Biomagnetic Pseudoscience and Nonsense Claims
The following is a short excerpt from an updated version of a paper titled “Magnetotherapy, the Latest Magic Touch” presented at the Ninth European Skeptics Conference, in La Coruna, Spain, September 4-7, 1997.
One of the main ways magnetotherapy is applied is through the use of permanent magnets. According to proponents, you can get their benefits as follows:
- Local application: Effects depend drastically on which pole you apply. North pole: against pain, inflammatory and infectious processes. South pole: provides strength and energy. Does your shoulder hurt? No problem. Put the north of one of the magnets on the front of your shoulder and the south of the other one on the back of it (like a sandwich).
- General application: The aim of this method is to provide a general magnetic flow inside the body. This helps to regulate the disorders of the organism. A correct application of the general method is said to involve a deep knowledge of the polarity of the human body and its affinity with therapeutic magnets.
Proponents contend that the north pole has negative electric potential and south, positive (nonsense x 1010) and that it has been established (by whom?) that the front and the right side of the human body are positives, and back and left side, negatives. So on the right side you must apply north and on the left the south. Pay attention to the extraordinary therapeutic: if your illness is above the waist, you must correctly apply the magnets on the palms of your hands. But if your sickness is below the waist then magnets must be placed below your feet. Isn't it great?
Their claims. — The following collection of nonsense claims about magnetotherapy has been compiled from booklets and radio programs. In parenthesis are my comments, perhaps cynical but . . . who could help it?
- The Earth’s magnetic field has fallen fifty percent in the last centuries and five percent in the last hundred years. This falling has provoked an increase in common diseases. This is called Magnetic Field Deficiency Syndrome. Such effect has increased because of modern life, immersed in a world of iron, steel and concrete. The modern world deprives us of the healthy influence of the natural (of course!) magnetic field necessary to maintain our bioelectric cellular equilibrium. (??)
- Cells work better in the presence of magnetic fields. Experiments with plants prove it. (Which ones?)
- Cells live on magnetic energy, and most of this energy is provided by water. (It is true. I feel better when I eat a juicy magnetic steak)
- In big cities the magnetic field doesn't exist or it has been strongly modified. (So you can not use a compass in a city, I suppose)
- Spring water is magnetized. But if you bottle it, after five days it loses its power.
- Water has a magnetic potential (?) that we can help to recover. (This sounds Aristotelian, doesn't it?)
- The natural phase of water is gaseous, but the Earth’s magnetic field and its uncommon properties make it liquid. (No comments. The ways of illiteracy are endless).
- Magnetic water loses its curative properties in contact with metals. (Who doubts it?)
- Illness is caused by losing energetic equilibrium, and magnetotherapy helps to recover it. (I think you had better plug in. Everything works better if it is plugged in)
- Eighty percent of common diseases have their origin on Magnetic Field Deficiency Syndrome. (Why are you laughing?)
- Magnetotherapy was known by Chinese, Egyptians, and Indians 3,500 years ago. (Neither Egyptians nor Chinese knew this therapeutic use of magnets. Egyptians probably didn't even know the existence of magnets.)
- Magnetic water is based on the principle of electromagnetic induction discovered by Faraday. How? In their words, we have a water flow (doubtless it is a current) and a magnet, so . . .
- Louis Pasteur studied the effect of magnets on plant growth and on fruit enzymes. (Sure?)
- The magnetic field modifies water structure, changing some of its physical properties.
- In the body, the magnetic field increases the dilution of oxygen in plasma, transporting more oxygen together with the hemoglobin mechanism. (Give them the Nobel Prize for Medicine!)
- Osteoporosis is caused by the absence of the Earth’s magnetic field. Space agencies use magnetotherapy to help their astronauts recover. (Absolutely false. Osteoporosis occurs during space flight because of weightlessness. There is no more stress on the weight-bearing bones of the body when in orbit, and so calcium tends to be absorbed in the bloodstream. The same thing happens on Earth to patients who are in bed for long periods of time, and to people who have to keep one leg suspended or non-weightbearing due to disease or fractures. The “cure” for this problem seems to be to provide exercises that will periodically stress these bones, such as running on a treadmill or doing squatting exercises. Some investigators have tried electrical stimulation on legs to promote bone growth, but it has not worked so far.)
- In 1777, two French medical doctors, Androy and Thouret, gave their approval to magnetotherapy in a session of the Royal Society of Medicine. (I don't know if it was actually passed; it seems so. In the eighteenth century, therapies included unguents, purges, and bleedings. As with homeopathy, such a harmless and inoffensive treatment was better than real medicine!)
Medical applications. — After this wonderful exhibition of deep scientific knowledge we could expect specific treatments for different diseases. It’s amazing (well, not much from what have seen so far), that only one treatement is needed to help nearly eighty common diseases:
- Apply the therapeutic magnets following the general method;
- Apply the therapeutic magnets in the zone of the disease. North is for pain; south is to recover lost energy and vitality;
Drink magnetic water. It’s so easy . . . By this method you can get cured of: abscess, acne, allergy, anaemia, arthritis, asthma, bronchitis, cellulitis, sciatic, diabetes, diarrhea, dyspepsia, stringent, frigidity, impotency, flu, herpes, headaches, zoster and a lot more!
Some of the supposed ‘cures’ are quite obvious. For example, for stringent they recommend drinking two or three litres of magnetic water daily (if you don't succeed after drinking three litres, what else can you do?). Or to gargle with magnetic water and lemon juice if you suffer pharyngitis (my grandmother said that it is better to use lemon juice and honey . . .) Finally, it is quite impressive to learn that to cure for all child diseases we must only apply low power magnets and make them drink magnetic water.