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Magnet Healing

Our fascination with magnetic healing has a long history. As with all forms of energy medicine, there are significant divides between those who are convinced that magnets can heal and those who believe its hokum. Results of studies (both positive and negative), commercial endorsements from sportsmen and women who believe magnets give them an edge and the widespread use of magnets in the treatment of animals, especially thoroughbred racehorses, all help to keep the debate alive.

For many, it's not necessary to know how magnets work - it's enough that they find some relief while using them. Nevertheless, at a time when scientific explanations lend commercial credibility to a product, many theories have been put forward.

Some believe that magnets react with iron in the blood to increase blood flow. Others believe that magnets desensitise sensory neuron, reducing pain in the treated area. Also put forward are an increased oxygen content and increase alkalinity of bodily fluids, magnetic forces on moving ions and decreased deposition on blood-vessel walls.

The broadest explanation was offered by Dr Kyochi Nakagawa in 1976, published in the Japan Medial Journal. He claimed that many chronic health conditions arise because of 'magnetic field deficiency syndrome'. Indeed, the earth's magnetic field has decreased by about 6 per cent since 1830, and possibly by as much as 30 per cent over the last millennium. Dr Nakagawa argues that magnetic therapy replaces some of this lost magnetic field.

While our understanding of how magnets work may not have come very far, the technology for producing magnetic material has advanced in leaps and bounds.

Unlike earlier magnetic materials such as steel, which is easily demagnetised, new magnets -made from materials such as ferrite (ceramic) or rare-earth materials such as neodymium-iron-boron as much more powerful and harder to demagnetise (early magnets had to be long and thin to avoid be demagnetised by the internal fields produced by their end poles). This allows modern magnets to be used in a variety of thin, flexible products that can be moulded to various areas of the body.

The robustness of modern magnets also means that manufacturers can produce multipolar (or bipolar) devices, which have alternative north and south poles, rather than unipolar devices in which only the north or south pole of the magnet faces the body. Unipolar devices tend to have a stronger surface field while multipolar magnets are thought to be more natural and healthful, though this has not been firmly established.

Pulsed or fixed?
The plethora of research into magnetic therapy is generally divided into two distinct areas: pulsed bioelectric magnetic therapy (PEMF, which uses electromagnetic fields, or EMF's) and fixed magnetic therapy (which uses static magnetic fields). Around 90 per cent of the literature focuses on PEMF's, shown to be effective in healing bone fractures and, to a lesser degree, soft-tissue injuries such as sprains and strains. Indeed , the US Food and Drug Administration approves the use of pulsed EMF's for treating non-union bone fractures (those that don't heal on their own). Other uses for EM devices include wound healing., osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis as well as heart attack, stroke and diabetes.

The benefits of PEMF's are believed to arise from biological effects of these induced electric fields. Although this is not the case with fixed magnets, many health claims for such magnets are extrapolated from PEMF research.

Success with pain
While proponents of fixed magnetic therapy claim benefits such as increased energy and strength, few studies have focused on these hard-to-qualify effects. Fixed magnets are usually studied for pain relief. The earliest studies found no benefit to neck and should pain from wearing magnetic necklaces.

The finding was echoed in a more recent study of the effects of bipoloar magnets on chronic low back pain. Real (300-G) and sham magnets were applied on alternate weeks for six hours a day, three days a week for one week (with a one week break between treatments). No immediate or cumulative pain-relief was observed.

Other results have been more positive. In one double-blind randomised study - the 'gold standard' of medical research - of 300 to 500-G magnets on chronic post-polio pain, participants in both groups reported significant pain relief after a single 45-minute treatment, although the real magnets appeared to produce a greater degree of relief.

Case reports suggest that magnets (700-800 G) applied to specific acupuncture points on the legs may help relieve migraine. Fixed magnets may also help postoperative pain but studies into whether magnets can increase circulation or muscle strength are disappointing.

How is the strength of a magnet measured?

The strength of a magnet is measured in gauss (G). While pronouncements of 'strong' and 'weak' are relative, in general:
300-700 G= low gauss
800-2500 G= medium gauss
2500 G plus = high gauss

But many things affect the strength of a magnet, and the reading at the magnet's surface is different from the reading at its core. So, a magnet that is 2000 G at its core may only be 200G at its surface. Stronger, thicker magnets penetrate more deeply than do weak, thinner ones - an important consideration if the site to be treated is covered by a thick layer of skin or fat, for instance, the thigh.

Whatever its gauss rating, a fixed magnet can generally only provide a local short-term magnetisation effect in the body. This is because the human body, like its primary constituent water, is diamagnetic (weakly repelled by magnetic fields). This means that, in response to an applied magnetic field, electrons in the body's water molecules make slight adjustments in their motions, producing a magnetic field. When the magnetic field is removed, the electrons return to their original orbits, and the water molecules become non-magnetic again (as also happens when we magnetise a glass of water - the charge remains only as long as the magnet is in close proximity of the water).

This is an extract from an article in PROOF!, May 2004, Vol 8 No 10. Click here to subscribe to Proof! for half price. Alternatively you can register for your free e-newsletter packed with the latest health news and advice you won't read anywhere else. . .
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