Yes, even though it is 2014 and we have managed to decode a large chunk of the human genome, found the Higgs’ Bison, created bionic hands and built robot doctors, there are still crazy people who believe that magnets have a magical power to heal, make us stronger and even aid muscle recovery. One of them recently wrote to me asking to share an infographic explaining how magnets heal. In case you missed the sarcasm, let’s be clear – they do not work. The only use magnets have in improving health is when they are used in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to detect disease, cancer and other treatable conditions which are lurking under the skin.
The latest craze seems to be elaborate magnetic therapy bracelets. A few years ago you would see the odd person wearing a copper bracelet to help relieve arthritic pain. Today people are selling (and others are wearing) titanium bracelets with “Swarovski Elements”, “booster magnetic bangles”, ceramic bracelets and “Evo-Flow energy bands”.
Ancient Eastern medicine?
As with many forms of “alternative medicine” which are promoted in the west, the argument is that Eastern cultures have been using these methods safely and effectively for thousands of years and they have only recently been properly discovered in the West.
Claudius Galen (131–202 CE) believed that magnets could purge health problems and he is often cited by those who sell magnetic bracelets. However, Galen rejected the idea that magnetism was physical reaction; instead he believed that the human body is pervaded by spirits and magnets could be used to send them away.
Magnetic bracelet claims
Here are a few of the claims that have been made concerning magnetic jewellery:
- Titanium and steel bracelets are widely used and hypoallergenic.
- Copper Alloy bracelets are a “good beginner’s bracelet”.
- Hematite bracelets have beads which are always the same magnetic strength “which is important in the use of pain relief”.
- Speed up muscle recovery
- Reduce weight by increasing cellular respiration (metabolism)
- Reduce pain
None of these features mean anything regarding health. Hypoallergenic means that you are unlikely to be allergic to the bracelet – not that it will cure your allergies! The suggestion that magnets can speed up muscle recovery following exercise is because increased blood flow provides the muscles with more nutrients. However, there is no evidence that magnets affect the flow of blood around the body.
Magnet therapy is unproven on all levels
There is no scientific evidence to support the idea that a magnet can improve health in any way. Believers of magnetic therapy say that the magnets affect blood flow and this helps healing by providing more nutrients and oxygen to areas that need repair.
Magnets can only work by influencing metal. Although the blood has iron (in hemoglobin) the magnets that are used by magnetic healing practitioners is far too weak to have any influence.
Other people have claimed that magnetic therapy restores the natural “electromagnetic energy balance” in the body. However, biologists and doctors have never identified such a feature in the human body.
There is little else to say on this topic really, there is just no proof that they do anything at all.
But, some people are magnetic!
People have been appearing on television for decades pretending to be magnetic. They are usually overweight and prove their magnetism by sticking spoons to their torso. If you can suspend all disbelieve it seems impressive. However, when these people have been examined in further detail the conclusion every time is that there is no magnetism.
Magnets are very powerful, and a thin layer of clothing or skin will not dampen the magnetic force significantly. If a person was really magnetic they could stick spoons to their body while wearing a shirt. However, in all cases of people with magnetism the individual has been overweight and is always without a shirt. Basically, their skin is just a bit sticky – there is no magic or mystically explanations.
No pain relief
Another reason why people buy magnetic charms is to heal or manage chronic pain. However, once again, all attempts to prove that magnetism can reduce pain have failed. In 2008 a scientific review was carried out which examined 29 potentially relevant trials, which included placebo-controlled trials assessing pain with a visual analogue scale.
“Overall, the meta-analysis suggested no significant effects of static magnets for pain relief relative to placebo.” Pittler, 2008.
Health claims are illegal
U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations prohibit the marketing of magnetic bracelets has a way to improve health. There is simply no evidence that they work. And this means, they do not work.
In 2000 the CDRH Consumer Information website made the following statement:
“To date, the FDA has not cleared for marketing any magnets promoted for medical uses. Because these devices do not have marketing clearance, they are in violation of the law, and are subject to regulatory action. Action is taken on a case by case basis depending on the significance of the medical claims being made. Significant claims that are likely to trigger regulatory action include, but are not limited to, treatment of cancer, HIV, AIDS, asthma, arthritis, and rheumatism.”
Today I received an info graphic which included a section on the health benefits of magnetic bracelets:
I kindly informed the bracelet salesperson today that we cannot publish their infographic. We would be breaching HONCode and risk losing the trust of our readers if we published such material.
Please do not waste your money on fancy jewellery which claims to improve health, speed up muscle recovery, improve blood flow and aid fat loss. All claims are false, illegal in some countries and nothing more than snake oil. Just because something was done in Egypt 3000 years ago it does not mean it was effective – people believed in all sorts of crazy things back then.
“A History of Manipulative Therapy” by Erland Pettman. J Man Manip Ther. 2007; 15(3): 165–174.
“Magnetism In The Roman Era” by H.H. Ricker III
“Static magnets for reducing pain” by Pittler, Max H. Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies 13 (1): 5. doi:10.1211/fact.13.1.0003. Retrieved 2009-08-18.
“Magnets“. CDRH Consumer Information. Food and Drug Administration. 2000-03-01. Archived from www.fda.gov/cdrh/consumer/magnets.html, the original, on 2008-04-24.