Harvard Men's Health Watch

Medical memo: Attracted to magnets?

Medical memo

Attracted to magnets?

Household remedies and folk medicine have always coexisted with mainstream medicine. In the early days, physicians could do little more than traditional healers, but as scientific medicine has come of age, the gap between alternative and standard medicine has widened. Still, as medicine has grown more complex, the appeal of simple solutions seems to increase. It's entirely understandable, and some of these healing methods may prove useful. The key is to study them, so we can all learn what works and what does not.

Magnetic devices are undeniably popular. According to current estimates, Americans spend about $300 million a year on magnetic bracelets, arm and leg bands, insoles, neck and back braces, pillows, and mattresses. Used mostly for musculoskeletal pain, magnets are also advertised to treat a wide array of ailments. But do they work?

The only way to find out is to conduct randomized clinical trials of magnet therapy. Two reviews have evaluated published trials of magnets. In the first, two Americans, one a physicist and the other a physician, conducted a detailed review of published reports covering over 20,000 pages. Most were published by advocates of magnet therapy. But the scientists were unconvinced. Writing in the British journal BMJ, they report that the studies that claim benefit are all fatally flawed. In fact, the scientifically valid studies reviewed all fail to demonstrate benefit. The researchers concluded, "Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. If there is any healing effect of magnets, it is apparently small since published research, both theoretical and experimental, is weighted heavily against any therapeutic benefit. Patients should be advised that magnet therapy has no proved benefits. If they insist on using a magnetic device they could be advised to buy the cheapest "" this will at least alleviate the pain in their wallets."

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