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Complementary Therapies/Medicines: Magnetic Bracelets Therapy

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Many people, including Christians, wear magnetic bracelets and similar ‘magnetic’ items. Practitioners claim that they can cure or subdue all manner of complaints, such as arthritis, etc. But, do they?

Wikipedia says this about magnetic therapy:

“Magnet therapy, magnetic therapy, or magnotherapy is a pseudoscientific alternative medicine practice involving the use of static magnetic fields. Practitioners claim that subjecting certain parts of the body to magnetostatic fields produced by permanent magnets has beneficial health effects. These physical and biological claims are unproven and no effects on health or healing have been established. Although hemoglobin, the blood protein that carries oxygen, is weakly diamagnetic (when oxygenated) or paramagnetic (when deoxygenated) the magnets used in magnetic therapy are many orders of magnitude too weak to have any measurable effect on blood flow.”

(Sources: Park, Robert L. (2000). Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud. New York, New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 58–63. ISBN 0-19-513515-6. "Not only are magnetic fields of no value in healing, you might characterize these as "homeopathic" magnetic fields."; Wanjek, Christopher (2003). Bad Medicine: misconceptions and misuses revealed from distance healing to vitamin O. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 1–253. ISBN 0-471-43499-X; National Science Foundation, Division of Resources Statistics (February 2006). Science and Engineering Indicators, 2006. Arlington, VA. Chapter 7; Stick C; Hinkelmann K; Eggert P; Wendhausen H (1991). "Do strong static magnetic fields in NMR tomography modify tissue perfusion?". Nuklearmedizin 154: 326)

“Pseudoscientific” properly describes the claims made for magnetic therapy as used in complementary medicine. Note that the claims are “unproven” and that “no effects on health or healing have been established”... except in the minds of the gullible. The final statement is that the power of magnets in bracelets and similar items are “too weak” to have any effect at all. Because of the medical-sounding claims many are duped by them, when, in truth, such magnets are not medical-grade and so have no efficacy at all. (There ARE powerful medical-grade magnets, but in hospitals)

As an observer, with scientific/medical/psychological interests, I cannot accept that a tiny amount of magnetic substance can bring about such a big change in health! Logic alone tells me it is not possible.

It is claimed that magnetic bracelets or other items can improve blood flow. But, the magnetic power involved is so small as to have no effect at all. And anyway, any magnetic effect would only affect the blood vessels directly below the magnet; the further away from the magnet, the less the effect. Indeed, the effect anywhere away from the magnet is zero. (Flamm, Bruce L. (July 2006). "Magnet Therapy: a billion-dollar boondoggle". Skeptical Inquirer (Committee for Skeptical Inquiry; Stick C; Hinkelmann K; Eggert P; Wendhausen H (1991). "Do strong static magnetic fields in NMR tomography modify tissue perfusion?". Nuklearmedizin 154: 326; Polk, Charles; Elliot Postow (1996). Handbook of Biological Effects of Electromagnetic Fields. CRC Press. p. 161. ISBN 0-8493-0641-8.). Nor do these very weak magnets improve blood oxygen levels (Postow, above).

Another claim is that magnets restore “electromagnetic energy balance”. This is also unproven; in fact, no such ‘balance’ is recognised medically or scientifically. To me this is uncomfortably close to claims made for eastern cults, such as Buddhism. It is a fact that even the many-times more powerful medical magnets used in MRIs* do not make such claims. (* Magnetic Resonance Imaging). The most dangerous claims are for the cure of cancers by static magnets. They are bogus and have no scientific proof behind them. ("Magnet therapies 'have no effect'". BBC. 2006-01-06).

The claim that these magnets stop pain is more an indication of the placebo effect than of the effect of the magnets themselves; there is no proof whatever that pain is relieved by these over-the-counter magnets. (Pittler, Max H. (March 2008). "Static magnets for reducing pain". Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies 13 (1): 5. doi:10.1211/fact.13.1.0003). In particular wrist straps/bracelets are “ineffective in the management of pain, stiffness and physical function in osteoarthritis”. (Richmond, S. J.; Brown, S. R.; Campion, P. D.; Porter, A. J. L.; Moffett, J. A. K.; Jackson, D. A.; Featherstone, V. A.; Taylor, A. J. (2009). "Therapeutic effects of magnetic and copper bracelets in osteoarthritis: A randomised placebo-controlled crossover trial☆☆". Complementary Therapies in Medicine 17 (5–6): 249–256. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2009.07.002. PMID 19942103; "Copper bracelets and arthritis". NHS Choices. 2009-10-19). It is but a next step to say that the bracelets do not have any effect at all on pain etc., for any condition, and that “reported benefits are most likely attributable to non-specific placebo effects.” (Refs. As above).

Magnetic bracelets hold the promise of big profits for manufacturers, and that seems to be the only reason for their sales! The claims made are New-Age rather than substantiated science. This is why such items are banned in the USA. ("Magnets". CDRH Consumer Information. Food and Drug Administration. 2000-03-01).

Amusingly, some websites that contradict claims made for magnetic therapy also carry ads for magnetic bracelets! Even so, (article 40174) refers to the devices as ‘sham’, “demonstrating the placebo effect magnets have on their users”. Users tend to convince themselves that the magnets do alleviate pain etc. But, in psychiatry, such self-convincing against facts is commonplace. in “The Painful Truth: Magnetic Bracelets, the Placebo Effect and Analgesia”, repeat similar conclusions. Scientific tests simply do not uphold the sometimes absurd claims made for magnetic bracelets et al. It should be rather obvious in today’s over-prescribed and over-costly medicine atmosphere, that if bracelets proved to alleviate pain, then they would be used as a very cheap alternative to medicines. But, with no proven efficacy other than as a placebo effect, bracelets have not replaced genuine, tested medicines. If they really did work conclusively, then they would be used by health professionals! A 2004 study suggests that bracelets do work on osteoarthritis... but the effect cannot be pinned down to real effects or to a placebo effect.

It is often argued that if a placebo works, then what is the harm? For me, reliance on a placebo shows that the person affected is not able to maintain a genuine state of mind. In a Christian, this is harmful and can indicate a readiness to believe other claims, perhaps not so benign. And, of course, there is a good market for ‘Christian’ magnetic bracelets!! Some even claim to keep away evil spirits!! ( It all points to New Age paganism, not to useful practices that can involve Christians. This is the biggest reason why Christians should not wear magnetic bracelets and similar items.

The magnets used in genuine medicine are very powerful and are used according to carefully researched guidelines. Their uses are specific and are not marketed like snake-oil claiming to heal everything from athlete’s foot to death!

In one genuine sample academic study, there were no significant effects (Alan P. Alfano, Ann Gill Taylor, Pamela A. Foresman, Philomena R. Dunkl, Geneviève G. McConnell, Mark R. Conaway, and George T. Gillies. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. February 2001, 7(1): 53-64. doi:10.1089/107555301300004538). These findings are typical throughout medical studies.

My conclusion is simple – I see no difference between use of magnetic bracelets et al and the shaman-like paganism of the New Age movement. If, as a Christian, you are willing to have a placebo effect rather than genuine healing or cure, well, waste your money as you wish! I find it hard to understand why any Christian should want a placebo based on New Age mysticism, when they know the truth.

© January 2015

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