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Magnetic therapy works on rats

Sunday, 11 June 2017  |  Admin

A study from less than a decade ago gave an unexpected boost to magnetic therapy, reversing the trend of many previous studies that purported to undermine the scientific basis for such treatment, by showing that it can shrink tissue inflammations. Whilst the study will be appreciated by the the sellers of magnetic jewellery, whose market now exceeds £4-billion, it won't be so easy for orthodox scientists to dismiss.

The study, which was published in the American Journal of Physiology was conducted by Thomas Skalak of the University of Virginia and involved lab rats. Using proper double-blind comparative methods with controls, Skalak established that ferromagnetic devices could halve (on average) inflammation in the animals surveyed.

The problem of conducting such studies in the past has been one of assuring the double-blind nature of the studies. It is relatively easy for a layman to test whether or the magnet they have been assigned is real or fake. A secondary difficulty arises out of the difficulty in classifying pain objectively, so that the palliative effects of magnets cannot be effectively studied. For this reasons such studies are rare, according to what is now called the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (or NCCIH).

However, they did find the Skalak study that circumvented the subjectivity issue by using the objective phenomenon of inflammation. However, the real genius of his study was the way in which he held constant for the placebo effect. By using rats rather than human beings, he ensured that the subjects didn't know what was being tested or which of them were the subjects of the study and which were in the control group. Indeed it is unlikely that any of them even know what a control group is.

Using methods that would know doubt raise the hackles of animal rights activists, he inflicted swelling at different levels in the rats and then placed a 700 Gauss strength magnet over the wound at various times. The inflammations subjected to the magnet reduced more quickly than the controls, especially when the magnet was applied soon after the swelling began.

However, neither Skalak nor his colleague Cassandra Morris have any explanation as to the causal relationship. The connection is statistical and is valid to a statistically significant degree. One possible explanation that Skalak offers is that the magnets affect the "calcium  channels in muscle cells, which could cause arteries to dilate."

Whatever the causal relationship, the statistics suggest that magnetic therapy works on rats. The question is: does it work on lawyers?