Another Path/Magnetic Healing
Magnetic Healing: What's the Attraction?
Laurance Johnston, Ph.D.
"Magnetism is the King of All Secrets." Paracelus Physical disability, such as spinal cord injury (SCI), multiple sclerosis (MS), and post polio syndrome, often aggravates many ailments that are amenable to magnetic therapy, an increasingly popular alternative medicine modality. In the lat e eighteenth century, Franz Anton Mesmer used bar magnets and hypnotic "animal magnetism" (i.e., mesmerization) to treat patients. Due to the controversy surrounding this procedure, France's King Louis the XVI formed a prestigious commission composed of pre-eminent scientists, including Benjamin Franklin, to investigate Mesmer. Although this scrutiny ruined Mesmer's career, in a paradoxical twist of fate, commission member Joseph Guillotin's invention later beheaded the King, as well as many other commission members. Mesmer died many years later. Until relatively recently, scientists believed that life was mostly a biochemical process. The idea that magnetic fields could significantly influence living systems seemed far-fetched. Perspectives have shifted rapidly, however, and many scientists now believe that at some level we are fundamentally electromagnetic creatures. This radical paradigm shift has profound medical implications because modern medicine has focused on biochemical processes. If these processes are influenced by our electromagnetic nature, any healing approach that focuses exclusively on them will ultimately be limited. Life's Magnetic Nature Examples of life's magnetic nature are now plentiful. Many creatures, such as homing pigeons, butterflies, and bees navigate using Earth's magnetic field. Even humans can roughly sense magnetic direction. These abilities, in part, appear to be mediated through a magnetic substance called magnetite, which has been discovered in the tissue, including the human brain, of many living things. Researchers have found magnetite clusters near the brain's all-important, magnetically sensitive pineal gland, which secretes hormones affecting the entire body. Not only are we affected by magnetic fields but we also generate them. For example, scientists can measure the brain and heart's magnetic fields with instruments called the magnetoencephalograph and magnetocardiogram, respectively. Life's magnetic potential is so great that we can even defy gravity under the right circumstances. For example, scientists can levitate frogs by using high-intensity magnetic fields. When subjected to such strong fields, spinning electrons within the frog align themselves to cumulatively create a small magnetic field. Like a compass needle repulsed by a bar magnet, the large external field repels the frog's small field sufficiently to counteract gravity. History Magnetism has always been a part of mankind's healing armamentarium. Many indigenous and ancient civilizations - including the Hebrews, Arabs, Indians, Chinese, Egyptians, and Greeks - used magnets for healing. According to Legend, Cleopatra wore a magnetic amulet on her forehead to preserve her youth; this placement put it near the brain's magnetically sensitive pineal gland. One of the more influential figures in magnetic-healing history was the 15th century physician Paracelus, who helped to bring medicine out of the Dark Ages. Supposedly, the inspiration for Goethe's Dr. Faustus, who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge, Paracelus had visionary insights on the role of energetic forces, including magnetism, in healing. These insights anticipated by nearly 500 years the underlying concepts of modern mind-body disciplines, such as psychoneuroimmunolgy and many holistic approaches. Basically, Paracelus believed that magnetic force could energize the body and promote self-healing. His work greatly influenced Mesmer. In America, magnet use soared after the Civil War. People could even order the devices through the Sears Roebuck catalog. Turn-of-the-century medical texts devoted chapters to the subject. However, as pharmaceutical approaches revolutionized medicine, magnetic therapy lost its appeal - until recently when the limitations of these approaches became more evident. The magnetic healing renaissance has been remarkable. Millions of people throughout the world now use magnets, sales total more than $2 billion a year, and cost-conscious, health-insurance companies cover the therapy. How They Work Magnetism is created primarily by the spin of electrons within a substance. If the spin of sufficient numbers of electrons is aligned, the substance becomes magnetic. Although iron is readily magnetized because of its many surplus electrons, virtually all substances can be magnetized. Natural magnets - lodestones - were created when iron-containing lava cooled and was magnetized by Earth's magnetic field. Most magnets are now made by passing a strong surge of direct-current (DC) electricity through an iron bar. Their strength has been greatly increased by combining iron with other elements. Therapeutic Uses Magnets are available in a wide-range of materials, strengths, and shapes: tiny BB-size used by acupuncturists, dime-size, neodymium (a rare-earth metal) of extraordinary power, domino, rectangular block, and flexible magnets of any size and shape. Therapeutic magnets are often cased in ceramic or embedded in an elastic patch or flexible strip. They are incorporated in wrist and back supports, seat and mattress pads, jewelry, and clothing-related items, such as shoe inserts and belts. Many medical applications and scientific studies have used pulsed electromagnetic fields. In these fields, the electric current generating the magnetic field is turned on and off at a specified frequency. Because magnetic fields drop off quickly with distance, the closer the magnet is to the skin the better. Although effectiveness may wear off as the body adapts, magnets may be worn as long as desired. Strength A magnet's therapeutic strength is a function of magnetic flux - measured in gauss - and physical size. For reference, Earth's magnetic field is 0.5 gauss, a refrigerator magnet holding a shopping list about 10 gauss, and a cupboard-door latch magnet about 400. Therapeutic magnets range from 200 to over 10,000 gauss. Magnet size is also therapeutically important. For example, small neodymium magnets may have strength in excess of 10,000 gauss. However, because their fields can only penetrate a few inches into the body, they are used for treating localized conditions. In contrast, a large block magnet of much lower flux strength may penetrate through the body. Given the importance of size, the profound influence Earth's small 0.5-gauss field has on life is more readily understandable. Polarity Although understudied, a magnet's poles appear to exert different healing effects. The north one (the side that attracts the north-pole-seeking end of a compass needle) calms, sedates, and reduces inflammation. In contrast, the south pole stimulates and promotes healing, growth and activity. How Magnets Affect the Body Although not exactly sure how, scientists believe that magnetic fields perturb the body's own magnetic energy, which, in turn, triggers more conventional biochemical and physiological mechanisms. Magnetic fields: · Increase blood flow, bringing in more oxygen and nutrients, and flushing away waste products. · Modulate calcium flow through the body, which is essential to many physiological processes. Magnetic fields can attract calcium ions to heal a broken bone or help move calcium away from painful arthritic joints. · Alter the acidity or alkalinity of body fluids, which are often out of balance with illness; · Affect hormone production (including those of the brain's all-important pineal gland), which initiates a cascade of biological effects. · Alter enzyme activity and other biochemical processes, such as the production of ATP, a molecule that provides cellular fuel for the entire body. · Stimulate electromagnetic energy flow through acupuncture meridians. · Alter cell chromosome alignment. Healing Applications People have used magnetic therapy to treat many ailments. In Healing with Magnets, Gary Null provides an extensive list of not only these ailments but also supporting scientific studies (see Table). General uses include relief of pain and discomfort, reduction of inflammation, improved circulation, the ability to fight infections, reduction of stress, sleep promotion, correction of various central nervous system disorders, overall energy enhancement, acceleration of healing (especially bone fractures), and athletic performance enhancement. Because paralysis aggravates many ailments amenable to magnetic therapy, it may be especially relevant for people with spinal cord dysfunction (SCD). Studies have shown that magnetic therapy is effective in controlling pain, enhancing circulation, promoting wound healing, reducing carpal tunnel syndrome, etc. (For specific ailments, review the listed resources.) Pain Pain is a societal problem of enormous proportions. For example, 80 % of Americans have severe back pain sometime in their lives, 40-million suffer from arthritic pain, and 40-million have recurrent headaches. Chronic pain alone costs the economy nearly $100 billion a year. Painkilling drugs do not seem to be the answer. Their effectiveness is limited, the body builds up tolerance, and side effects hospitalize over 76,000 people each year. Because of the need, pain has been the most emphasized magnetic-therapy application. Numerous studies support its efficacy. Post-Polio Syndrome One of the more scientifically rigorous of these studies focussed on the pain associated with post-polio syndrome (PPS) (see Vallbona, et al., Archives Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. November, 1997). As is frequently the situation with SCD, individuals with PPS experience pain for a variety of reasons, such as over-use injuries or joint and muscle inactivity. This study used a double-blind design, the scientific "gold-standard" for showing effectiveness. The design eliminates the psychological placebo effect because neither physician nor subject knows who receives treatment or placebo control. Physicians strapped either a small, low-intensity magnet or inactive magnet (placebo) to the most sensitive sore spots of 50 subjects with PPS, who were experiencing arthritic or muscle pain. Overall, 76% of the subjects who received the active magnet reported a decrease in pain. In contrast, only 19 % with an inactive magnet felt an improvement. Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Magnetic fields also seem to relief MS symptoms. Several double-blind and many case studies suggest that pulsed electromagnetic fields can ease pain and spasticity and improve bladder control, cognitive function, fatigue level, mobility and vision in people with MS. (see Richards, et al., Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America, August, 1998). Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Many people believe that electromagnetic energy will eventually play a paramount role in neuronal regeneration and restoring function after spinal cord injury. Animal studies indicate that pulsed electromagnetic fields stimulate both peripheral and spinal cord neuronal regeneration, as well as functional recovery. These fields influence 1) calcium influx through the neuronal cell membrane, which affects essential cellular functions; and 2) levels of key nerve growth factors, which affect regeneration. Furthermore, studies suggest that magnetic fields alter the physical matrix of the tissue scar that forms after spinal cord injury in a way that is less inhibitory to neuronal re-growth. Spinal cord injury clinical applications of magnetism are growing. For example, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is one of the best ways to visualize the brain and spinal cord. A technique called functional magnetic stimulation enhances urination and defecation, prevents deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) by inducing leg contractions, and increases respiratory and coughing capability. And pulsed electromagnetic energy accelerates pressure ulcer healing. Finally, there are anecdotal reports of some function being restored in humans using magnetic therapy, which will be discussed in a future article (insert link). Conclusion It is predicted that electromagnetism will become the foundation of 21st century medicine or, at least, the mortar that integrates the biochemical concepts that have been so fundamental to the medicine of the last century. Already providing important clinical applications, as well as tantalizing insights into neuronal regeneration, as Paracelus said "Magnetism is the King of all Secrets."