Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

120 Million People Wrong?

120 MILLION PEOPLE CAN'T BE WRONG - Michael van Straten

Magnetic therapy is one of the fastest growing areas in Complementary medicine. Though it may seem strange that magnets can help in the relief of all types of pain, tension, headaches, backache, insomnia, snoring, even for animals too, they are regularly used by 120 million people worldwide. They can't all be wrong.

There's nothing new about the use of magnets, Cleopatra used them as an aid to her legendary beauty and the first Queen Elizabeth was given them by her physicians to relieve arthritis. The great medieval Swiss doctor Theophrastus Bombastus Paracelsus used them widely and introduced magnets to the royal courts of Europe.

Two hundred years later the Swiss doctor's writings had a strong influence on one of the most famous of 18th century practitioners, Franz Anton Mesmer, the discoverer of hypnotism. He believed there was a magnetic power in his hands and he used magnetism in his highly successful magnetic healing salon in Paris. Sadly in spite of the enormous success that he had, especially using “mesmerism” on disturbed and hysterical patients, the medical establishments in his home town of Vienna and Paris dubbed him a charlatan. They had no idea of the incalculable value of his work or of how many millions of future sufferers would get relief through the use of hypnosis or suggestion.

By the 1920s magnetic therapy had all but disappeared from conventional medical use but it has remained popular and grown enormously throughout Asia, especially in Japan. In America an estimated 5 million people are satisfied and regular users of magnets to improve their quality of life. President Clinton uses them every day to relieve his backache and actor Sir Anthony Hopkins got rid of a longstanding shoulder problem after using them for just two weeks.

The medical establishment remains sceptical even though the US FDA have licensed the use of electromagnetic machines for the treatment of non-healing fractures. How strange that doctors don't use this simple non-invasive technique at the outset but wait till the unfortunate patient has suffered months of pain, surgery, bone grafts and immobility before finally resorting to magnetic therapy. Some plastic surgeons are more open minded and have used magnets to minimise post-operative scarring. These were hugely successful for racing ace Nicki Lauda after suffering dreadful burns in his accident.

Although medical experts freely admit that they don't understand exactly how or why pulsed magnetic fields improve the healing of difficult fractures, they accept that it works and it's a US Government approved form of treatment. Why then are most medics reluctant to accept the benefits of magnetism in pain relief. As an acupuncturist for more than 35 years I'm fascinated by energy fields and how they affect the body. Traditional Chinese medicine has used magnets applied to acupuncture points for hundreds of years and as better and more effective therapeutic magnets became available, it soon became obvious that this type of treatment had huge potential for relieving pain and improving well-being.

One of the world's leading lights in the development of magnets is Dr. Robert Holcomb, Assistant Professor of Neurology at Vanderbilt University Medical Centre in America. He's the inventor of Magna Bloc - four tiny magnets with alternating poles that develop a powerful magnetic field. The Professor runs an on-going research programme at The Centre for Pain Research and Neuromagnetics at Vanderbilt, where they've established many areas of successful treatments with magnets though the complexities of how they work have still not been unravelled. One theory is that, similar to acupuncture, they close the gateways that prevent pain impulses reaching the brain. The 'gateway theory', developed originally at Liverpool University, was the first scientific explanation of acupuncture's role in pain relief.


Though magnets are most widely used in pain relief, their benefits appear to extend to a much wider field of health problems. One study in New York used magnetic foot pads to treat peripheral neuropathy, a nerve condition common in diabetics that causes burning sensations in the hands and feet together with tingling and numbness. Apparently 75 percent of the patients reported dramatic relief at the end of four months - tiny nerves damaged by the diabetes may have been revived by the magnetism.

At Emory University, Atlanta, Dr. Yvonne Greene treated 25 severely depressed patients who hadn't responded to conventional drugs with magnets. Within two weeks 16 of them felt much better. The improvement is thought to be due to the magnetic fields stimulating depressed brain cells. At Baylor Medical School, Houston, they've achieved remarkable pain relief using magnets on patients with post-polio syndrome. Even the London-based Medical Research Council is looking into the healing power of magnets.

As an osteopath most of the patients I see are in pain and many of them with chronic problems are reluctant to take long term painkillers. In today's climate the general public is very conscious of the side effects of drugs and are much more likely to weigh up the risks against the benefits than they would have been ten years ago. Both patients and practitioners are constantly searching for therapies with a minimal risk of side effects and magnetic therapy fits the bill perfectly. Scientific proof of magnets may be thin on the ground but I've not seen a single report of adverse effects and the anecdotal evidence from millions of satisfied users can't be ignored.

Magnets can't hurt - but don't use them if you have a pacemaker or put them on your tummy if you're pregnant - but they certainly do help in a wide range of problems. It seems likely that they improve and stimulate circulation, they interfere with the passage of pain and pulses, stimulate brain cells and revive nervous tissue. With all these attributes it's not surprising that the volumes of case history studies describe benefits for physical conditions like painful muscles, cramp, arthritis, rheumatism, tennis and golfer's elbow, and sports injuries; emotional disturbances like depression and insomnia; physiological problems such as migraine, headaches, menstrual pain; it's even possible that magnetic therapy can help the body fight infection more effectively.

Nothing could be easier than using magnets. You can stick them on the skin using micropore or some come supplied with double sided sticky tape, you can buy them inserted into elasticated wrist, elbow or knee bands for the local treatment of joint problems including trauma, joint disease and repetitive strain injuries. There are back support belts with five built-in Magna Bloc magnets for the relief of sciatica, lumbago, disc pain or general stiffness and there's even a head band with magnets that may bring relief to every type of headache from a migraine to a hangover.

I've used magnets on appropriate patients for years, along with many of my colleagues; and veterinary surgeons use them with great effect on animals, particularly horses. Magnetic therapy is not a miracle cure for all ills but it is a safe and effective self-help therapy and always worth trying for the relief of discomfort and consequent improvement of general well-being, without the risk of side effects.


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