Magnetic Therapy Helps Fight Depression

Magnets May Help Battle Depression



c. c.1997 Medical Tribune News Service


Magnet therapy may help relieve depression, preliminary research suggests.

Since ancient times, some people have believed that magnets possess curative powers. Although there is scant evidence to support this belief, the therapy is most well known today for its use by some athletes to relieve pain.

In the new study involving 12 adults with depression, researchers led by Dr. Mark S. George, an associate professor of psychiatry, neurology and radiology at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, found that when the patients were given magnet therapy for two weeks, their depression improved significantly more than when they were given phony treatment for a separate two-week period.

Magnet therapy is based on the idea that the body's cells each possess tiny electromagnetic fields which are brought out of alignment when disease is present. The application of magnets to a particular area of the body is believed to realign the body's electromagnetic field.

In the new study, magnet therapy involved applying magnets to the same area of the head daily over 10 days during a two-week period, according to findings published in the December issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry. The researchers sent an electrical pulse through a magnet over a two-second period to activate the electromagnetic field.

Based on a standard scale researchers use to evaluate depression, magnet therapy reduced depression scores by an average of five points. When the patients received the phony treatment, their scores worsened by three points.

The researchers said they did not know the precise mechanism by which magnetic stimulation relieved depression.

Although the new findings are promising, further studies are needed to determine what aspects of the treatment led to its apparent effectiveness before it can be adopted as a standard tool to treat depression, the researchers stated.

``I think that the study is interesting,'' said Dr. Carlos Vallbona, a professor of rehabilitation medicine and family and community medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

Formerly a skeptic of the therapeutic value of magnets, Vallbona recently published a study in the Archives of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine describing the use of magnet therapy to relieve chronic muscle and joint pain resulting from polio.

He noted that the method of electromagnetic stimulation applied in the new study was very different from that employed in his own research. Vallbona used simple magnets that exert a constant, low-intensity force. By contrast, the South Carolina researchers used magnets charged by an electrical pulse, which results in a brief, high-intensity force.


American Journal of Psychiatry (1997;154:1752-56)