People are drawn to magnetic therapy to minimize maladies.
Magnetism is one of the most powerful forces in nature. The earth’s magnetic field protects us from solar winds; a compass’s magnetism helps show the way for sailors. Magnets can even contribute to well-being. Since the days of ancient Greece, millions have benefited from magnetic therapy.
“When I injured my ankle I had pain for months,” says Donna-Rae Daugherty of Denver, CO. “After 20 minutes of using a magnet, the pain was gone.” Daugherty also sleeps on a foam-covered grid of magnets and uses a magnetic pad for her back.
Also known as biomagnetic therapy or electromagnetic field therapy, magnetic therapy involves placing special pulsating or fixed magnets directly on the body to relieve pain and heal fractures, increase energy and encourage sleep. Even though pulsating electromagnetic therapy has been established for several decades and is FDA-approved, many people still regard magnetic therapy with skepticism. While researchers in Russia and Western Europe have been examining magnetic therapy for the past 30 years, there have been few well-structured, clinically sound studies here in the United States. “However,” claims the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, “there is growing evidence that magnetic fields can influence physiological processes.”
Alternative health gurus like Gary Null, PhD, author of Healing With Magnets (Carroll & Graf), say that depending on the person, magnetic therapy can reduce inflammation and stress, improve circulation, alleviate insomnia and enhance energy and immune function. Patients who are sold on magnetic therapy use it for arthritis, back pain, headaches, muscle cramps and asthma. Magnets can also speed the healing of many burns and broken bones. With magnets’ ability to dilate blood vessels and increase oxygenation of tissues, says Null, some people with heart disease have also benefited.
Less expensive than pulsating magnets, fixed magnets are made of ceramic (body wraps, pads and cushions), flexible rubber (shoe insoles), neodymium (magnetic jewelry) and samarium cobalt (quality jewelry that won’t rust). A magnet’s power is determined by the weight of iron it can lift, which is measured in gauss units, and depends on its size, weight and material. For instance, ceramic magnets are stronger than the flexible Plastalloy® type. According to Null, four factors determine a magnet’s effectiveness:
No one is sure how magnetic therapy works, but it is believed that the natural electromagnetic energy of cells, which is depleted and recharged in the course of doing its job, can be regenerated by applying magnets to the body. Capillary blood flow is also stimulated by magnetic fields.
Magnet polarity also plays an important role. Unfortunately, manufacturers of magnetic therapy products are inconsistent in how they label the poles of their magnets. Null says that the end of the magnet attracted to the south is the negative pole, while the one attracted north is positive. Each pole has a very different effect on the body, insists William Philpott, MD, author of Magnet Therapy (Alternativemedicine.com Books). “To a positive magnetic field, the biological response is acid and low-oxygen,” Philpott says. “To a negative magnetic field, it is alkaline and high-oxygen.”
Normal bodily function is alkaline and high-oxygen, says Philpott; he disagrees with makers who claim it doesn’t make any difference which pole is used. (Experts also differ about when to use which pole.) Based on his experience, Philpott has found that the negative pole relieves pain and reduces swelling, promotes restful sleep and calms the nervous system, while the positive pole increases swelling, interferes with a sound sleep and contributes to anxiety.
When placing magnets on your body, put them where they’re needed most, choosing a magnet size that is larger than the area being treated. You can also apply small magnetic patches to acupuncture points. Some people wear magnets all the time, others only when they have symptoms. Do not wear magnets on bleeding wounds, or if you are pregnant or have a pacemaker (or other implanted electronic device), warns Null. And before using magnets, seek the advice of a trained magnetic therapist and your doctor.
Results from magnetic therapy can range from subtle to dramatic. “The amount of good that magnets do varies from person to person and depends on the problem, how long it had been in existence and how strong the magnet is,” Null sums up. “Listen to what your body tells you.” If you feel better after using magnets, that’s what matters.
“I swear by them,” says Donna-Rae Daugherty. “I’ll use them for the rest of my life.”