Magnet Therapy: Positive or Negative?


I was reminded recently about the claims made for “magnetic therapies”, when I bought a bracelet on holiday. I thought I was just buying an attractive trinket. Being relatively superficial and easily pleased, I was happy enough to have a bracelet that looked good. But this was no ordinary ornament, for it was made of  “Magnetic Hematite”, as it proudly stated on the box:

“The natural properties of magnetic hematite were known to be used by the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. They produced artefacts and jewellery primarily in the belief that this mineral may relieve pain, aid blood flow, enhance energy, and calm emotions. Wearers of pacemakers and pregnant women should avoid wearing this product. Natural Therapy. Made in China”

I thought this sounded too good to be true!  ‘Enhance energy‘?   Well, the most natural way to aid blood flow and enhance energy would be to just get up and move around a bit.   ‘Calm emotions?’  So, no more mood swings – like kind of a mineral prozac?  I must admit, I was a bit concerned about the warnings for people with pacemakers and pregnant women… should I approach them with care while wearing this magic bracelet?  What was a safe distance and what would happen if I failed to adhere to it?!

A quick google search revealed that Hematite is a mineral form of iron oxide. (like rust, which is also iron oxide). Naturally occurring hematite isn’t magnetic, but then the ubiquitous phrase “Made in China” pops up there right at the end, giving away the fact that it’s actually a synthetic material that has been manufactured… so much for being ‘Natural’ then!

So, what are the claims for Magnet therapy?

Magnetic therapy is based on the theory that when delivered directly to the body, magnetic fields can stimulate healing for a range of health problems. Its health claims include the treatment of multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, arthritis, insomnia, inflammation, and even cancer and heart disease.

This popular self -help therapy takes many different forms. In some cases, small static magnets are applied to the illness-affected areas with the help of wraps, shoe inserts, self-adhesive strips, belts, or magnetic jewellery like bracelets, necklaces, and earrings. Other products include magnetic mattress pads and blankets, as well as magnetic-field-generating machines and even magnet-conditioned water.  Proponents maintain that magnets can stimulate circulation, relax the blood vessels, increase endorphin levels, reduce muscle tension, and normalize metabolic functioning.

Sounds fantastic! Ah but but does it work? No, of course it doesn’t… it’s a load of magnetic bollocks!

Even better, one website I found gives a brilliant description of how modern mankind is “magnetic deficient”…

“Magnetic Deficiency: Many people believe that modern day mankind may be ‘magnetic deficient’. This condition may be arising from modern life, the insulating effect of living and working in concrete and high-rise buildings. Added to this we are surrounded by a surfeit of electronic and electrical gadgetry. Both of these effects actually block our natural exposure to the Earths magnetic field. There is also a relatively recent decline in the Earth’s magnetic field. If this ‘magnetic deficiency’ is true, it may be the cause behind many recent unexplained illnesses, and why the use of magnets can have a positive effect in so many conditions.”  Source:  Magnets-4-health.co.uk

I admit I’m no geophysicist, but I can’t see what the heliosphere around the sun (which helps protect the earth from dangerous intergalactic cosmic radiation) and its interaction with the earth’s magnetosphere has to do with people wearing magnets to alleviate the pain of an arthritic joint (their interaction does lead to phenomenon like the Aurora Borealis which is cool… but I’m digressing).  If high-rise buildings and concrete actually blocked the Earth’s magnetic field, then compasses would be of limited value; clearly, they don’t.  You’d have to be in a room with fairly thick metal walls to block magnetic fields, and in such a scenario I think “magnetic deficiency” would be the least of your problems! Yes, the Earths magnetic field changes over hundreds of thousand of years, due to fluctuations of the iron in the earth’s core. Again how can this possibly be in any way relevant to people’s level of illness?

The idea of ‘magnet therapy’ has been around for a long time.  Cleopatra supposedly wore a magnet to preserve her youth, and there was a boom in its use throughout Europe in the eighteenth century.  So far, extensive research, which has mainly concentrated on the effects of magnets on pain relief, has shown no effect at all above that of placebo. That’s right… NONE.  What else would you expect when no one has put forward any reasonable hypothesis for why it would work!  The BMJ published a report in 2006, by 2 American doctors,  (BMJ  2006;332:4 7 January), that again cast doubts over any possible benefits.  They pointed out that so called controlled experiments of magnet therapy were suspect as it is difficult to blind participants to the presence of a magnet.  They, excellently, added:

“If they insist on using a magnetic device, they could be advised to buy the cheapest – this will at least alleviate the pain in their wallet.”  Source:  BMJ  2006;332:4 7 January

The World Health Organization (WHO): published a study in 1987 stating that the magnetic strengths typically used in magnetic therapy do not have any detrimental effect on the human body.  I think that’s a tactful way of saying that they don’t have ANY effect on the human body!  Interestingly, I did discover that strong magnets placed close to implanted pacemakers and defibrillators could conceivably cause problems, but most modern devices are built to be fairly resistant to electromagnetic interference in any case.

What I find interesting is that we are surrounded by magnets all the time anyway…  Small yet powerful concealed magnets are used as fasteners on clothing, bags, and laptops.  They’re found in TV’s, computers, DVD players, speakers and microphones.  Magnets are also found in motors, generators, and transformers.  I can’t imagine buying someone a novelty fridge magnet, and then telling them to “keep it in their trouser pocket to help sort out that dodgy hip”. (Actually, I feel I ought to make it clear I’ve never bought a novelty fridge magnet EVER!)

Part of me thinks that you shouldn’t believe all you read, and the bracelet packaging just mentioned magnetism as a marketing tool.  Added novelty value or extra interest if bought as a gift, and attractive to people with a vague interest in ‘alternative therapies’.  The more cynical part of me thinks that by marketing these products, the makers are preying on people who are in pain, worried about their health, and are spending money on treatments that don’t work.

So, I’ve made my decision: I will continue to wear my beautiful – yet otherwise useless – bracelet, safe in the knowledge that it won’t have any effect on my health in the slightest.

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  1. #1 by Hans Albert Quistorff, LMP Antalgic Posture Pain Specialist on August 10, 2009 - 04:19

    Wear your bracelet with pleasure it dose no harm and may even reduce swelling a bit if you over use your wrist.
    All this hype to sell trinkets obscures the benefits gained by therapists that use magnets correctly with sufficient strength to reduce swelling that is causing pain in there clients.
    Magnetic fields have one effect: to align or change the speed of electrons. The change in water causes a change in clustering of water that makes it more effective in biochemistry. The claimed benefits of magnets for pain relief can be explained by this one fact. The change is temporary but useful and renewable therefore the recomendation for consistent use.
    Hans Albert Quistorff, LMP
    Antalgic Posture Pain Specialist

  2. #2 by Mike on August 10, 2009 - 09:10

    Sorry Hans, do you have any evidence to back up those claims? Because that all sounds like pseudoscientific nonsense to me.

  3. #3 by Michael on August 25, 2009 - 11:29

    Yup! Here we go again. I am surprised that quantum mechanics hasn’t been metioned. By the way the ‘one fact’ claimed is utter rubbish. Unless you chill your blood down to -273.1 C (absolute zero) and let us sy that the magnet wearer prefers to be at room temperature ( I know, some people!), then the internal energy of a water molecule makes it move at around 1,000 mph, in a confined space-of course. Imagine for a moment that these molecules are billiard balls. Do you imagine that they can ‘cluster’ on a table whilst all moving at that velocity in all directions? The other point made by Hans is that ‘magnets align of change the speed of electrons’. Yes this is true. But for free electrons no in an energy state around a nucleus as found in an atom. This would cause a migrating elctronic charge- however if you are talking about blood -then this is diamagnetic (repels counter to field like forcing two north magnet poles together). So the magnet aligns the electrons one way and the blood molecules the other way. What would that do exactly? The overall effect would be zero, even without the magnet. The other thing is that no-one who has had an MRI scan (including myself suffering from chronic neck pain) has been ‘cured’ by it. To give an example, the strength of a magnetic braclet is around 1milli-Tesla. The field strength of an MRI machine is around 100 Tesla. That is 100,000 times greater. Why not cure aches and pains by getting people scanned? Surely it is obvious and saves on the ‘constant use’.

    Michael
    Physicist (BSc,MSc, EngD, MinstP, CPhys,CEng MFI)

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