- Biomagnetic therapy
- Electromagnetic field therapy
For Patients & Caregivers
Tell your healthcare providers about any dietary supplements you’re taking, such as herbs, vitamins, minerals, and natural or home remedies. This will help them manage your care and keep you safe.
How It Works
Magnetic therapies have no role in the diagnosis or treatment of cancer.
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 generally claim that magnets act upon the body’s molecules, ions, or “energy field” to correct disruptions.
Thus far, there is no scientific support for this idea. Lab studies suggest static magnetic fields may modulate ion transport and related cell and neuronal activity, but the significance of these findings is unknown.
Patients have used magnetized products to treat pain associated with fibromyalgia, neuropathy, sciatica, and arthritis, but any benefits identified in studies are often similar to placebo. Some technologies like pulsed magnetic therapy and transcranial magnetic stimulation are being evaluated for potential in reducing pain and depression, but these are different from products that are promoted in the market.
To relieve pain from arthritis, muscle strains, post-polio syndrome, or other conditions
Studies failed to find any effect of magnets on pain. In the few trials that did, design flaws and possible placebo effects have called results into question.
Evidence is lacking to support use of magnet therapy:
- To reverse aging
- To treat cancer
- To improve fatigue
- To treat AIDS
- To stimulate the immune system
- To treat infections
- To reduce inflammation
- To treat insomnia
- To treat multiple sclerosis
- To improve strength, stamina
- To reduce stress
- To improve circulation
- To relieve nerve pain from conditions like diabetic neuropathy
- To prevent nausea, 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 treatment available in clinics in Mexico, Germany, and elsewhere. It is promoted to diagnose and treat cancer, AIDS, psychiatric disorders, stress, multiple sclerosis, 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 is 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. Although small studies have reported improvements in pain associated with conditions such as diabetic neuropathy (23), fibromyalgia (2), and arthritis (19), results are often indistinguishable from placebo effects. Some preliminary findings suggest pulsed magnetic therapy may help alleviate paresthesia better than placebo in patients with multiple sclerosis (24), and reduce pain and disability in patients with back pain (25). Also, synchronized transcranial magnetic stimulation may be useful in patients with major depressive disorder (26), but these are specific technologies that are still being evaluated in clinical settings for potential safety and efficacy.
Body magnets are contraindicated in radiology and/or magnetic resonance procedures. Patients with cardiac pacemakers and pregnant women should also avoid use of magnetic devices. Magnetic therapies have no role in the diagnosis or treatment of cancer.
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 with 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).