NYT story on magnets, healing

Date: Thu, 11 Dec 1997 10:02:37 -0500
From: Jed Rothwell <>
Subject: [OFF TOPIC] Magnet therapy in N.Y. Times

The New York Times SCIENCE section on December 9, 1997 had an interesting, off-beat article about treating pain with magnets. It is: "Study on Using Magnets to Treat Pain Surprises Skeptics," by Lawrence K. Altman.

Here are some interesting quotes from it:

No one was more skeptical about using magnets for pain relief than Dr. Carlos Vallbona, former chairman of the department of community medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. So Dr. Vallbona was amazed when a study he did found that small, low intensity magnets worked, at least for patients experiencing symptoms that can develop years after polio.

. . . a human experimentation committee allowed Dr. Vallbona to test 50 volunteers with magnets that at 300 to 500 gauss, were slightly stronger than refrigerator magnets. They were made in different sizes so they could fit over the anatomic area identified as setting off their pain.

. . . Dr. Vallbona asked Magnaflex Inc., a magnet manufacturer in Corpus Christi, Tex., to prepare active magnets and inactive devices that could not be told apart. The devices were labeled in code.

. . . After the investigators identified the source of the pain and the pressed on it, the 39 women and 11 men in the study graded the pain on scale of 0 (none) to 10 (worst). . . . The 29 who received an active magnet reported a reduction in pain to 4.4 from 9.6, compared with smaller decline to 8.4 from 9.5 among the 21 treated with a sham magnet.

. . . their report in last month's issue of Archives of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine, a leading specialty journal, has shocked many doctors who have scoffed at claims for magnets' medical benefits.

Note this paragraph in particular:

In many such debates, doctors demand a biological explanation for a therapy's benefits. Without documentation that satisfies them, doctors may summarily reject the claims. Yet in their everyday practices, the same doctors may use other therapies that lack scientific proof for why they work.

The article says that if Uncle Sam did this simple test, which cost essentially nothing, it would cost the taxpayers $50,000!

- Jed
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