Equine magnetic therapy: the positives and negatives - DVM
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Equine magnetic therapy: the positives and negatives


Study results questioned

Some scientists, however, question whether the Baylor study and Dr. Weintraub's investigation were truly "blinded," reasoning subjects could determine which group they were in. If your treatment device sticks to the refrigerator or nails stick to your shoe, then you have real magnets; if not, then you are in the "sham" group.

Some doubting researchers also point out that many of the investigators engaged in magnetic-therapy research are associated with companies that produce magnetic products or groups dedicated to promoting the benefits of magnets. This, they claim, may be enough to invalidate their work.

These "pro-magnet" researchers lament that the more mainstream medical community has been extremely slow to try to further research and investigate. This has forced individual veterinarians, doctors and other scientists who are passionate about magnetic therapy (hence their involvement in companies or such which produce magnets) to become researchers themselves.

Another problem for anyone trying to make sense of all the information available is that there is no agreement on factors such as magnet strength, magnet configuration or the mechanisms of magnetic action on tissue.

Though the precise nature of cellular electromagnetic response is not known, it has been theorized that cellular proteins may be involved in a signaling mechanism at the level of the cell membrane that could lead to information transfer.

The magnetic-to-electrical-to-cellular response links have not been worked out to date, and Dr. Ramey fairly summarizes, "The hypothesis that electrical signals may be responsible for information transfer in or to cells has neither been proved nor disproved."

James D. Livingston, a physicist in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, cautions, however, that "the efficacy of magnetic therapy (or of any other medical treatment, mainstream or alternative) does not depend on our understanding the biological mechanism."

Still, a crucial piece for the scientific community in the process of accepting "why it works" will be at least the beginning of an understanding into "how it works."

A scientific criticism of much of the magnetic-therapy research is that the magnet strength used in many of these studies is very weak.

Magnet-field strength is recorded as 1 Tesla = 10-4 Gauss. California Institute of Technology testing recorded the field strength of a popular brand of equine magnetic wraps as 270 Gauss at the level of the pad and 1 Gauss at a distance of 1 cm from the pad.

According to Dr. Ramey's research, 1 Gauss is approximately the magnetic-field strength of the Earth and not likely to have any biological effect on equine tissue.

Magnetic design varies greatly between companies, but there is no clear scientific data that either supports or discredits any particular configuration.

Some users favor unipolar magnets, while others favor bipolar designs. Alternating poles make the gradient greater but reduce the functional size and strength of the magnetic field. Some companies argue that a concentric-ring pattern to their magnets will produce a greater field and effect while other companies use a triangle pattern to attempt to accomplish the same goal.

At this time there does not appear to be any sound evidence to suggest that a particular field strength or magnet configuration offers any particular advantage over any other.

More research needed

For every testimonial and study on one side of the argument there appears to be a counter on the other. Clearly the use of magnetic therapy in the horse is a controversial issue that demands more research and investigation in order to let the scientific community come to a unified consensus.

Dr. Ramey concludes by stating, "Explanations that magnetic fields increase circulation, reduce inflammation or speed recovery from injuries are simplistic and not supported by the weight of experimental evidence."

"More studies will be needed before magnetic therapy will be accepted by a majority of the medical community," says Dr. Livingston, "and some studies are already under way."

Dr. Ann Gill Taylor has received a $1 million grant from the NIH Office of Alternative Medicine to study the use of magnets to relieve pain. The Center for the Study of Complementary and Alternative Therapy in the School of Nursing at the University of Virginia will use this grant to investigate the effects of pulsed and static magnetic fields on neuronal processes and on microvascular capillary blood flow.

The mere fact that the NIH has committed so much funding to magnetic-therapy research points out how interested the medical community is in resolving this debate and the hopefulness that many have in this field.

For an idea that has been around since the 1500s, there are still many unanswered questions about magnets and their use in medical treatment.

Magnetic therapy has fallen into and out of favor over the years. Perhaps current research will yield the elusive scientific proof that has been missing for so long and will finally make it possible for us to really believe.

Marcella is an equine practitioner in Canton, Ga.


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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