(Investigator 178, 2018 January)

This section covers the use of physical magnets. The philosophy of magnetism is dealt with under hypnotherapy.


Iron-containing rock with magnetic properties (lodestone) has been known to mankind for thousands of years. However, Aristotle, a third century B.C. Greek philosopher, was the first person in recorded history to speak about the therapeutic properties of lodestones, and around 200 B.C., a Greek physician named Galen used lodestones shaped in amulets and bracelets to relieve pain. Many other ancient cultures including the Chinese, Arabs, Egyptians and Hebrews also used them for healing purposes.

In 1766, Franz Antoin Mesmer wrote his dissertation on planetary influences on the human body, and used magnets for healing purposes.

Extensive work on Magnetic Therapy was undertaken in 1959 by Kyoichi Nakagawa, M.D., in Japan, and much research into the alleged potential benefits and possible harmful effects of electromagnetism has been carried out by others in recent times.


The hypothesis behind the alleged beneficial use of magnets is the fact that blood contains charged particles (positive and negative ions). An essential requirement for recovery from injury and disease is an ample supply of oxygenated, nutrient-rich blood. Proponents suggest when magnetic waves are applied, they stimulate the blood flow and help create a more efficient functioning of the healing process.


In most cases, magnetic therapy takes the form of physical application and, according to its promoters, therapeutic magnets are highly suitable for self-application. Usually of ferrite, they take numerous forms ranging from bracelets, necklaces and inner soles for shoes, through adhesive patches and supports for the knee, wrist and elbow joints, to full sized mattresses.


There is no scientific evidence to support the claims attributed to the use of magnets for healing purposes. It is a pseudoscience pure and simple. Magnets have been promoted for nearly every disease imaginable, and the Food and Drug Administration in the USA has prosecuted a number of marketers of magnetic devices promoted for the relief of pain, including Acu-dot, the Inductoscope, and various types of magnetic bracelets. In March, 1991, the International Medical Research Center, Inc. of Murrieta, California, agreed to pay $40,000 in fines and court costs and to stop selling permanent magnet devices as medical aids.

The fact that well-meaning people can be fooled by the appearance of benefits which were in reality only the placebo effect at work can be seen in one of the earliest controlled experiments recorded by John Haygarth, MD, in 1799. Five patients suffering with rheumatic pain were treated with phony magnets. Of these, four experienced relief. The following day they were treated with genuine magnets - with the identical results. As a result of this experiment, Haygarth stated,

"This method of discovering the truth distinctly proves to what a surprising degree mere fancy deceives the patient himself".

Haygarth's caveat is as true today as when written two centuries ago. Patients and medical observers alike can be deceived by uncontrolled clinical results. The ultimate harm inherent in the use of these devices is that the seeking of more appropriate science-based treatment may be delayed, thus aggravating the problem. "Cures" are most likely due to the natural course of the ailment, which spontaneously remits or has ups and downs.

On the one hand, while some people put their faith in the supposed healing properties of magnets, much public concern has been expressed regarding the alleged harmful effects of electromagnetic fields — in particular — electricity power lines. Many epidemiological studies of residential exposure to magnetic fields and acute lymphoblastic leukemia have been carried out. One report by the National Cancer Institute published in The U.S. New England Journal of Medicine (May 1995) concludes "the diversion of resources to eliminate an unsubstantiated threat is incommensurate with risks, if any".


American Cancer Society. 1994. Questionable Methods of Cancer Management: electronic devices. CA-Cancer J Clinic. 44:115-127.

Barrett, S. 1993. The Health Robbers, Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY.

Gerrard, James. 1994. Are There Risks from Electric and Magnetic Fields? the Skeptic, 14(4):23. Australian Skeptics Inc.

Gordon, R. 1978. Your Healing Hands. Unity Press, Santa Cruz. CA.

Grossman, R. 1986. The Other Medicines. Pan Books. London.

Halacy, D.S. (No date) Radiation, Magnetism and Living Things. Holiday House.

Kiev, A. 1984. Magic, Faith and Healing. Macmillan. NY.

Livingston, J.D. 1996. The Driving Force: The Natural Magic of Magnets, Harvard University Press.

Young, J.H. 1992. The Medical Messiahs, Princeton University.

From:  Edwards, H. 1999 Alternative, Complementary, Holistic & Spiritual Healing, Australian Skeptics Inc