Science Questions with Surprising Answers
Answers provided by
Dr. Christopher S. Baird

How do magnets heal?

Category: Health      Published: March 26, 2013

By: Christopher S. Baird, author of The Top 50 Science Questions with Surprising Answers and Associate Professor of Physics at West Texas A&M University

horseshoe magnet
Public Domain Image, source: Christopher S. Baird.

Magnets have no healing properties. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) employs very strong magnetic fields, far stronger than a household magnet can produce, and yet MRI's have no direct effect on the health of the patient (an MRI may have an indirect effect as a diagnostic tool). The iron in our blood is in far too low of a concentration to be affected by the weak magnetic fields of household magnets. Furthermore, the iron atoms in our blood are bound in heme molecules. The chemical bonds that hold the iron atom in the heme molecule interfere with the state of its electrons, causing the iron atom to lose its usual ferromagnetic properties.

The lack of healing properties for magnets has been established multiple times through controlled experiments. For instance, M.S. Cepeda and colleagues found that static magnetic fields had no effect on pain levels. A study performed by M.H. Pittler reviewing multiple experiments also confirmed the inability of magnets to heal. It's true that all materials (including oxygen and frogs) have some kind of magnetic response. The problem is that it takes very intense magnetic fields for this response to be significant. Household magnets, and even MRI's, are too weak to evoke any lasting effect in humans. The intense magnetic fields of an MRI are used to temporarily reorient the magnetic dipoles of protons inside the body for imaging purposes. After alignment, the protons quickly become unaligned due to natural thermal and biological motion, and the rate that they become unaligned can be used to image different tissues.

If a human were exposed to static magnetic fields that were strong enough to have a significant effect, the result would be harmful, not healing. Blood would build up in places where it is not supposed to, or even explode out of its vessels. Note that we are talking about static fields here, such as produced by permanent magnets. Changing magnetic fields can have significant effects, but once the field starts changing it's not really just a magnetic field anymore. It becomes an electromagnetic field. Electromagnetic fields only have an effect on biological tissue if they are extremely intense (such as sunlight giving you a sunburn or a laser cutting your eye), or if they are high frequency (such as X-rays giving you cancer). In any case, handheld permanent magnets create only static magnetic fields and not electromagnetic fields. The FDA considers any magnet that is sold with the claim that it has healing properties to be fraud, and litigates against such products.

Topics: MRI, electromagnetism, healing, healing magnets, magnetism, magnets