Diabetic peripheral neuropathy (DPN) is a common complication of diabetes mellitus (DM) that can cause annoying symptoms. To address this condition, several treatment approaches have been proposed, including static magnetic field (SMF) therapy, which has shown promise in treating neurological conditions. Therefore, this study aimed to investigate the effects of SMF therapy on symptomatic DPN and the quality of life (QoL) in patients with type 2 diabetes.

A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial was conducted from April to October 2021. Sixty-four DPN patients (20 males, 44 females) were recruited for the study via invitation. The participants were divided into two groups: the magnet group, which used magnetic ankle bracelets (155 mT) for 12 weeks, and the sham group, which used non-magnetic ankle bracelets for the same duration. Neuropathy Symptom Score (NSS), Neuropathic Disability Score (NDS), and Visual Analogue Scale (VAS) were used to assess neuropathy symptoms and pain. In addition, the Neuropathy Specific Quality of Life Questionnaire (Neuro-QoL) tool was used to measure the patients’ quality of life.

Before treatment, there were no significant differences between the magnet and sham groups in terms of the NSS scores (P = 0.50), NDS scores (P = 0.74), VAS scores (P = 0.17), and Neuro-QoL scores (P = 0.82). However, after 12 weeks of treatment, the SMF exposure group showed a significant reduction in NSS scores (P < 0.001), NDS scores (P < 0.001), VAS scores (P < 0.001), and Neuro-QoL scores (P < 0.001) compared to the baseline. The changes in the sham group, on the other hand, were not significant.

The authors concluded that according to obtained data, SMF therapy is recommended as an easy-to-use and drug-free method for reducing DPN symptoms and improving QoL in diabetic type-2 patients.

Our own study and systematic review of the effects of magnetic bracelets and similar devices suggested that the effects of such treatments are due to placebo responses. Therefore, I find the findings of this new study most surprising. Not only that, to be honest, I also find them suspect. Apart from the fact that the treatment has no biological plausibility, I have three main reasons for my skepticism.

  1. The authors stated that there was no distinguishable difference between the sham and SMF devices in terms of their appearance, weight, or texture, which helped to ensure that the study was double-blinded. This is nonsense, I am afraid! The verum device is magnetic and the sham device is not. It is hardly conceivable that patients who handle such devices for any length of time do not discover this simple fact and thus de-blind themselves. In turn, this means that a placebo effect can easily explain the outcomes.
  2. Authors who feel that their tiny study of a highly implausible therapy lends itself to concluding that their therapy ‘is recommended as an easy-to-use and drug-free method for reducing DPN symptoms and improving QoL’ can, in my view, not be taken seriously.
  3. Something that always makes me suspicious of clinical trials is a lack of a placebo response where one would normally expect one. In this study, the control group exhibits hardly any placebo response. Wearing a strap around your ankle that allegedly emits therapeutic radiation would result in quite a strong placebo effect, according to our own findings.

So, forgive me if I do not trust this study any further than I can throw it! And pardon me if I still think that our previous conclusion is correct: The evidence does not support the use of static magnets for pain relief, and therefore magnets cannot be recommended as an effective treatment.

7 Responses to Static magnetic field therapy “is recommended as an easy-to-use and drug-free method” – let me explain why I do not believe this conclusion

  • I’m pretty certain that static magnetic field therapy doesn’t do anything at all. To the best of my knowledge, there are no structures or substances in the body that respond in any significant way to low-intensity(*) static magnetic fields, and this lack of any effect is also reflected in the (scarce) literature.

    *: Extremely strong magnetic fields (1T and higher) do appear to have some acute neurological effects, but only when people move through these fields for substantial amounts of time (e.g. MRI operators).

  • We live in a significant static magnetic field, provided by the earth itself.

    • Approximate values:
       30 μT  Earth’s magnetic field
       40 μT  walking under a high-voltage power line
        5 mT  typical refrigerator magnet
      155 mT  ankle bracelet used in above trial
      300 mT  solar sunspots
      1 T to 2.4 T  coil gap of a typical loudspeaker magnet
      1.5 T to 3 T  medical MRI systems in practice, experimentally up to 17 T
             8 T  Large Hadron Collider magnets

      From the paper “ankle bracelet with a magnetic field strength of 155 mT” (plus 11 other mentions of field strength).

      The unit tesla (symbol: T) is the SI unit of magnetic flux density B. It is not the unit of magnetic field strength H, which is ampere per metre (A/m).

      This anomaly is noteworthy because “flux density” was used twice, correctly:
      • “The magnetic flux density was measured using a Tesla meter (Model…”

      • “… bipolar permanent magnets with a 30 mT flux density…”

      • @Pete Attkins
        Flux density is the same as field strength in vacuum (relative permittivity μr = 1) and virtually same as the field strength in air (μr ~= 1.0006), so the confusion is understandable.

        • He he, yes “in vacuum”, but the authors are making the extraordinary claim that it has a beneficial clinical effect in human bodies.

          I would expect such an extraordinary claim to be supported by both extraordinary evidence and attention to detail, including as a minimum such things as the consistent usage of technical terms.

          If, instead, the purpose of the paper is simply the SCAM equivalent of a lamppost to a drunk (it provides support rather than illumination) then such hallmarks of pseudoscience are exquisitely appropriate 😂

          • The use of magnets seems to have been going on for a long time. I have come across people selling them to help with joint pain as well as other things. The whole thing seems to be a ‘give it a go’ style of ‘research’ rather than trying to find what is wrong and working out hos to fix it.

  • I agree with Ernst on this issue. I discussed the question of magnet therapy in my book Are Electromagnetic Fields Making Me Ill? This was my conclusion:

    The British Medical Journal is one of the premier publications in all of medicine. In
    2006, Finegold and Flamm teamed up to publish an editorial titled “Magnet Therapy:
    Extraordinary Claims, But No Proved Benefits.” After reviewing the evidence for
    and against magnet therapy, their final paragraph concluded

    “Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. If there is any healing effect of magnets,
    it is apparently small since published research, both theoretical and experimental, is
    weighted heavily against any therapeutic benefit. Patients should be advised that magnet
    therapy has no proved benefits. If they insist on using a magnetic device they could be
    advised to buy the cheapest—this will at least alleviate the pain in their wallet.[28]”

    Physicist Robert Park took an even more negative view of magnet therapy. In his
    book Voodoo Science, he compared the biological effects of magnetic fields to the
    alternative medicine treatment of homeopathy, in which a drug is repeatedly diluted
    until not a single molecule of the active ingredient remains [29]. Park wrote “Not
    only are magnetic fields of no value in healing, you might characterize these as
    ‘homeopathic’ magnetic fields” [30].

    The conclusions of this chapter are bad news for those such as Julian Whitaker
    and Isaac Goiz Duran who peddle magnets for pain relief. The treatment does not
    work. There is, however, some good news for those embracing magnet therapy: it
    has few side effects and is generally safe. If magnets do nothing, then they do
    nothing bad.

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