magnets, respected for millen-nia for their power of attraction, are these days much more than fridge-door decor. Claims that they are a salve for what pains you has turned them into a multi-million-dollar business.Because there's so much hype from companies making their fortune on these small field-generating devices, it's sometimes difficult to keep your head straight. There are studies showing that magnets relieve joint and muscle pain and inflammation. A much-quoted one was conducted in 1997 at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. A recent study at the University of Tennessee suggests that magnets may be helpful for women with pelvic pain, although the study sample was very small.
Magnets have also been explored as a possible treatment for nerve damage in diabetics, for the nausea caused by chemotherapy and for menstrual pain. These studies all reported positive results but were small and need to be repeated.
Researchers don't know why some people get relief from the devices and others don't. Nor can they figure out how they work, although some suspect they may inhibit the transmission of pain impulses to the brain.
All of this means that this nature-derived balm is not a sure thing. The good news is that there are no known side effects, so magnets may be worth a try for symptomatic relief of arthritis, fibromyalgia, sprains, back or neck pain, tendonitis or fractures.
Nowadays you can find magnets that fit almost any part of your body. Internet retailers as well as mainstream stores like Shoppers Drug Mart are all cashing in. Prices range from $30 for a magnetic bracelet and about $90 for a lower back device to $270-$400 for sleeping pads.
Don't waste your money on magnets to enhance your sexual potency. And avoid so-called bipolar products, magnets with both north and south poles on each end. The two fields cancel each other out, decreasing the magnets' effectiveness. (And contrary to rumour, it doesn't seem to make any difference whether you put the north or south pole next to your body.)
Magnets need to be strong enough to deliver a field that measures at least 25 Gauss to the treatment site. It's considered safe to use magnets with a surface field of up to 20,000 Gauss, and no electrical field is produced by a static magnet. You might want to test a magnet before you buy it. If you don't experience at least some relief within 30 minutes, you don't have the right one, you've put it in the wrong place or it will never work at all.
There's no evidence that magnets do any harm, but pregnant women should avoid them just in case. As well, they may interfere with pacemakers, insulin pumps or other implanted electronic devices. And if you have epilepsy, you may be more sensitive to magnetic fields.
EXPERTS"It's impossible to say anything for certain about magnets except that they provide pain reduction, edema reduction and probably affect peripheral blood circulation. There are more double-blind studies that show effects than don't."ARTHUR PILLA Professor, Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Columbia University department of biomedical engineering
"If I had a problem in a joint, I'd try a method like acupuncture first, because it deals with the underlying cause. Magnets don't address the underlying systemic cause."LARA OWEN Author, Pain Free With Magnet Therapy
"I've had fibromyalgia and have been in a lot of pain. For four months I've been sleeping on a magnetized mattress, and I must admit it's made a huge difference."SHELEENA JINNAH Toronto chiropractor