Its active ingredients are cyclic terpenes which have a similar structure and action to turpentine (a known liver toxin). The acute toxicity for the major terpenic compounds (linalool, ocimene, alpha-terpinene, 1,8-cineole, terpinolene, camphene) is 2 - 5 g/kg body weight, which is considered a moderately toxic range.
From a toxicological point of view Tea Tree oil is comparable to oil of turpentine, which is readily absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract and then finds its way to the liver. What may be the problem is that under certain conditions Melafix may be toxic to the liver in Labyrinth fish/Pencil fish.
My current hypothesis (note, this is merely a hypothesis, not a fact!), is that since the best research shows similarities between TTO and Turpentine (both are terpenes, but then so is beta carotene), is that in an acidic environment, in particular an environment with nitric acid or other acids as a result of organic decomposition such as carbonic acid, the chemical reaction can produce chemicals that may harm the liver in certain fish that have a tendency to ingest the water around them such as Labyrinth fish/Pencil fish (via the surface). Certain terpenes such as turpentine are actually explosive when combined with nitric acid (this chemical reaction is used in rocket fuels!). On a VERY small scale (aquarium environment) some similar reaction may be happening that with certain fish can cause death. This would also explain why this problem has never been noted in marine fish even though they constantly drink the water around them, since marine fish are always kept in an alkaline environment.
This would also explain why this reaction has not been observed in my tests with Melafix (even at double doses) with Labyrinth fish/Pencil fish since I conducted these tests in a balanced Redox mineral/electrolyte environment.
At this point my advice is to maintain proper mineralization and Redox, which is something I have been a big proponent of for many years now based on scientific evidence of the benefits therein.
If my hypothesis is correct this may be the link in this problem, especially since the TTO found in Melafix (and all terpenes) is a known Redox reducer and an acidic/oxidizing environment of ANY cause could cause possible undesirable effects.
I recommend reading these articles:
*Importance of Minerals, Electrolytes, GH, KH in Aquariums
A few tests have confirmed my hypothesis (although I would not state this in a "the discussion is now over" sort of way).
The water Parameters hypothesis/possible conclusion certainly makes more sense than simply blaming Melafix for unexplained fish deaths when many tests with these very fish have not yielded the same results.
The ultimate conclusion may also NEVER be found, but this does not mean that Melafix should never be used. This is similar to many anecdotal comments about Malachite Green and its use that ignore the affect water parameters have on its dangers or how high amounts of calcium can render Tetracycline useless.
Think about Tylenol, this is generally considered a very safe medication for humans, yet mixing with alcohol (especially in increased dosages) can cause liver failure.
Does this make Tylenol a product that should never be used? Of coarse not! This goes for Melafix and Bettas, if you are using this product with Bettas, make sure that your KH is above 50 ppm, your GH is above 150 ppm, & pH is above 6.5, and you should not have a problem.
I should also note that one theory that has been noted by many is that these problems with Melafix are the result of overdose with sensitive Labyrinth fish/Pencil fish, however (as noted earlier) mine and my colleagues tests cannot confirm this as with correct water parameters we have successfully doubled the Melafix dose with Bettas without any problems. This is obviously another case of where anecdotal observations are being made without placing other factors into the equation. This is not to say doubling the dosage is good, but that doubling the dosage with poor water parameters (low KH, minerals, etc) is the likely combination that can kill.
That said, I think Melafix is often over used for way too many aquatic problems where even though it may be harmless, it also may be useless.
However one thing is for certain and that is there is some trigger that causes this problem; otherwise one can not explain the use of Melafix at up to double dose without the deadly results some aquarists are observing.
In the mean time, I think many can continue to use Melafix (for the proper conditions, please reference “Aquarium Medications Part 4” for further information in this regard).
My suggestion is to not use products such as pH Down (which honestly should not be used anyway) or any other product that may add acids to ones aquarium while treatment with Melafix is under way. Make sure your pH is at least 6.5 or higher and would strongly recommend the use of products that buffer your aquarium (such as SeaChem Alkaline Buffer) and add minerals/electrolytes such as Wonder Shells (which come in sizes for Betta bowls as well) or Replenish.
The Bottom Line;
Basically Melafix is best used for external wounds, and other minor EXTERNAL & gram positive infections where there are proven results in many cases, however for diseases that go systemic (which most gram negative infections common in aquariums often do), Melafix is TOTALLY USELESS.
Using Melafix for Columnaris or similar more serious gram negative infections is analogous to using Neosporin for a 3rd degree burn and then blaming the Neosporin for someone's death after receiving 3rd degree burns.
Sadly though, this is just the type of poor logic that has gone into many of these "Melafix Betta Dangers" articles that come up in internet searches!!!
I would also add to those who read this and might think I am an apologist for Melafix (or their maker API) because I have sold this product; well I am not and anyone who knows me since this product has come out also knows I rarely recommend it but for the few minor fish issues I just previously noted.
I am just tired of the junk science put forth in so many place on the internet often by persons with a couple years aquarium keeping experience with 10 gallon aquariums and no professional knowledge or training (as with a person I had an email discussion with)!!!!!
I will also add in summation that blaming Melafix for your dead fish (which may be correct, but in most cases is based on VERY subjective evidence) is lazy/poor science.
For example I had an email in February of 2011 from someone who read one of the internet articles critical of Melafix. This person wasted valuable time attempting to get rid of the Melafix in their aquarium when further questioning revealed that they had poor water parameters (incorrect mineralization & KH) and the symptoms described a classic case of Columnaris (which Melefix is ineffective for treating).
I cannot be certain whether the Melafix killed their fish by virtue of the incorrect water parameters or more likely due to the Columnaris infection. However what I am certain of is that if this person had correct water parameters (which are proven to both fight and prevent Columnaris) and/or treated with the correct medication, these fish would be alive today!!!
For this reason, be wary of the plethora of websites that cut and paste information, often anecdotal that incorrectly places blame in the wrong place, often with the end results being our finned pets death.
In fact this is the point of this "Fish as Pets" website to provide aquatic news and counter misinformation often pasted in Internet websites and forums.
I recommend readers read this article for more about Melafix:
Aquarium Medications Part 4, Melafix, Pimafix, Usnea
Although this article is basically intended to address concerns about Melafix, I will also address concerns about Pimafix that I discovered when researching forum/blog posts.
The concern was with Pimafix is that it contains refined Clove Oil (refined so as to dissolve in water). Many aquarists warn against the use of Pimafix for this reason, HOWEVER I think this is a knee jerk reaction with NO scientific studies to back this up.
Of coarse continued use of Pimafix with no water changes or use of carbon for removal could certainly allow for dangerous Eugenol (the active ingredient in clove oil) buildup, but then ANY treatment when abused can be dangerous!
I found one such reaction in Fish Lore by a person who seems quite knowledgeable, but in this case is making non-scientific anecdotal claims based not in controlled studies, but the knowledge that Clove oil can be and is lethal at certain dosage.
An example I gave earlier of this type of junk science applies again is the use of Tylenol (acetometaphin) in humans, which used properly is effective for headache relief and more, but when over used or worse, when combined with alcohol can be lethal to one’s liver.
My point is to use this or ANY treatment carefully (organic or otherwise) with routine water changes between doses.
Please note, this article is not intended for questions, please refer all questions to Everything Aquatic; comments with questions will no longer be answered here.
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