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Doctors pay attention to magnet therapy


Opposites attract - Doctors who spurned magnet therapy are paying heed. by Bob Condor Chicago Tribune, March 12, 1998

Here is a typical story about biomagnetic therapy: A local doctor, who happens to be open-minded about certain less conventional health therapies like acupuncture and chiropractic, has been taking his 12-year-old daughter to see an orthopedic specialist for pain in her elbow. Turns out the daughter has a bone-growth irregularity, and the specialist recommends allowing the bones in the joint to develop more fully before taking corrective action.

About the same time, the father/physician has been talking with a former colleague about magnet therapy. He hears that magnets increase blood circulation to an area and boost the number of red blood cells, thanks to the interaction between an electro-magnetic field and electrolytes like sodium and potassium in the bloodstream.

There might be a catch. The colleague's wife is involved with a Japanese multilevel marketing firm that sells therapeutic magnet products. The colleague provides some product samples, along with a thick stack of translated research literature, which "has been mostly done in Russia."

The physician is skeptical but decides to try a magnet wrap on his daughter's elbow.
"Her pain started to decrease almost immediately," he recalled. "Within a few hours it was practically gone. At first, her elbow would start hurting again if she stopped using the magnet. Gradually, over a few weeks, the pain would go away and stayed away.
"Does magnet therapy work? Does it have a scientific basis? I'm not sure, but I know it helped my daughter."

Anecdotes abound about biomagnetic therapy for pain relief. It's estimated that about 20 golfers on the PGA Senior Tour wouldn't be able to compete each week without magnets attached with elastic wraps, Velcro, belts or medical tape attached to knees, backs, elbows, necks, hips and other body areas. Jim Colbert, one of the circuit's big winners, credits his success to wide-strip magnets he wears on his back. He also sleeps on 5 magnetic mattress product, which is typically fabric-covered foam padding with the magnets sewn inside. He said his back pain used to sideline him for a good part of the golf season. Now he hasn't missed a day, and keeps ringing up prize money.

Chi Chi Rodriguez, another popular senior player, has been using a magnetic mattress since a trip to Japan some 30 years ago. Magnets are widely used for pain and overall well-ness in that country, as evidenced by the dozens of tiny ones taped to the body of New York Yankees pitcher Hideki Irabo. Pro football players are reporting quicker recovery from injury with the use of magnets. Ronnie Loll, the former all-pro safety with the Oakland Raiders, is a spokesman for Bioflex, one of several American magnet therapy companies chasing the Japanese manufacturer Nikken. "I was willing to try anything within league limits to relieve pain during my playing days," said Loll, now a broadcaster with the Fox net-work. "But, believe me, I would not have kept using magnets if they didn't work."

Many doctors have doubted that the experiences of such pro athletes can be replicated in clinical trials. But one controlled, randomized study published in the Archives of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine last November is beginning to change some minds. In the experiment, which involved 50 people suffering from pain years after a bout with polio, researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston found significantly reduced symptoms among subjects using magnet devices with power slightly stronger than refrigerator stick-ons. The results were corrected for any placebo effect.

Of course, more studies are needed to determine if greater magnetic intensity (called gauss) might bring more results, whether the pain relief is temporary or lasting, and whether there is any drop-off in effectiveness if magnets are used constantly. Even most critics admit there is no physical harm in trying magnets for most people, though there are questions about whether a magnetic field can disrupt pacemakers, insulin pumps, drug patches and pregnancy.

Fiscal risk is another matter. There's little investment at the lower end of magnet products, say $20 or less. It gets more expensive if you want a special bracelet for wrist or elbow pain ($150 range) or a magnetic pad for your bed (about $500 and up).
"For some people with pain symptoms, magnets are not only the best treatment but the least expensive one," said Dr. Julian Whitaker, co-author of "The Pain Relief Breakthrough: The Power of Magnets." (Little, Brown and company). "Most anyone with hack pain should benefit from using them."

Whitaker says magnets can be equally beneficial for arthritis, menstrual cramps. carpal tunnel syndrome and various sports injuries. His book details the history of magnet therapy, With its roots in China (where it is still used by some acupuncturists), India and Egypt.
He explained magnets are not respected by American doctors because there are few U.S. studies confirming results. One obstacle is the magnetic fields can't be patented, so any company wishing to prove that magnets work - at considerable expense if government endorsement is the goal - only does the heavy lifting for a host of competitors. "I think magnets have potential to work for cancer and other diseases, maybe autoimmune disorders," said Whitaker. "I don't know how the mechanisms will work, but think it can effective."





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