AMFAC: Magnet Madness

My mother-in-law firmly believes that magnets are (nearly) a cure-all. If you’ve ever listened to the podcast Sawbones, you would know that anything that’s a cure-all generally cures nothing. But she still believes they help with her back pain and a variety of other ailments she received during a car accident many years ago. Who am I to tell her she’s wrong?

How Do (Supposedly) Magnets Work?

The science is a bit murky and oftentimes contradictory on this one, but there are a few concepts that are consistent throughout:

  1. The magnets attract something in the blood (some say iron, some say ions), which helps people giving magnet therapy direct the blood flow, thus helping with ailments such as inflammation and the like.
  2. The static magnets alter a person’s bioenergetic field, which is, according to those who believe, the life force or chi of a person. By altering this field, they can take control of certain diseases or ailments.

Most scientific studies show that these claims are untrue and that even if magnets did have some healing effects, the magnets being sold do not have enough strength to actually make an impact.

The Method Behind the Magnet Madness

Magnets used for medical treatment are part of a $5 billion market worldwide, which means that lots of people hold the (potentially) crazy belief that magnets actually have curative powers. While companies have been banned by the FDA from marketing magnets as being able to help with diseases such as HIV, arthritis, and asthma, it doesn’t stop them from marketing to people with pain, mental illness, and swelling, among other ailments.

Companies such as Nikken have even made a multi-level marketing (MLM) empire out of the business of medical magnets. My mother-in-law even sold them for a time.

Some recent studies have shown that there may be some healing powers associated with magnets, but since legitimate studies are just now happening, it will be some time before we get a final verdict on the power of magnets. And even if magnets do show to have some healing effects, such as reducing swelling, it doesn’t speak to the strength of the magnets or other factors that may impact the overall result.

But She’s Not Crazy

My mother-in-law is not crazy. At least not in my opinion. I have never been one to believe that the magnets work, but I did try them once just to test it out. They didn’t do a damn thing for my pain, but that still didn’t make me think she was crazy. The magnets thing has always been an endearing belief — a cute idea, but not real. And that’s ok.

But this belief in the healing power of magnets has definitely been categorized as crazy by most people and the medical community. We even joked with my mother-in-law after a recent trip to the Science Museum where we saw the same magnets she has in the ‘Quackery’ section. She was truly semi-appalled by the fact that it was condemned as quackery, which made my husband and I giggle. Again, it’s cute.

And I think that’s the final point I want to make here. If the placebo effect is a real thing, which science has shown it is, is it really so crazy to believe in it? My opinion is that if it’s not hurting anyone and it’s not replacing standard medical care, then it’s not so crazy. But when it starts to interfere with seeking medical care or it is dangerous, that’s when the tide turns to full-on crazy town. What do you think — magnets: crazy or not?

Author’s Note: AMFAC is the acronym for All My Friends Are Crazy, which is the broader story that encompasses these smaller bites. For the rest of the story, check out the AMFAC publication.

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