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
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
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
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.