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Magnet therapy. No, it’s not just a supermarket tabloid sensation or a claim from a late-night television commercial. Increasing scientific evidence points to the value of an old folk remedy to address serious medical conditions, including painful diabetic neuropathy.
The first-ever large blinded placebo-controlled clinical trial now under way at 125 sites nationwide seems likely to bear out the results of earlier smaller studies, says Michael Weintraub, MD FACP. Weintraub is clinical professor of neurology at New York Medical College and chief of neurology at Phelps Memorial Hospital in North Tarrytown, NY.
"We have 300 patients with painful diabetic neuropathy who wore 450 gauss magnets in shoe insoles 24 hours a day, and we fully expect this trial will bear out the results of our earlier, smaller study, " says Weintraub, who is now compiling the results of the large study for publication.
Weintraub’s earlier study involved 24 patients with moderate-to-severe diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Of the original participants, 19 completed the trial. One patient had toes amputated and another had undergone 18 unsuccessful surgeries on his foot to relieve the pain. All patients were unresponsive to conventional pharmacological treatments, such as analgesics, NSAIDs, anti-convulsants, and tricyclic antidepressants.
After neurological and electrodiagnostic evaluation, patients were randomized to active magnets embedded in foot insoles and a similar appearing sham insole on the other foot. They were asked not to test the insole to determine if it contained a real or sham magnet. Patients were directed to wear the insoles at all times, even when sleeping, and to record their foot pain scores twice daily. The insoles were switched after 30 days. After an additional 30 days, patients were given two active insoles and they were asked to continue to rate their pain for another eight weeks.
According to results published in the American Journal of Pain Management, not only did 90% find relief when treated with real magnets, compared to 33% for the placebo, those who removed the insoles for a day or two had a return of the pain, but the pain subsided quickly when the insoles were re-inserted into their shoes. The pain returned for all patients who stopped wearing the magnets for six weeks at the end of the trial.1
Weintraub says he undertook the study because he had heard about work with magnet therapy. "Frankly, I didn’t believe it. I wanted to see it for myself, so I chose some patients with diabetic foot neuropathy whom I did not expect to get better. I was very pleasantly surprised with the results."
Clearly, the magnet therapy does not constitute a cure for neuropathy, says Weintraub. "It relieves the pain. The effect seems to influence how pain is modulated rather than change the structure," he says.
However, those who continued to wear the magnets noted a rising curve of improvement, suggesting that the magnets might be promoting long-term healing, he adds.
Weintraub noted that magnet therapy is not feasible for patients using insulin pumps or wearing pacemakers because it could interfere with the operation of the devices.
The foundation of the current research began a few years ago at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, where magnets were tested in 50 patients with post-polio syndrome — a condition of muscle pain and weakness experienced by some patients decades after they recovered from polio.
William Philpott, MD, an Oklahoma City physician with specialties in neurology, psychiatry, and allergies, takes the healing power of magnets several steps further.
"Two primary conditions in the body set the groundwork for illness: high acidity and lack of oxygen. Magnet therapy normalizes these factors and actually prevents and reverses ill health," writes Philpott in his book Magnet Therapy.2
"Magnets and electromagnetic therapy devices now are being used to relieve symptoms and reverse degenerative diseases, eliminate pain, facilitate the healing of broken bones, counter the effects of stress, and address the reversal of cancer in Europe and, increasingly, in the United States," says Philpott.
He contends that negative magnetic fields have beneficial effects on the human body and positive polarity causes negative effects. Philpott is quick to add that he recommends dietary changes and the treatment of chronic long-term allergies, which he believes are at the core of many chronic conditions in addition to magnet therapy.
The human body produces subtle magnetic fields that are generated by the chemical reactions within the cells and the ionic currents of the nervous system, says Philpott. Neurons are electromagnetic positive and their axons are electromagnetic negative, so the nervous system functions on a direct current basis. "The recent discoveries that external magnetic fields can also affect the body’s functioning has led to the development of magnetic field therapy."
He contends a negative magnetic field can favorably affect the following:
• cell function;
• pH level;
• hormone production;
• enzyme activity;
• energy production from adenosine triphosphate (ATP);
• healing and growth.
"These magnetic fields are actually systemic defenses against disease," says Philpott, and in light of Japanese research that documents Earth’s diminished electromagnetic field, he theorizes the existence of a human magnetic field deficiency syndrome with long-term effects including "chronic degenerative diseases, the loss of normal healing ability, and the unsuccessful defense against infectious microorganisms and environmental toxins."
In particular, Philpott theorizes, depletion of biophysical electromagnetism results in malfunction of oxidoreductase enzymes, which damages the mechanisms that reverse free radicals, hydrogen peroxide, aldehydes, alcohols, and acids back to molecular oxygen. "A negative magnet field activates paramagnetic bicarbonates in the body and activates those enzymes," he notes.
Philpott’s book contains anecdotal evidence of magnet therapy’s effectiveness against cancer, diabetes, heart disease, mental illness, chronic pain, respiratory problems, and women’s and children’ health problems.
For example, in cancer treatment, Philpott says negative magnetic fields "remove the cancer-developing condition of acid-hypoxia and replace it with an alkaline and oxygenated environment.
"And for diabetes, the negative magnetic field has the power to dramatically reverse most if not all of the maladaptive [food] reactions by quickly and dramatically activating the oxidoreductase enzymes, as well as increasing the oxygen and alkaline levels in the body."
"It’s really pretty simple," Philpott concludes. "Negative polarity reverses the disease process in many chronic diseases."
1. Weintraub, M. Magnetic bio-stimulation in painful diabetic peripheral neuropathy" a novel intervention. Am Journ Pain Mgmt 1999; 9:8-16.
2. Philpott W, Kalita D. Magnet Therapy. Tiburon, CA: Alternative Medicine.com Books; 2000.