- Biomagnetic therapy
- Electromagnetic field therapy
For Patients & Caregivers
How It Works
Magnetic therapies have no role in the diagnosis or treatment of cancer. Clinical trials do not support the use of magnets to relieve pain.
The term “magnet therapy” encompasses practices as simple as wearing magnetized bracelets, to using magnetized mattresses, to therapy that involves large magnetic field-generating machinery. People have different theories for why magnets might have an effect upon the body, but they all generally claim that magnets act upon the body’s molecules, ions, or “energy field” to correct disruptions. So far, there is no scientific support for this idea.
Physics tell us that an unchanging magnetic field will change the direction in which charged molecules called ions move. Ions such as calcium and potassium are extremely important for cell signaling and nerve transmission in the body. However, even though laboratory experiments show that strong static magnetic fields might be able to alter the activity of ions in isolated cells, we still have no proof that these magnetic fields will do the same in the complex setting of the human body, or that this will have a clinically meaningful effect. In addition, a group of researchers have tested several magnetized products and found that many did not deliver as high of a magnetic field as they claimed, much less the amount needed to see effects that occur in laboratory studies.
There is no scientific logic to the idea that magnets can cure cancer, and this effect has never been seen in humans. Most anecdotes of magnetic “healing” involve symptoms that may be psychosomatic, associated with stress, or subjective measures such as pain or depression.
- To relieve pain from arthritis, muscle strains, post-polio syndrome, or other conditions
Only a few clinical trials have studied this use, and most have had serious design flaws. Many clinical trials have found no effect of magnets on pain. In the few clinical trials that have, design flaws and possible placebo effects have called results into question.
- To relieve pain, fatigue, and other symptoms of fibromyalgia
One clinical trial supports this use.
There is no scientific evidence that magnet therapy is effective in treating the following conditions:
- To reverse the effects of aging
- To treat cancer
- To improve fatigue
- To treat HIV and AIDS
- To stimulate the immune system
- To treat infections
- To reduce inflammation
- To treat insomnia
- To treat multiple sclerosis
- To improve strength and stamina
- To reduce stress
- To improve circulation
- To relieve nerve pain from conditions like diabetic neuropathy
- To prevent nausea and vomiting
- To improve wound healing
- Magnetic bracelets, necklaces, braces, or other devices should be removed from the body before getting an x-ray or MRI.
- Various state consumer protection agencies and the FDA have prosecuted marketers of magnetized devices and therapies, forcing them to stop making unsupported claims of health benefits.
For Healthcare Professionals
Magnet therapy is an alternative therapy available in clinics in Mexico, Germany, and elsewhere. Magnetic therapies are promoted to diagnose and treat cancer, HIV, psychiatric disorders, stress, multiple sclerosis, and infections, and to increase energy, prolong life, and stimulate the immune system. Magnetic fields are administered by application of magnets to certain parts of the body, by magnetic field-generating machines, or with magnetic mattresses or blankets. Treatment can last minutes to weeks. Evidence supporting the use of magnetic therapies for the above conditions are limited. State consumer protection agencies and the FDA have prosecuted various marketers of magnetized devices and therapies, forcing them to halt unsubstantiated claims of health benefits.
In vitro studies show that static magnetic fields may modulate ion transport and related cell and neuronal activity (4) (7), but the physiological significance of these findings is unknown. No anticancer activity has been demonstrated. Patients also use magnetized braces and mattresses to treat pain associated with fibromyalgia, diabetic neuropathy, sciatica, and arthritis. Clinical studies of these devices are small and flawed. Although some show improvements in pain associated with conditions such as diabetic neuropathy (23), fibromyalgia (2), and arthritis (19), results are often indistinguishable from placebo effects.
Body magnets are contraindicated in radiology and/or magnetic resonance (MR) procedures. Patients with a cardiac pacemaker and pregnant women should also avoid use of magnetic devices. Magnetic therapies have no role in the diagnosis or treatment of cancer.
- Cancer treatment
- Circulatory disorders
- Diabetic neuropathy
- HIV and AIDS
- Multiple sclerosis
- Muscle pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Strength and stamina
- Wound healing
Mechanism of Action
Marketers make varying unsubstantiated claims for how magnets work, such as: magnets “act upon the body’s energy field,” or correct “magnetic field deficiency syndrome,” (1) a condition said to result from decreases in the earth’s magnetic field over the past 1,000 years. It is purported that the positive (south) pole of the magnet has a “stress effect,” which interferes with metabolic functioning, produces acidity, reduces cellular oxygen supply, and encourages the replication of latent microorganisms. The negative (north) pole is said to have a “calming effect” and helps to normalize metabolic functioning, promote oxygenation, and treat neurological/psychiatric disorders. No evidence supports these claims, and no anticancer activity is seen for magnetic fields in laboratory or human studies. Most anecdotes of magnetic “healing” involve symptoms that may be psychosomatic, associated with stress, or subjective measures such as pain or depression (3).
Theoretically, static magnetic fields (SMFs) may alter ion flow, cellular potential, membrane configuration, ion pump activity, or neurotransmitter release (4). Most of the biological phenomena associated with SMFs may be caused by changes in cellular calcium (8). SMFs of 1,000-4,000 G are found to alter protein and enzyme structure and the kinetics of reactions involving free radicals (7) (9). Reduced action potential firing in cultured neurons and permeability changes in synthetic liposome vesicles are observed after application of a SMF (5). It may not be legitimate to extrapolate in vitro data in which cells are directly exposed to magnetic fields, to their effect in a complex biological system. Moreover, many in vitro studies have not been replicated. Although some authors refer to documented effects of pulsed electromagnetic fields in attempting to explain a mechanism of action for static magnets, SMFs do not generate an electric field and therefore cannot confer the claimed physiologic effects (10). It is suggested that positive reports of magnet use reflect placebo effects.
Pain, nausea, and dizziness; symptoms ceased upon removal of the magnets (15).
Bullous pemphigoid associated with magnetic mattress use (4).
Regular use of low-intensity magnets appears to be safe. The World Health Organization reports that the available evidence indicates the absence of adverse effects on human health with exposure to magnetic fields up to 2 Tesla (20,000 G) (2).