Healthy & Natural Journal, Volume 5, Issue 5
Not long ago, magnets were primarily used to hang kids’ artwork and shopping lists on refrigerator doors. Then the alternative health movement took off, reviving interest in the centuries-old practice of using therapeutic permanent magnets for pain relief. Within a few years, thousands of magnet enthusiasts went public with stories of their own healing experiences. Top athletes, including New York Yankees’ pitcher Hideki Irabu, Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, championship golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez; Hollywood celebrities, like Anthony Hopkins, and average citizens all told of the remarkable healing power of magnets. “An hour and a half after I put a magnet on my neck, my chronic migraine headaches stopped, and I was hooked,” recalls Paulette Rautio, a Washington state horse breeder, who later used magnets to alleviate the pain of rheumatoid arthritis that often put her in a wheelchair. “Magnets don’t cure the condition,” she explains, “but they can eliminate the pain.”
In spite of the testimonials—and the $5OO million in U.S. sales of therapeutic magnets last year—the American medical profession remained skeptical. Anecdotal evidence was not enough. For physicians, seeing was believing, and what they wanted to see were results of scientifically controlled studies using therapeutic magnets. And now they have.
A Definitive Study
In a double-blind study at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine, 50 patients suffering from post-polio pain had either half-inch sized magnets or identical-looking placebo devices strapped to their most sensitive sore spots. “The majority of patients in the study who received treatment with a magnet reported a significant decrease in pain, and most of the patients who were given a placebo, or inactive magnet, reported very little or no improvement,” says principal investigator Dr. Carlos Vallbona, professor of family and community medicine at Baylor. When the study began, Vallbona considered himself a skeptic. But his curiosity had been piqued by a colleague who’d found relief for a painful knee after wearing a magnet for only a few minutes. No one was more surprised than Vallbona when the results of his study supported the colleague’s experience. Of the 29 patients who wore active magnets, 76 percent reported a decrease in pain after only 45 minutes. Less than 20 percent of those with the placebos felt an improvement. None of the patients reported any side effects.
The Baylor study bears out research from other countries. Scientists in Korea, for example, selected 23 student nurses who suffered from painful menstrual periods. Eleven nurses had therapeutic magnets placed on their lower abdomens. The other 12 wore placebos. “Significant” pain relief was reported by the students wearing the real magnets.
These studies support what healers have known for thousands of years. Practitioners in Egypt, China and India relied on such things as naturally magnetic rocks known as “lodestones” and even electric eels to relieve a variety of conditions. Fifteenth-century physician Paracelsus refined many of the early practices. Three hundred years later, Franz Anton Mesmer became famous for his outlandish claims that he could cure everything from chest pains to blindness and mental illness with magnets, thus “mesmerizing” his audiences while doing it. But Mesmer’s arrogance angered many powerful people. They declared him and his methods fraudulent. With Mesmer’s fall from grace, magnets unfortunately became synonymous with quack cures, a belief still held in conservative medical circles.
That may change soon. After the Baylor study, the president of the National Council Against Health Fraud, Dr. William Jarvis of California’s Loma Linda University, once a critical opponent of magnet therapy, said he had changed his mind about its efficacy, although he said he won’t be completely convinced until the study is replicated by other researchers.
At the Medical University of South Carolina, Dr. Mark S. George, who recently had impressive results using electromagnetics to treat depression, voiced similar feelings. “I’m going to be skeptical until I see more studies,” he said. “But this Baylor research was refreshing, a legitimate look at an area that’s very’ promising.”
Dr. Vallbona is currently conducting a larger study. Additional research, funded by the federal government, is under way at the University of Virginia with fibromyalgia patients. Right now, scientists are primarily interested in determining whether or not magnets alleviate pain, rather than how. In fact, although there are several theories about the ways in which magnets work, the truth remains a mystery. “We do not have a clear explanation for the significant and quick pain relief observed by the patients in our study,” says Vallbona “It’s possible that the magnetic energy affects the pareceptors in the joints or muscles or lowers the sensation of pain in the brain.”
The Hall Effect
Many theories of how magnets work are a variation on what scientists call the Hall Effect. Since our bloodstream is filled with positively and negatively charged ions, stimulating these ions by exposure to a magnetic field creates heat. The heat increases the blood supply to the area where the magnet is located, and with the blood comes extra oxygen and nutrients, as well as a reduced amount of toxins.
As magnet experts like to point out, magnets don’t actually heal the body—they create an environment in which the body can heal itself. And magnet power isn’t limited to situations involving pain. Last year, Scott Fischbach, of Frederick, MD., suffered an injury to his forearm that required four stitches. As the wound healed, a large hard lump of scar tissue formed and began pressing on the nerves an tendons in his arm, causing numbness in his fingers and hand. A relative suggested he try magnets. “I was amazed at the almost instantaneous results,” he says. After only 4 hours of wearing a magnet band directly over the wound, Fischbach says his scar tissue decreased by 75 percent. By the end of that week, it was completely gone and his arm had returned to normal.
Regardless of how magnets work, they’ve been approved for use in approximately 50 countries, including Germany, Israel, Russia and Japan, where they have been routinely used for decades. And in the United States, horse owners have been using magnets for more than 10 years, creating a burgeoning market in therapeutic magnet products designed specifically for horses. In fact, many supporters point to the success of magnets with horses as strong proof of their effectiveness, since the placebo effect doesn’t exist with animals.
Magnets vs. Pills
For many pain sufferers, the best news of all is that magnets can eliminate the need for pain medication. Dr. Ronald Lawrence, clinical professor of medicine at UCLA, for example, estimates that the effectiveness rate of therapeutic magnets for pain relief is 85 percent, considerably higher than for any drug. And magnets are free of side effects, a claim that cannot be made for many pain-relievers. Some of these medications create serious stomach problems and other ailments, and others cause additional cartilage deterioration when used to treat arthritis, resulting in even more pain. Although magnets are very safe and side-effect free, if you are pregnant, have a pacemaker, use an insulin pump or drug patch, or have a fresh wound, magnets are not recommended, since their effect on these situations isn’t yet known.
Shopping for Magnets
When purchasing magnets, invest in a real therapeutic magnet, not the kind that goes on the refrigerator door. Magnet strength is measured in a unit called a gauss. As a general rule, look for magnets with a gauss strength greater than 400. The negative field magnets are those most commonly used to alleviate the pain of arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, as well as rashes, burns and general aches. For best results, expect to spend about $20 or more.
Magnets are available in a wide variety of sizes, styles and products, including everything from little squares or circles to bracelets, necklaces and even mattress pads. One of the most popular are the modular kits whereby one product can be adapted to any part of the body.
Magnets are extremely simple to use. Just put the magnet on the painful area, hold it in place with a Velcro strap (magnets often come with these) or elastic wrap, and you’re done. “Once I put it on,” says Carl Sheola, a local guide in Peterborough, N.H., “I forget about it completely.”
In products with multiple magnets, such as mattress pads, both north and south (positive) magnets may be used. Generally, they’re arranged in one of three different ways–unidirectional, parallel or in concentric circles. In unidirectional pads, only negative poles come in contact with the body. Positive and negative poles alternate in the parallel and concentric styles. There are various theories as to which is best and why. Buy from a source who offers a money-back guarantee. Then, if one version doesn’t do the trick, you can try another. But always keep magnets away from credit cards, floppy disks and computer hard drives. They can easily erase all information stored on them, and create the kind of headache that even a magnet would be hard-pressed to remedy.