Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Magnet Therapy - A Closer Look

There was a booth at the recent Sarnia home show for Magnets 4 Health ( Joanne Caissie is the owner of Magnets 4 Health and someone who I have had conversations with. She readily admits that she is not a Doctor and that she isn't suggesting that magnets can cure anything - but only when you press her for the science behind what she sells/claims.

At her booth, if you just listened to what she was telling other potential customers, you would be left with the impression that magnets can cure, or offer relief from, all sorts of things. Calling her on such claims is about the only way to get her to become matter-of-fact about her products. "Many people report..." with a reference to a few different anecdotes is about as far as she would go with me. "Search the internet for yourself" and "I'm not a Doctor" was her response to "Where is the science?".

On Joanne's website, you will find the main body of the site stating "Experience relief..." followed by a list of maladies/diseases ranging from Acne to Epilepsy and Shingles to "Alzeimer's". Interestingly, Joanne would like you to believe, if you don't accept her anecdotes, that she's not claiming magnets can affect the natural history of any of those conditions but, if you aren't skeptical, it might just help you.

Remember, a therapy that actually works does so even if you don't believe in it. For example, antibiotics work whether or not you "believe" in them.

Not surprisingly, Magnets 4 Health also has a flyer that you can get at her shows and it matches her website very closely. One element, oddly, happens to be missing from her website that is listed on her brochure/flyer. Where it says "Experience relief..." on her website it says "Experience relief from..." on her flyer. I don't doubt that she took the word "from" off her website because it might be construed as implying that magnets can "heal" asthma, Alzheimer's, cancers, Multiple Sclerosis, etc - things that she can't back up with evidence.

If you happen to search for Magnets 4 Health in Google or view the source of her webpage, you'll notice the "Description" of her site begins with "Experience the healing and energizing effects of magnetic jewellery!". The same statement is found on her flyer. And the "Keywords" for her website include: "increase blood flow", "toxins removal", "pain relief", "reduce inflammation", "body healing" and "increase immunity".

In her brochure and on her website she boldly states: "Our jewellery provides the same healing effects as the methods used successfully by physiotherapists all over the world". She also claims, "Exactly how magnets help alleviate pain is only now being scientifically discovered and understood. One main benefit is the increase in blood circulation in the affected areas. Acting like a heating pad, but not limited in time of use, magnets appear to relax blood vessels, allowing them to bring more oxygen-rich blood and carry toxins away from the affected site. It is also felt that a magnetic field helps to diminish electronic pain signals sent by nerve receptors to the brain."

Unfortunately for Joanne (and the people who are mislead by the claims), we know that much of what she is claiming borders on outright fraud.

Consider this ruling by the FTC against a company that marketed magnets for "healing" that states, in part:
IT IS ORDERED that respondents, directly or through any partnership, corporation, subsidiary, division, or other device, including franchisees, licensees or distributors, in connection with the manufacturing, labeling, advertising, promotion, offering for sale, sale, or distribution of magnetic therapy products in or affecting commerce, shall not represent, in any manner, expressly or by implication, that such products:

A. Are effective in treating cancer, including lung and breast cancers, diabetic ulcers, arthritis, or degenerative joint conditions;
B. Lower high blood pressure;
C. Stabilize or increase the T-cell count of HIV patients;
D. Reduce muscle spasms in persons with Multiple Sclerosis;
E. Reduce nerve spasms associated with diabetic neuropathy;
F. Increase bone density, immunity, or circulation; or
G. Are comparable or superior to prescription pain medicine,
unless, at the time the representation is made, respondents possess and rely upon competent and reliable scientific evidence that substantiates the representation.

The order deals, clearly, with claims similar to those made by Joanne at Studies have been done to see if magnets help reduce pain and they have been clear - there is no benefit of "real" magnets over "sham" magnets.

Let me also deal with other misconceptions about magnets (especially those used in Magnet Therapy):
  • They often are not even strong enough to present a magnetic field below the skin.
  • The iron in our blood is NOT magnetic - if the small magnets could affect blood flow, an MRI would kill every one of us.
  • We are subjected, on a regular basis, to far greater magnetic fields with no ill effects (and no benefits).
  • The claim that these magnets are not safe for pregnant women is a silly tactic to get people to believe that these magnets actually do something.
  • If magnets truly increased blood flow, why isn't erectile dysfunction at the top of the list of conditions they treat?
I don't doubt that Joanne is aware that much of what she claims is not supported by science and her attempts to distance herself from specific claims of healing and relief are nothing more than an attempt at avoiding litigation.

In saying that, I'm often left with wondering whether someone, like Joanne, is being willfully deceptive - the idea that they can know that the science doesn't support their product and the regulatory agencies have made judgements against people for similar claims yet they still will attempt to get the idea across that their therapy can cure something without explicitly stating it.

Magnet Therapy does not work, has no plausible mechanism of action and it definitely is not a replacement for physiotherapy and other treatments/therapies. Joanne is, as she claims, not a Doctor and has no evidence to support the idea that magnets elicit anything more than a placebo.

People often ask me if they should "talk to their doctor" about things like this. I think, "Yes, you should talk to your Doctor about magnet therapy. If she/he laughs at you, you've probably got a good Doctor."

Below is a scan of the flyer available at her booth at the recent home show: (click for larger image)

An email response from Joanne Caissie ( when asked about the evidence to support her claims:
You can go on Google and research Magnetic Therepy like I did. There are hundreds of pages on studies on magnets. I am not a doctor or anything like this. I do not cure people either. I have had great sucess helping people with their small aches and pains(*). Magnets will work on most people but there are some that it does nothing for them. Magnets have been around for many years. Hope this helps you. Thanks so much.

Joanne Caissie
(*Do I need to point out that conditions often not considered small aches and pains include (and this list is a DIRECT copy off of her site - spelling is hers):
Arthritis, Achilles Tendons, Acne, Allergies, Alzeimer's, Anxiety, Asthma, Back Pain, Blood Pressure, Bone Fractures, Bronchitis, Cancer, Carpel Tunnel, Chronic Fatigue, Cold Hands & Feet, Constipation Cramps, Depression, Diabetes, Epilepsy, Fibrosis, Fibromyalgia, Fluid Retention, Frozen Shoulder, Gastric Ulcer, Gastroentreritis, Gout, Headaches, Irritable Bowel, Lumbago, Menopause, Migraines, Muscular, Spasms, M.S., Neuralgia, Papilloma, Parkinson’s Disease, Prostrate Disease, Psoriasis, Repetitive Strains Injury, Restless Leg Syndrome, Rheumatism, Sciatica, Shingles, Stomach Ulcers, Stress, Tendonitis, Tennis or Gold Elbow, Tinnitus, Torn Ligaments, Travel Sickness and Varicose Veins.)


Anonymous said...

She clearly doesn't wear her own jewellery. Her advertisement says 'feel good and look great' and I looked at her picture. Proof enough for me.

Ryan Hulshof said...

People like this bother me.

I can give a bit of leeway to those people who believe their own crap. But this lady obviously knows what words to use and not to use to avoid litigation, a dead give away that she is in it for the coin, not due to some horrible collection of life experience that caused her to buy into this garbage.

What really bothers me is the " i am not a doctor" claim. Your right, your not, so stop attempting to sell something that says it will help with medical conditions. A pharmacy technician has more medical knowledge than someone like this woman, and by law, they cannot recommend any kind of medicine to a person. So why is it that someone like this, sans credentials can sell a product, that for all the legal ninjary in the words is saying " I help with **insert condition here**".

I mean you never hear someone say " I am not a bomb disarming expert, but i will give it a shot. " or " I am no tough guy, but sure i will be a bouncer at your bar." but you always hear " I am not a doctor, but here is some medical advice..."

Anonymous said...

Placebos work also, if you BELIEVE in them. Explain that.

Ryan Hulshof said...

Placebos work on pain, pain is largely neurological, the same way that if one is not freaking out about a needle it will hurt less, if one thinks they are not going to experience as much pain, chances are they are not going to.

What placebos do not work on is actual conditions. Things that are not " In someone's head." , a placebo will not work on acne , a placebo will not work on a broken arm, a placebo will not repair a damaged brain.

These people would get just as much benefit being told " Try not to dwell on it. " as they would with magnet therapy, or a placebo.

Anon, if your really interested in how it works, get a good understanding of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, and their functions. It is not magic.