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Doctors and Psychiatrists Turn to Magnets


Perhaps one day, medical practitioners may routinely prescribe magnetic therapy for pain relief. Until then, look for a Bioflow distributor and try it for yourself. Peter Lawrie


Doctors and Psychiatrists Turning to Magnets This story was webposted 25.2.2002

Dr. Jane Murray isn't ready to prescribe magnet therapy for any of her patients just yet. But that day could be coming.
"I hear testimonials from people right and left," said Murray, a family physician who employs both traditional and complementary therapies at the Sastun Center, a clinic in Mission, Kan. "I don't disbelieve them at all. But I don't know yet how to prescribe magnet therapy."

Magnets have a long history as medical devices. Cleopatra is reported to have worn a magnetic lodestone on her forehead in an attempt to forestall the aging process. For decades, magnets have occupied a place among alternative treatments, alongside herbs and acupuncture. Along the way, they also have become big business. Billions of dollars worth of medical magnets are sold each year, over the Web and in Tupperware-style home parties.

Yet as they've gained adherents, medical magnets also have fallen into disrepute among many medical professionals. "A lot of fly-by-nighters started promoting magnetics for all sorts of ailments," said Abraham Blechman, an associate professor in orthodontics at Columbia University's School of Dental and Oral Surgery. He has experimented with magnets and uses them regularly in his New York practice. A couple of years ago, the Federal Trade Commission disciplined some companies for making unsubstantiated claims on Web sites about magnets' power to cure AIDS, cancer, liver disease and other conditions. "Magnetics in general got a bad reputation," Blechman said. "There are many medical people who don't believe any of the claims being made."

However, Blechman noted, that is slowly changing.
"There are more and more uses of it being promoted with good scientific background," he said. "It's gradually being accepted."
Several controlled clinical studies conducted in the past few years suggest that magnets may effectively treat some disorders. And a few health-care providers are routinely using magnets for a host of conditions.

Blechman, for example, has used magnets for years with orthodontic patients to move teeth and to accelerate new bone growth. Some of his faculty colleagues at Columbia's medical school are using magnets experimentally to reduce pain among people who've had coronary artery bypass procedures, he said.

A small number of studies have found magnets, either "permanent" magnets or electromagnets, to be effective in relieving certain kinds of pain and hastening wound-healing. Perhaps most significantly, electromagnets are being used experimentally at several university medical schools to treat depression. The procedure is known as transcranial magnetic stimulation.

"That's extremely exciting," Murray said. "I think there is clearly something powerful about the human energy field and its interaction with the energy in the world -- electromagnetic, biochemical, and the energy we get from other people and plants and animals."
In transcranial magnetic stimulation, a coil is held next to the patient's forehead and a pulsating electrical current passes through the coil, generating a magnetic field. That, in turn, creates a small electrical current in the region of the brain called the left prefrontal cortex. That is the area of brain thought to be underactive in depressed people.

Three studies have compared transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), a procedure in which electricity is applied directly to the entire brain. ECT is effective against depression, although it often causes short-term memory loss and other temporary cognitive problems. It gained notoriety after it was featured in the film based on Ken Kesey's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

In the three studies comparing the two procedures, TMS has been as effective as ECT in treating severe depression among people who are not troubled by hallucinations or delusions, according to David Avery, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington Medical School in Seattle. And ECT, he said, is more effective than anti-depressant drugs.
The studies so far have involved only a couple of dozen subjects. Avery soon will begin a study with about 85 subjects.
Researchers theorize that the magnetic therapy may work by activating sluggish nerve cells in the left prefrontal cortex.

Four years ago, researchers at Baylor University in Houston used magnets to treat muscular or arthritic-type pain in post-polio patients. They laid magnets on the painful areas for 45 minutes. Seventy-six percent of people treated with real magnets reported feeling significantly better. Nineteen percent of those given sham magnets reported significant pain relief.

A team at the University of Virginia gave magnetic sleeping pads a couple of years ago to a group of people with fibromyalgia, a baffling complaint characterized by chronic and pervasive muscle pain. Compared to a control group that slept on nonmagnetized pads, those with the magnetic pads reported significantly reduced pain after sleeping on the pads for six months. Other outcomes did not differ significantly between the groups.

In another study, a large group of people with intense nerve pain in their feet -- a condition known as peripheral neuropathy and common among diabetics -- were given magnetic insoles to wear. A substantial number reported less tingling and burning and numbness in their feet. Michael Weintraub, the neurologist who orchestrated the controlled study that was conducted at 48 sites last year, said it "clearly shows that magnets work. It's a real response." He expects the study to be published in a major medical journal, and he hopes to pursue further research.

Blechman stressed that the magnets that are sold widely for medical purposes not only vary in strength and design, but may not deliver as promised. He tested some and found that they were not as powerful as advertised.

Nancy Russell, a Kansas City area internist, has used magnets on occasion for years, mostly to control pain. "If somebody has an injury, like to a joint, (there are) wraps. I've used those myself, like with tendonitis, and it seems that it shortens recovery time."






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