to a now-infamous study published in the Journal of the American
40 percent of Americans have tried alternative medicine. The conclusion
so far: Many natural cures are effective, although sometimes even the
experts aren't sure why. How do you know which ones to try? "I have
hosted a radio show on holistic medicine for 14 years, " says Bruce
Hedendal, DC, Ph.D., a holistic practitioner and clinical nutritionist
in Boca Raton, Florida, "and I can't tell you that there is a lot
of bad information out there."
To help, we've
pulled together eleven of the safest, most reliable home remedies for some minor aches and pains.
As always, you should talk with your doctor
about serious conditions or possible interactions with other treatments,
and avoid taking any remedy if you are pregnant. But if you're dealing
of these common complaints, why not give natural remedies a try?
Arnica for bumps and
So you bumped into the picnic table or overdid it on the softball
field? The kind of trauma that causes achy muscles, and perhaps
an ugly bruise, is exactly
where of the herb Arnica montana shines. When you apply it externally,
arnica can help reduce swelling and inflammation in both acute and overuse
injuries, says Hedendal, who also happens to be a champion pentathlon.
recommends applying arnica cream, ointment or oil to sore muscles or bruises
several times a day (don't use arnica on cuts or broken skin, as it can
irritate). The herb seems to break down fibrin, the tough matrix of
blood clots, and
help flush them away, says Christopher Hobbs, an herbalist in Santa Cruz,
and author of Handbook for Herbal Healing (Botanical Press, 1990)
and Herbal Remedies for Dummies (IDG Books Worldwide, 1998).
Calendula for mouth sores
Canker and cold sores, sore gums or even burns in and around your
mouth can make you miserable—but another natural healer, calendula,
may help. Known to gardeners as the marigold, Calendula officinalis has
been used for centuries to heal a variety of skin lesions, including
sores in the mouth
and throat. In animal and lab studies, calendula has demonstrated anti-inflammatory
and wound-healing properties.
The best way to
use calendula is to grow your own marigolds, says Hobbs, and "harvest
the flowers as you need them." Chew on a small bud if and hold it
in your mouth next to the store for 30 to 60 minutes. If you don't have
a garden, make
a calendula gargle by mixing two teaspoons of prepared calendula tincture
(available a health-food stores) with a half-liter of water.
from the evening primrose flower can restore skin's youthful
Evening primrose oil
for dry skin
If your skin seems to have suffered lately, it may not be the sun—your
diet could be to blame. Cutting back on dietary fats can result in dry skin,
rough skin, or even eczema. Nutritionists point to the absence of one type
of omega-6 fatty acid, gamma linoleic acid (GLA), as the culprit in many skin
problems. "We know that one of the symptoms of a GLA deficiency is chronically
dry or rough skin, so we think that supplementing can help," says Hedendal.
remedy, evening primrose oil, derived from the wild flower with the same
common name (Oenothera biennis)
is rich in GLA. Studies using the oil to treat skin conditions like
eczema have shown that it can help clear flare-ups and may reduce itching.
suggests taking two to four capsules (about 250 to 500 mg) of evening
primrose oil daily. You can start looking for improvements within a
month. No side effects have been documented.
Tea tree oil for cuts and scrapes
If you can get past the medicinal scent, you'll love what this stuff
can do for minor cuts and abrasions. A traditional cure from Australia,
tea tree oil
is used to treat everything from dandruff to athlete's foot. The pale yellow
liquid is derived from an Australian shrub, Melaleuca alternifolia,
a member of the eucalyptus family. Research has proven that it is also
an effective antiseptic, antibacterial and anti-fungal agent.
To use it,
can apply the
undiluted oil straight to an injury. If you have sensitive skin, the
full-strength product may cause irritation. For that reason, creams,
salves and other
over-the-counter preparations made with less-concentrated doses are recommended.
Or you can
dilute the oil yourself in an equal amount of sweet almond oil, Hobbs
really works," he says.
Cooled tea bags for
That tender, tight-skin feeling you get from a sunburn is a bad enough.
But often, as a response to the damage, the body sends extra
blood to the site,
which makes it hurt even more. Applying a cold compress will help divert
some of the blood. And if the compress contains tea, you're
getting a few extra
"Tea is very
astringent, " says Margi Flint, an instructor of herbal
medicine at the Tufts University School of Medicine, in Boston. "It
helps the burn feel less tender." Try green tea, which contains
polyphenols, antioxidants that seem to actually reduce the burn's damage
to your skin and speed the healing
To treat a sunburn,
steep several teabags in boiling water; remove the bags to allow them
to cool (or put them into the refrigerator),
your skin. If the area to be treated is large, dip a few cloths in
the tea, cool
and apply. Repeat as needed.
Aloe for burns
The gel from inside the leaves of the aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis)
plant is one of the best burn remedies around. It is proven to
speed healing, although scientists are still on clear as to why.
may work as a
pain reliever, an anti-inflammatory and an anti-itch agent. And
it may even fight
"Aloe vera works for all kinds of minor skin irritations, and also keeps
the skin soft so burns and cuts keel more comfortably," Hedendal says. Aloe
is an ingredient in a variety of skin preparations, from gels and lotions to
creams and salves. But you'll get the best results with fresh gel from your own
plant, says Hobbs. Just split the leaf in half and squeeze the clear, gelatinous
material onto your skin. Used topically, aloe has no known side effects, although
you should reserve it for superficial burns and abrasions and leave deep wounds
to a physician's care.
Feverfew for migraines
Recent research has proved what herbalists have been saying for
generations: The small white flowers known as Tanacetum parthenium can
reduce the frequency and severity of migraine headaches,
and may ease the nausea
and vomiting that sometimes accompany them. Studies do
not yet support using the remedy to treat tension headaches,
doesn't seem to help with headaches already in progress;
it's a preventive, not a cure.
"Clinical trials and my clinical experience show that feverfew works very
well for some people," says Hobbs. It takes from two to five months to take
full effect, but the headaches should start easing after six weeks and get progressively
better after that." To prevent migraines, take 800 mg of a feverfew preparation
twice daily. Look for capsules that are marked "standardized " and
contain 0.2 percent, or 250 mcg, of parthenolide, the chemical
that has been credited with feverfew's anti-migraine action.
Note that a small number of people
get mouth sores from this herb; if you're one of them, you
shouldn't use it.
Pineapple for indigestion
Before you head to the ballpark for hot dogs, peanuts and
beer, trying munching on some pineapple; it might save
you a dose
later. The tropical
fruit contains bromelain, a naturally occurring enzyme
that, when taken before meals, seems to help digestion
by aiding the
body in breaking
food. Its action is generally less dramatic than pharmaceutical
notes, but it can help if you tend to feel bloated
or sluggish after a big
meal. Look for bromelain-containing tablets or capsules
in the health-food store, and take 250 to 500 mg three
times a day,
meals (follow label instructions for specific doses).
Lemon balm for insomnia
Tossing and turning? Before you reach for an over-the-counter
sleeping pill, consider taking the gentle herbal lemon
known as Melissa officinalis.
A mild sedative, this ancient remedy is great for treating
the insomnia brought on by anxiety, says Adriene Fugh-Berman,
Network and author of Alternative Medicine: What Works (Lippincott,
Williams & Wilkins, 1997). To use it, look for extracts or dried teas and
follow the directions on the label. There don't seem to be any side effects,
although people with thyroid problems should talk with a doctor before using
lemon balm, as it inhibits certain thyroid hormones.
Stinging nettle for respiratory allergies
Stinging nettle, also known as Urtica dioica,
is the bane of gardeners and hikers because it can
extremely unpleasant rash with a mere brush
of its branches. But in capsule form, nettle is
an effective remedy against hay fever and other nasal
of the study participants taking nettle preparations
said it was as good or better
at relieving their sneezing and itching than the
medications they had taken in the past. Like most
effects can be subtle
first; Hobbs suggests trying an over-the-counter
nettle remedy for least three
the label for dosing information).
MD, Ph.D., director of allergy and immunology training at Nassau County
in East Meadow,
New York, cautions
acts as a diuretic, so it should be used carefully
to avoid dehydration. Nettle also can cause mild
If side effects are
troublesome, stop taking
Black haw for menstrual woes
Native Americans used the herbs black haw (Viburnum prunifolium)
and cramp bark (Viburnum
to treat menstrual cramps. And
although scientific evidence
of their efficacy
herbalists agree that both
seem to work as antispasmodics. They also
seem to be safe,
although pregnant women are advised
to avoid using them. Flint
recommends black haw tea,
as does Fugh-Berman. To make
it, simmer in a covered pot a
of dried black
haw roots and one-and-a-half cups of water.
Sip small amounts throughout
to take prepared
for liquid extracts, capsules
or tablets, and follow the manufacturer's
using either herb a few days
before your period
starts, and continuing for
a week to
For an extra
cramp-fighting boost, add
a teaspoon of the herb valerian (Valeriana
which acts as a sedative, to your tea.
But skip the valerian if you're driving,
can cause drowsiness. And one more note
caution: If you're allergic to aspirin,
avoid black haw
its salicin, the active
ingredient in aspirin.
Walking's Annual Diet and Fitness Guide
care of yourself isn't a luxury —it's
your highest priority. The nation's top women's health
experts tell you how to put
As women, we're all juggling lot of commitments: families, careers,
households, friends. And maybe, if there's time, our own health.
But putting your health on the back burner will only backfire in the long
run. Skipping meals and medical exams, getting too little sleep
and too much caffeine will eventually catch up with you, making you more
prone to minor discomforts as well as major diseases.
have a real problem with taking care of their own health because they're
so busy making themselves indispensable to everyone else in their lives," says
women's health authority Marianne Legato, MD, director of the Partnership
for Women's Health at Columbia University and author of The Female
Heart: The Truth About Women and Heart Disease (Simon and Schuster,
1992) and What Women Need to Know (Simon and Schuster, 1997). "We
tend to define ourselves by how we meet other people's needs. And that's
a health hazard."
At any age, making
your own nutrition, fitness, and well-being a priority will make a big
difference in your life, says Phyllis E. Greenberger, executive director
of the Society for the Advancement of Women's Healthcare Research in
Washington, DC Consider weight training, prescribed for any woman over
30 as a way to protect bones and overall health. "In every study,
women who start weight training at any age get stronger muscles, better
balance, more vitality," she says. Yet so few of us make time to
Why not put yourself — your
health, happiness, fitness, and peace of mind— at the top of the
priority pile? Here are 18 tips from the experts on how to do just that,
plus some firsthand accounts of how the experts on health keep themselves
Get more sleep.
"Most of us simply don't get enough," says Adrian Fugh-Berman, MD,
chairwoman of the National Women's Health Network, an independent science-based
advocacy group in Washington DC, and author of Alternative Medicine: What
Works (Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 1997). "We think it's some
kind of badge of honor to be able to get by with very little sleep. And this
isn't a culture that's very tolerant of midday naps." To make up for lost
zzz's, she suggests sneaking in a nap when you can, and making it part of your
daily to-do list to get the rest you need. You wouldn't skimp on breathing, so
don't skimp on sleep. Both are critical to your health.
Challenge your doctor.
If you've been having chronic problems, such as fatigue or depression, talk with
your doctor about all of your options, suggests Susan Lark, MD, author of nine
books on women's health, including The Anxiety and Stress Self-Help Book (Celestial
Arts, 1996). Don't think that because you are still able to function, your problem
isn't important, or the your doctor's solution is your only option. For example,
Lark says, many women with depression and low energy levels either do nothing
about it or accept a prescription for antidepressants, no questions asked. But
your depression might be caused by a thyroid condition that could be detected
through a blood test and corrected without Prozac. In other cases, mild depression
can be alleviated with exercise and diet. "Ask questions, and don't be afraid
to talk about complementary treatments," she says.
Rebalance your body.
"Most women who exercise regularly could use help in six areas, three in
front and three in back, " says Carol L. Otis, MD, an assistant professor
of medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles, former chairwoman
of the American College of Sports Medicine's Strategic Health Initiative for
Women, and chief physician for the professional women's tennis tour. Being unbalanced
can lead to injury — plus nagging problems like stiffness and poor sleep.
Pick up a good book on stretching, or try these moves:
do crunches. For your quadriceps, do seated, straight-leg lifts. And for
your lower legs,
do toe taps. These will help prevent shin splints as well
as other strains.
To loosen up the
complementary muscles in the back of your body and to stretch your lower
back, hamstrings, and
try sitting on
the floor and doing straight-leg toe touches (round your
back to stretch the lower spine, lift your chin to stretch
the classic runner's stretch: Lean against a wall with
one leg extended behind you; do one set with the back knee locked,
which will work the
superficial muscle in the calf, and one set with the knee
bent slightly, to stretch the muscles deeper
in the calf.
Learn about yourself.
There's been a virtual explosion in recent years in the amount and
quality of information available on women's health, says
Lark. Go to the library, a bookstore, the Internet, or your local
clinic to find
reference materials, classes, and other resources. The
healthcare crunch has created a real scheduling nightmare for many
don't have the time to talk to patients anymore. So become
your own advocate. Learn about how your body works, and study up
on any special
health concerns you have. That way, you'll be ahead of
the game when you finally get your 15 minutes to chat with the doctor.
"It's important," says Fugh-Berman. "Trust me." Rewarding,
regular sexual activity is critical for your physiological
and emotional well-being. Sex is a physical release and emotional outlet
reduce the negative effects of stress on your health.
Face your demons.
If you have a problem that you can't seem to solve, you've
got to get help, says Legato. Talk to doctor,
a counselor, or a trusted
friend who could refer you to a professional. "Continually trying to
cope with a problem you haven't been able to solve is not a good strategy," she
says. And tolerating pain will undermine any other health-promoting
actions you take. "Pain that goes on and on, with no end and no
solution, will affect your cardiovascular health and the functioning
of your immune system," she says. "It's truly
Do it for the health of it.
Exercising—or eating right or doing anything else that's healthy — is
much more beneficial if you do it for the bigger benefits, not the
smaller ones, says Otis. "If you work out for health, you'll probably
achieve a healthy weight automatically," she says. "But
if you workout to stay thin, you probably won't be
making yourself healthy."
Get a massage.
Bodywork may help reduce anxiety and stress and relax
tired muscles, says Fugh-Berman. And massage
doesn't have to
be expensive. "Lots
of cities have massage schools that offer student massages for as little
as $25," she says. Check the yellow pages.
Get a dog.
Pets are proven stress-busters, injecting
humor and spontaneity into your daily
routines. And they also make great exercise
companions, says Otis. When your dog
needs to go out, you have no excuse for skipping your own
Give yourself permission...
...To skip a workout, change your routine, try something
yourself the space to stop something if it doesn't feel good," says
Christiane Northrup, MD,
a frequent lecturer on women's
and author of Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom (Bantam,
yourself time to feel what you're feeling." Then act out that
feeling: cut an unpleasant workout short and take a long bath. Or sign
up for new routine, like you'll go or boxing class. "Most people
push themselves to do something that feels bad because it's supposed
to be good for them," Northrup says. "But
if you move your body for
the simple joy of moving,
Prepare to suffer.
Making sacrifices in the name of good health
is never completely painless,
says Greenberger. Replacing
bad habits with good
ones — and keeping
up the new habits when things get tough (as in, you're traveling and
can't find anything but fast food) takes some grit. Just remind yourself
that all discomfort is fleeting, says Greenberger, who faces the health-conscious
traveler's woes quite frequently. "I
tell myself, 'You just
survived four hours of
the middle seat of a five-seat
row, right next to a screaming
2-year-old. You certainly
can do without that doughnut.'"
Take a vacation.
Give yourself a well-deserved
break, and schedule
that annual ski trip
or week at the beach. But don't restrict
breaks — build
in at least 20 minutes
of quality downtime every
says Otis. Health-wrecking
has less chance
of doing its
damage if you
break its hold once
a day instead of once a year.
Take stock, medically.
Assess your individual health risks to determine
if any, you should make in your healthcare
of the musculoskeletal diseases branch at the
Health. For example,
should determine if
they're at greater-than-average risk for
disease, osteoporosis and breast cancer, she
says, and educate
if they are.
Take stock, mentally.
"Every season, sit down alone and think about whether you're happy or
not, and whether you would make the same decisions you've made
if given the chance to do it all over again," says Legato. "It's
important to examine your life this way. Most of our lives are
eaten up with millions of things, so many that we often don't have time for
the things we really love." So give yourself a quarterly
check up — and
then make some adjustments
so that you're spending your energy where it counts.
"Most of us breathe using just the tops of our lungs," says Northrup.
This can actually increase stress. Instead, she says, do deep
breaths, focusing on bringing air into the lower part of your lungs. This will
stimulate circulation in your internal organs and activate the
of your nervous system involved with rest and repair—not
fight and flight.
Make tests fun.
Nobody likes mammograms or Pap smears.
And no one wants to focus on the scary statistics
to make herself keep
those appointments, says McGowan.
So make them a present to yourself. "Schedule exams
on your birthday, then take the rest of the day off and go to a spa." (Northrup
suggests a women
look at these
annual task like
change for the
peace of mind.)
Take your vitamins.
magnesium, and antioxidants
proanthocyanidins (found in pine bark and grape seed extract).
Calcium is especially
probably don't—but if you do, it's time to start thinking
of it as a one-way ticket to the hospital. "Smoking is
the single worst health choice you can make," says
Wise Women Are Doing
Our take-care-of-yourself experts — women who spend their lives safeguarding
the health of other women — get mammograms and cholesterol screenings,
don't smoke and eat plenty of veggies. But what else do they do to stay healthy,
happy, and strong? We ask them to share their secrets.
Christiane Northrup "Exercise-wise,
I change what I'm doing regularly: Novelty keeps us young. I lift weights at
least three times a week, plus I do your basic aerobics stuff, 20 to 30 minutes
in the hotel gym. When I'm home, I take Pilates class. It's wonderful and it's
really hard. I learned the mat workout so I could do it anywhere. When I want
a treat, I make it count: a piece of perfect Belgian chocolate, or a grand
desert and a very good restaurant, shared with a few friends. I drink
almost no coffee; I can't tolerate the caffeine. I love brown rice, greens,
and tofu, and recently I've added more protein to my diet, mostly through fish
like salmon. And I take vitamin and mineral supplements every day."
Joan McGowan "My motto is diversity. I go to three or four exercise classes
a week, things like boxing and step aerobics, plus I do strength training. Whatever
I'm doing, I try to add something that works a different muscle group. I also
take the stairs instead of the elevator and walk as much as I possibly can, because
even though I exercise an hour a day I still need more activity as a part of
my daily life — it's missing for everyone who sits at a computer or in
meetings all day. You have to be careful as you get older that you're not just
Carol L. Otis "I walk, run, play tennis, and kayak.
To keep myself motivated, I exercise with a buddy and keep updating my commitments
to myself — to
do something for so long, meet a particular goal, etc. I try to exercise in
the morning, because that's the time of day when I'm least likely to be interrupted.
I can always set the alarm to go off earlier, but I can't always guarantee
I'll get out of work on time or make it to the gym at lunch. I also reward
myself with a long soak in the tub or even some new exercise clothes."
Boost Your Pain-Fighting Power With Magnets
Pro football players use them. So do top golfers. But
can magnets ease your sore back or arthritic knees?
everywhere: in health food stores; in the back of golf and tennis magazines;
in celebrity endorsements; and, oddly,
in places such as the arts and crafts show I attended recently in New
Hampshire — right
next to the maple syrup candies, quilts, and American-flag-covered
mailboxes. I saw a mysterious-looking bandages, shoe inserts,
and blankets, claiming to relieve pain in arthritis sufferers,
horses. Magnets certainly have come out of the fringes and
into the mainstream.
But do they work? Prevention looked
into the promises heard the testimonials, read the studies, and
talked to the experts. The verdict?
The jury's still out. Some people swear by them; others get no pain
all. Could magnets ease your minor aches and pains? Let's
take a look at the facts.
Therapy or theory?
The theory that magnets can heal is nothing new. In ancient
times, mineral-rich lodestones were thought to have therapeutic
powers. And in the 18th century, Frenchman Franz Anton Mesmer wrote
to the history books by "mesmerizing" people — and
curing them — using magnets. Today, electronic MRI
(magnetic resonance imaging) is used in most hospitals for
images of the inner workings of the body. And mail-order
companies have been
offering magnets to cure everything from headaches to osteoporosis
But in recent months, magnets hit the big time, following
a small study conducted at the Baylor College of Medicine
in Houston. For the first
time, even the most conservative of medical observers
had to admit that magnets actually might have something
The Baylor study,
which was published in the November 1997 issue of The Archives
of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation,
tested the effects of small so-called static (or immobile,
nonelectrified) magnets on
50 people with postpolio pain, a unique cluster of
symptoms including muscle spasms and join stiffness.
used both real magnets
and dummies (with no magnetic force) and was a double-blind
trial, meaning that neither the participants nor the
researchers knew who
was getting the real magnets. After wearing the devices
for 45 minutes, patients were asked to grade their
results: 76 percent of
those using the real thing said their pain had lessened
in its significantly.
Before the Baylor
research, Robert R. Holcomb, MD, Ph.D., a researcher at Vanderbilt
in Nashville, Tenn., published
several promising studies on magnet therapy; he has
12 more papers in the works now, including four double-blind,
The most compelling of his findings, presented in
the journal Environmental
Medicine (Volume 8, No. 2, 1991), suggests that
magnets seem to reduce lower-back and knee pain.
And there's other,
more recent evidence:
A study conducted
by Michael I. Weintraub, MD., clinical professor of pathology
at New York Medical College
in Briar Cliff Manor, found
that diabetic patients given magnetic shoe inserts
to wear for four months reported significantly
Journal of Pain Management, January 1998).
At the University of Virginia School of Nursing
in Charlottesville, Ann Gill Taylor, RN, Ed.D.,
studying the effects
of magnet-filled mattress pads on patients with
fibromyalgia, a complicated condition
that includes incapacitating pain and fatigue.
Her research is being conducted for the school's
for the Study
of Complementary and
Alternative Therapies, which is funded by the National
of Health in Bethesda, Md.
Boca Raton, Fla., plastic surgeon Daniel Mann,
MD, told a meeting of plastic surgeons last May
his study who'd just
undergone face-lifts and other cosmetic procedures
reported less discomfort and swelling and had quicker
times after wearing magnets.
Dr. Mann is now conducting a double-blind version
of the same experiment, which he hopes to publish
Athletes get stuck on magnets
Meanwhile, magnets are becoming more popular for treating injuries
in professional football. Ryan Vermillion, director
of rehabilitation for the Miami Dolphins, calls magnets an
rehab program and has used them for four years, treating
everything from bumps and bruises to post-surgery pain in most of
star quarterback Dan Marino.
the fact that magnets don't have any known side effects. "My
job is to treat the players' injuries. The last
thing I want to do is make an it injury worse in the training room," he
says. Football ballplayers aren't the only athletes using magnets
these days. Yankees
pitcher David Cone uses magnets, as does the 1998
Hawaiian Open winner John Houston.
Pain relief: real or imagined?
Before you go running for your wallet, you should know that
for every study that shows the potential benefits
of using magnets, there's another
that shows none at all. And for every expert
who touts the healing power of magnets, there's one who thinks
use is finding
For example, a
study on the effects of magnetic foot pads on people with plantar heel
conducted at the New
York College of Podiatric Medicine in New
York City and reported in the January 1997 issue
of the Journal of the American Podiatric
found no difference between people who wore
the real magnets and those who got the fakes.
think there isn't
enough evidence to
support their therapeutic use and question
the quality of existing pro-magnet research.
many in the medical community, the subject
of magnetic healing seems custom-made for
criticism and cries of
fraud. It also
brings to mind
the placebo effect: the healing power of
suggestion. In fact, in the Baylor study,
a full 19 percent
of the group
the sham magnets
also reported lessened pain. "My personal
belief is that it's quite unlikely that
static magnets really work," says
James D. Livingston, Ph.D., who studied
30 years as a researcher for General Electric
engineering professor at Massachusetts
Institute Technology in Cambridge. But
that there's enough evidence
magnets might work
to keep an open mind. In fact, his own daughter's
personal experience with magnet therapy
further confounds Dr.
Livingston. She has chronic
and is in a support group with others who
painful illness. Several of them tried
magnets and reported relief — at
first. The results didn't seem to last. "So
we don't really know whether it was a placebo
effect — or a real, temporary effect," says
A common criticism
of magnetic therapy is that the magnets used to treat
is measured in
gauss, a unit related to the amount of
iron a magnet can lift. The magnets used
the studies discussed here) typically
measure between 300 and 1,000 gauss. (For comparison,
David Ramey, DVM.,
an equine veterinarian in Glendale, Calif., who has studied
magnetic products for both
horses and people,
the therapeutic pads he has measured
carry a magnetic field that can be
from its surface;
if you go more
than a centimeter away, there's no
all. Thus, any effect that an external
have on the
be, by definition, a
very superficial one, he says.
That's not to say that people ought
to be using stronger magnets, says
on diabetic foot pain. "Applying
the magnet constantly is what allows
it to get in there and affect the nerve," he
says. "At least, I think that's
what it is."
struggle with the magnetic puzzle, consumers
definite answers — and buy magnetic
products anyway, apparently swayed
by all the promises. "This is
an evolving technology that's going
to have a big impact on medicine," predicts
Dr. Holcomb. "We
don't yet know the mechanism of healing, but I
know that it's there."
How do they
work... if they work?
magnet therapy advocates believe magnets either fight pain or stimulate
circulation — or both. Since popular wisdom holds that one key to managing
pain is managing the way the nervous system handles the messages it receives,
it seems magnets may interfere with the transmission of impulses, making you
feel as if your pain is gone. Another basic belief is that better circulation
means less pain and swelling, and faster healing. Within these two schools
of thought are two more ideas on the way magnets work:
Molecular changes. At the most basic level — within the molecules that
make up the cells in your body — magnets might cause changes in ions,
electrically charged particles that are responsible for your impulses and muscle
says James D. Livingston, Ph.D., an engineering professor at Massachusetts
Institute of Technology in Cambridge, and author of Driving Force: The Natural Magic
Magnets (Harvard University Press, 1996). Altering the movement or the
electron state of these molecules may affect the transmission of nerve signals — such
as the kind that scream "pain" — across the synapses that separate
Cellular changes. Magnets also create a change in the
cells' action, such as altering the way a nerve cell handles a message of pain
muscles cell responds
to a signal from the nervous system. Cellular changes also would include the
theory that magnets may stimulate circulation of blood because they attract
iron that's contained in the hemoglobin, Dr. Livingston explains, though that
is fairly outdated. "In my opinion, one way a magnet could work — if
it works at all — is to change the way chemical messages are carried from
one nerve to the next," Dr. Livingston says. "My guess is that
it would be easier for a magnet to influence a tiny molecule than the cell
as a whole, whether it's a blood cell, a nerve cell, or a muscle cell."
Confused? Join the crowd. "Don't be surprised if you can't understand all
this," says Mark S. George, MD, a neurologist and psychiatrist at the Medical
University of South Carolina in Charleston, who has studied electromagnets. "In
science we can know that things happen and not understand the mechanisms. At
this point even those of us who think we know a lot about magnets don't profess
to know how they work."