- (HealthSCOUT) - The use of magnets in therapy is attracting
a lot more attention these days as continuing research proves magnetic
fields do have an effect on the body.
- Multiple studies at major universities all show limited
yet potentially important medical uses for magnets on a host of ailments.
But even the researchers themselves remain cautious, while being optimistic.
- "Some people think magnets are hokey, so they won't
even give them a chance. But I feel they're promising, and worth more research,"
says pharmacist Nicole Parker, one of the investigators on a recent University
of Tennessee study that found magnets eased chronic pelvis pain.
- Investigators in three other studies -- at Brown University
in Providence, R.I., Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, and the University
of Virginia -- also report that static magnets, which are magnets fixed
to one place on the body, can relieve pain and heal wounds faster.
- Two additional studies show magnets may also be helpful
in treating some mental illnesses. Yale University researchers recently
concluded that a form of magnet therapy reduced auditory hallucinations
in patients with schizophrenia, and a study at the University of Florida
in Gainesville found magnetic stimulation helpful in patients with clinical
- What remains a question in all these studies is exactly
how magnets work.
- "We do not have a clear explanation for the significant
and quick pain relief observed by the patients in our study," says
Dr. Carlos Vallbona, co-investigator of the Baylor College research.
- In Baylor's study of 50 people, Vallbona found that a
small magnet strapped to the most sensitive sore spots of post-polio patients
provided pain relief. "It's possible that the magnetic energy affects
the pain receptors in the joints or muscles, or lowers the sensation of
pain in the brain," adds Vallbona, who is a professor of family and
- 'Still too many unknowns'
- Not all studies, however, have found magnets produce
a positive response. Researchers at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center
in Prescott, Ariz., for example, reported recently that magnets offered
no verifiable help to patients with chronic low back pain.
- Even Vallbona urges caution. "There are still too
many unknowns," he says.
- And what is becoming known is not all healthy. For example,
the researchers at Brown University found that strong magnetic fields have
a definite effect on individual cells, altering the way they divide.
- That could be dangerous to a developing fetus, especially
in the first trimester, Vallbona says, adding, "I would not recommend
magnets to pregnant women or patients with pacemakers."
- Parker and other investigators at the University of Tennessee,
including principal researcher Dr. Candace Brown, say their research suggests
that pain relief is related to the length of exposure to the magnet. In
the clinical trial, there were no significant changes in the women who
had chronic pelvis pain after two weeks. But after three weeks, 60 percent
of the women with active magnets -- and 33 percent of those with placebo
magnets -- reported less pain.
- One key to effective magnet therapy could be the strength
of the magnets, says Thomas Skalak, the director of the University of Virginia's
Center for the Engineering of Wound Prevention and Repair. "You can't
take a single refrigerator magnet and expect it to do anything. For any
potential results, you'd need the equivalent of 10 to 100 refrigerator
magnets," he adds.
- These aren't refrigerator magnets
- The strength of the magnets in the Baylor and the University
of Tennessee studies were both more than 15 times that of a refrigerator
- Skalak is the recipient of one of two grants for magnetic
studies that were recently awarded to the University of Virginia by the
National Institutes of Health. Skalak is studying whether static magnets
can increase blood flow and consequently have a positive effect on healing.
The other study will focus on the effects of magnets on nerve cells.
- Both are follow-ups to work initiated by Ann Gill Taylor,
director of the university's Center for the Study of Complimentary and
Alternative Therapies in its School of Nursing. For several years, she's
been investigating whether magnets can provide relief for such conditions
as low back pain, arthritis and fibromyalgia, a condition characterized
by widespread pain, sleep disturbances, fatigue and often depression.
- Skalak, who participated in Taylor's research, says her
study has demonstrated that magnets can have a strong positive effect on
blood flow. He cautions, however, that the study was too limited to be
- Taylor is hoping to publish the full results of her study
sometime this year, and does not want to comment on them before that.
- Until then, the skeptics remain unswayed.
- Dr. Stephen Barrett, a retired psychiatrist from Allentown,
Pa., and author of <http://QuackWatch.comQuackWatch.com,
a Web site designed to debunk medical claims, says he's curious whether
studies like the one at Baylor can be duplicated and whether magnets can
relieve pain in patients with wide-ranging ailments.
- "I don't think there's a greater market for a product
with less evidence," he says. "I remain skeptical that small,
static magnets can relieve pain or influence the course of any disease.
Some products are too weak to provide a magnetic field that penetrates
the skin or are complete fakes that exert no magnetic force whatsoever."
- What To Do
- Supporters and skeptics alike agree on one point -- you
should consult your doctor before trying magnet therapy on your own. And
remember that refrigerator magnets are too weak to do anything. So are
some of the devices sold in stores and over the Internet.
- The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine has an
analysis as well as <link
*link some interesting
history of magnet therapy.
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