12 September 1999

Attracted to Magnetic Therapy - then try this at home

by Kate Melville

Companies who sell 'medical magnets' promise they will help relieve chronic pain. This may sound preposterous but a double-blind study by Baylor College of Medicine in 1997 concluded that magnets reduced pain in post-polio patients. But now a University of Maryland physics professor has casts doubts on magnet therapy with experiments you can try at home.

Robert Park a physics professor University of Maryland and consultant to the American Physical Society found no plausible explanation for how magnets could relieve pain. And says that the explanations currently being offered are false. Here are some of his jome tests that he claims debunk the myth of magnetic medicine:

Magnet therapy is claimed to attract blood to the treated area. But Park says, "You can test this yourself. An excess of blood shows up as a flushing or reddening of the skin. But you will discover that placing a magnet of any strength against your skin produces no reddening at all."

That magnets cause water molecules in the blood to line up, improving circulation. But according to work by John Schenck of the General Electric, aligning the violently jostling water molecules in the blood would require a magnet thousands of times stronger than any that have ever been created on Earth.

'Therapy magnets' Park reviewed were basically the same as the flat refrigerator magnets such as those that come for free from pizza restaurants and tradesmen . One pair of magnets Park tested came from a US$49.95 magnet therapy kit and while they were a little stronger and a little thicker than the typical refrigerator magnet, they still failed to hold even ten sheets of paper one millimeter thick on a file cabinet. Therefore the magnetic fields would barely penetrate the skin.

"Not only do these magnets have no power to heal," Park says, "they don't even reach the injury!"

Park's work should not be seen as debunking all alternative medicine it is simply a timely reminder that not all alternative therapies may be able to deliver what their proponents claim. Indeed regimes like magnet therapy can pose a real risk to people who ignore conventional medical treatment in favor of it.