The Allure of Medical Magnets and Other Unproven ‘Cures’

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The yearning for a cure is powerful, and poignant if you are struggling with illness. At those times, we can be most vulnerable to claims for cures that sometimes defy common sense.

The Internet is full of products that hold out hope when little or no scientific evidence supports it. Many of these products persist despite efforts by government agencies and scientists to debunk them.

Some of these treatments and devices are dangerous. With others, the main danger is that they might keep you from getting effective medical treatment. You’re also out the money wasted on products that fail to deliver.

Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson describes one controversial treatment, medical magnets, in the video below. After you’ve seen it, read on about other controversial “treatments” and “cures.”

1. Medical magnet therapy

Many people swear that magnets relieve their pain. They’ve become mainstream: You’ll find handsome bracelets for golfers sold at the PGA Tour Superstore and on Amazon, for example, although no claims are made there about healing powers.

Plenty of other magnet products are sold for healing, in jewelry and bed pads and shoes. You can buy straps to hold magnets in place over your painful body parts.

Magnet therapy got a boost in 1997 when a post-polio syndrome specialist, Dr. Carlos Vallbona, conducted a pilot study of 50 patients. Vallbona was a former chairman of the department of community medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. The New York Times reported that Vallbona’s study found “that small, low-intensity magnets worked, at least for patients experiencing symptoms that can develop years after polio.”

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The American Cancer Society wrote, “However, several problems in the study’s methods were observed (for example, the patients in the two groups differed in ways that might influence their susceptibility to placebo effects).”

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has this to say:

Preliminary studies looking at different types of pain — such as knee, hip, wrist, foot, back, and pelvic pain — have had mixed results. Some of these studies, including a 2007 clinical trial sponsored by the National Institutes of Health that looked at back pain in a small group of people, have suggested a benefit from using magnets. However, many studies have not been of high quality; they included a small number of participants, were too short, and/or were inadequately controlled. The majority of rigorous trials have found no effect on pain.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not recognize magnets as a medical treatment (not to be confused with magnet pulse treatments). The American Cancer Society says:

The FDA has not approved the marketing of magnets with claims of health benefits. In fact, the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission have taken action against several makers and sellers of magnets because they were making health claims that had not been proven.

You may waste your money on magnets, but you probably won’t hurt yourself. Stay away, though, if you have a pacemaker or insulin pump, because the magnets could interfere with your device.

2. Black salves 

Just because a material is natural doesn’t ensure it’s safe to use. Case in point: “black salve” treatments that purport to cure cancer.

Not only is there no credible evidence that “cancer salve” products have healed cancer, but some of the salve components can be harmful, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:

The salves are sold with false promises that they will cure cancer by “drawing out” the disease from beneath the skin. “However, there is no scientific evidence that black salves are effective,” says Janet Woodcock, director of FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER).

Some salves use bloodroot, a dangerously caustic plant (WebMD explains the safety concerns with bloodroot). The American Cancer Society lists ingredients found in “cancer salves,” adding:

Available scientific evidence does not support claims that salves are effective in treating cancer or tumors. In fact, some ingredients may cause great harm. There have been numerous reports of severe burns, disfigurement, and permanent scarring from some of these salves.

The American Cancer Society offers a detailed discussion of alternative and complementary cancer therapies.

3. Diabetes “cures”

Diabetes is a growing health problem, and phony diabetes cures are growing right along with it. The FDA cracked down on 15 companies in the U.S. and abroad, warning that their products for treating diabetes violated federal law. Some companies claimed their products can replace medicine prescribed for diabetes treatment.

Some nonprescription diabetes “remedies” use active ingredients found in prescription medicines for type 2 diabetes. “Undeclared ingredients can cause serious harm,” the FDA says. You could get too much of an ingredient or it could interact badly with a prescription drug you’re taking.

4. Autism “cures”

If there was a cure for autism, you would have heard about it by now. Nevertheless, an array of products claim to treat or cure it.

Says a recent FDA warning about “false and misleading claims for treating autism”:

There is no cure for autism. So, products or treatments claiming to “cure” autism do not work as claimed. The same is true of many products claiming to “treat” autism. Some may carry significant health risks.

Two of the products singled out by the FDA were:

Miracle Mineral Solution. “The answer to AIDS, hepatitis A, B and C, malaria, herpes, TB, most cancer and many more of mankind’s worse diseases has been found,” says MiracleMineral.org, which sells “MMS.”

MMS also has been touted as an alternative therapy for autism. Looking for ways to help their children, parents are using MMS orally and in enemas and baths, writes Huffington Post autism columnist Todd Drezner.

Mix MMS as directed and it “becomes a potent chemical that’s used as bleach,” the FDA warning says. It adds, “FDA has received reports of consumers who say they experienced nausea, severe vomiting and life-threatening low blood pressure after drinking the MMS and citrus juice mixture.”

Detoxifying clay baths. Proponents of clay baths claim their clay can “detoxify” a contaminated body by “drawing” out harmful heavy metals. In the warning above, the FDA says claims that clay baths produce “dramatic improvement” in autism symptoms are false.

The FDA also warns consumers against these other “treatments” for autism:

  • Coconut kefir and other probiotic products.
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
  • Chelation therapies.

5. Apple cider vinegar for weight loss

You’ll find apple cider vinegar touted as a solution to a variety of problems, including obesity.

Experts’ opinions are mixed on cider vinegar’s effectiveness for weight loss. WebMD says there’s little research on the topic. It cites a 12-week study of 175 people done in Japan, in which participants using the vinegar lost weight:

On average, the vinegar group lost 1 to 2 pounds over the three-month period. They gained it all back after the study was over.

WebMD does, however, give cider vinegar a thumbs up for another problem: “While apple cider vinegar probably won’t make you skinny, it does appear to help with diabetes and blood sugar control.”

If you’re thinking of experimenting with cider vinegar, be careful. The Mayo Clinic website says:

Although occasional use of apple cider vinegar is safe for most people, it won’t likely lead to weight loss — and it may pose problems of its own:

  • Apple cider vinegar is highly acidic. It may irritate your throat if you drink it often or in large amounts.

  • Apple cider vinegar may interact with certain supplements or drugs, including diuretics and insulin. This may contribute to low potassium levels.

Tip-offs to snake oil

If you are wondering about an unorthodox cure, here are a few ways to spot false promises:

  • A product claims to cure miraculously.
  • It claims to deliver rapid improvement.
  • It claims to treat a variety of conditions.

We’re interested in hearing your experiences with these and other controversial “cures.” Add a comment below or at Money Talks News’ Facebook page.

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Comments & discussion

We welcome your opinions, but let’s keep it civil. Like many businesses, we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. In our case, that means those who communicate by name-calling, racism, using words designed to hurt others or generally acting like an uninformed bully. Also, comments that include links to email addresses or commercial websites typically aren't posted. This isn't a place to advertise your business.

  • Y2KJillian

    Years ago, my grandmother used to swear by “Barley Green,” a product sold door-to-door by a “very nice woman!” She
    didn’t tell me she was buying and drinking this product until one day she began to complain about how the “nice woman”
    had raised the price to $30 a package…and I was stunned. She went on to say it tasted terrible, too, and lately she didn’t
    seem to be getting the same effect she did at first. She was sure, though, that anything that “really nice woman” was telling
    her was good for her, actually WAS, and nothing I could say made any difference. I’m afraid I didn’t offer to help her pay the
    extra cost. After another six months, she quit buying it when the price went up yet again. She said it really had only worked
    the first few weeks, but that was probably somehow her own fault. Wish your article had been around then…but it probably
    wouldn’t have helped her anyway. Maybe it’ll help someone else!

  • senior3citizen

    I disagree with #3 Diabetes Cure. FDA/BIG PHARMA does not want you to get better – they will be out money to put in their greedy pockets!!! Their own products have known scientific fraud, have had to remove some from sale, bad reactions. deaths, etc. There are natural alternatives to get better, safer control of your diabetes and yes cure is possible but you have to work on your diet program. I have not seen any literature that death occurred via natural alternatives.

    • grandmaguest

      Natural does not necessarily mean safer. There are a lot of “natural” things that can be very toxic if not deadly. You need to approach everything with caution and respect. You can even die from drinking too much water…..and that’s been documented. Unfortunately, a lot of people think, if a little of something is a good thing, then a lot would be even better.
      However, there is nothing wrong with checking out every option available to you, should you have a medical condition you are trying to overcome….or at least maintain a healthy balance. You know your body better than anyone, so you need to pay attention to how it reacts to different things and how well you are doing.

  • speaksthetruth

    There is a cure for Diabetes. You’ve heard this cure a million times. Eat well, exercise. That’s it. That’s the big “cure”

    • Patrick Seitz

      That’s the perfect cure for Type II. Unfortunately that won’t help cure Type I

    • Sean Cammack

      Eating well means avoiding aspartame, processed sugar, and high fructose GMO corn syrup.

  • al

    Corporate BS from MoneyTalks, the corporate mouthpiece, probably fronting for Big Pharma here. As for the diabetes thing, I am a type two, let me tell you, pharmaceuticals do not help either. All they do is prolong the date of your demise, IF they do that. I might have paid more attention to this article were it from a different source. But anyone who pays attention knows that about four times a year the pharma companies get some paper (last time it was the Wall Street Journal) to do an “informational” article against alternative therapies. It is true that some of these therapies may not do anything for a lot of people…but aspirin doesn’t do anything for a lot of people either.We are all different. On the other hand, my doctor has prescribed drugs for me that almost killed me. This goes on all the time. Every year 100,000 people die from prescription medicines that were unsuitable for them. That is outside the hospital. Another fifty thousand die in the hospital from pharmaceuticals that doctors prescribe. Every year, EVERY YEAR. How many is that in ten years.But MoneyTalks never did an article on that, did they? Don’t listen to these people. Find out for yourselves if this or that herbal or magnet works. There is a book called “Natural Standard Herb and Supplement Handbook.” It is about a thirty dollar book and two inches thick. In it is about every herb and supplement under the sun, information about them, and how they have faired in studies through the years, ranging from A-D, D being no evidence for efficacy and A being very strong evidence for efficacy. Incidentally, magnets have been used for three thousand years, first in China. I guess all those people over three thousand were just stupid. That is what we Americans think, right? In short, stop listening to these so called experts who are bought and sold like so much cattle, and do your own experimentation.

    • http://www.moneytalksnews.com/ Stacy Johnson

      Nice, Al. You disagree with a fact-based article, complete with references, then call us a “corporate mouthpiece.”

      I’ve been a consumer advocate for nearly 25 years and have NEVER received money from anyone in exchange for representing a particular point of view.

      Suggesting we take money from a corporation is nothing more or less than calling me unethical, and I take it very seriously. Express your opinion, however uniformed, but don’t suggest this site is a mouthpiece for anyone, ever. It’s untrue, and it’s libel.

      • al

        You do not have to take money from corporations to be a shill for them and no-one ever said you took money from anyone. Nonetheless, my wife and I are unsubscribed from your newsletter. You seem to be against everything new and in favor of a status quot that is not working.

  • Al Seaver

    A warning regarding magnets. If you have an implanted medical device, such as a paemaker, you want to stay away from them as many of the devices have magnetic switches that can be affected by magnetism that gets too close. Too close will depend upon the strength of the magnet, of course. Check with your device manufacturer for specific precautions to take.

  • sunshinetogo

    First, there is way too many generalizations in this article. Magnets work if they are used properly and for the right problem. A salesperson is not the correct person to advise anyone on the proper use or protocol (hence the poor results seen with their use). Black Salve is caustic (read the ingredients). But surface tumors do go away and you will scar.

    Secondly regarding the other therapies mentioned, I have personally seen them make a huge difference in a person’s health and quality of life. To consult an expert that feels threatened financially almost guarantees a negative opinion. Many of them have absolutely no personal experience with the modality they question. If you truly want a correct opinion on an alternative therapy, consult a naturopathic college for their opinion since they truly test these therapies and can offer wonderful insight into their effectiveness.