Why Some Women Should Not Use Magnetic Field Therapy for Their Ailments

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Just as x-rays are contraindicated for women who either are pregnant or may be pregnant because of potential harm that can result on a developing fetus, a recent study indicates that this precaution may need to be extended toward pregnant or possibly pregnant women who are either exposed to strong magnetic fields in the workplace or considering using magnetic field therapy to treat a number of ailments.

Interest in using magnetic field therapy to treat illnesses such as chronic musculoskeletal pain has been growing in popularity as televised health shows and websites have promoted the possibility that magnetic field therapy may actually have therapeutic value.
According to a past episode of the Dr. Oz Show, Dr. Oz states, “…there’s a revolutionary cure for pain that few doctors know about because it is not a new pill or surgery. It uses moving magnet energy waves that changes the way your body copes with pain.”

This magnet therapy Dr. Oz promotes and describes is called “pulsed electromagnetic field” therapy where magnetic waves generated from electronic mats outfitted with special coils releases magnetic waves that are claimed to relieve pain and induce healing. The technology reportedly works by sending electromagnetic waves deep into the body where charged ions are stimulated and electrical flow is created that brings nutrients to the affected source of pain in the body.

In fact, the idea of electromagnetic waves used in medical therapy is not the sole provenance of TV, but has been promoted in academic research as well. According to a news report about Loyola University Medical Center physician Dr. Murali Rao, magnetic therapy or more precisely “transcranial magnetic stimulation” (TMS) approved by the FDA has been used to treat major depression with reports of success.

TMS involves placing a magnetic coil beside a patient’s head that fires off short pulses of magnetic fields toward the patient’s brain to stimulate the deep brain circuitry that controls behavior. The actual mechanism by which the magnetic waves affects the brain’s circuitry is not understood.

Currently, TMS therapy on the brain is considered “investigational” and is indicated for numerous conditions that include:

1. Depression
2. Bipolar mania
3. Schizophrenia
4. ADHD
5. Alcohol dependence
6. Alzheimer’s disease
7. Autism
8. Bulimia
9. Parkinson’s disease
10. Stoke rehabilitation

However, not everyone in medical research agrees that magnetic field therapy is safe.

The biggest complaint is that it is unknown just how much or how little magnetic field exposure can have an effect on particular cell/ tissue types or whether disrupting the normal magnetic field provided by the Earth can be harmful or helpful to the human body.

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Carlos Martino, an assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, has found that magnetic fields that are even 2 orders of magnitude lower than that of the Earth can cause a biological response in cells cultured in petri dishes. His research has shown that by reducing the Earth's magnetic field around tissue culture samples of several types of cells that their growth is inhibited.

According to the World Health Organization, “It is not disputed that electromagnetic fields above certain levels can trigger biological effects. Experiments with healthy volunteers indicate that short-term exposure at the levels present in the environment or in the home do not cause any apparent detrimental effects. Exposures to higher levels that might be harmful are restricted by national and international guidelines. The current debate is centered on whether long-term low level exposure can evoke biological responses and influence people's well-being.”

As it turns out, researchers from the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research have been investigating the long term effects of magnetic field exposure on fetuses developing in their mothers’ bodies.

In their study, several hundred mothers from the Northern California region agreed to wear meters 24 hours a day that measured the magnetic field levels they were exposed to throughout their pregnancies. After the infants were born, the children’s growth patterns were then monitored numerous times over a 13-year period.

What the researchers found after eliminating several possible confounding factors that may skew the interpretation of the data was that in-utero exposure to relatively high magnetic fields is associated with a 69% increased risk of being obese or overweight during childhood compared to lower in-utero magnetic field level exposure.

According to a press release issued by Kaiser, "Pregnancy is a critical developmental stage that is among the most vulnerable periods to environmental exposures," said De-Kun Li, MD, PhD, a perinatal epidemiologist with the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research in Oakland, Calif., and the lead author of the study. "These findings indicate that electromagnetic fields, from microwave ovens to countless wireless devices, may be contributing to childhood obesity risk. This finding could have implications for possibly reducing childhood obesity and better understanding the obesity epidemic. Like any scientific discoveries, the results need to be replicated by other studies."

Dr. Li’s results are not the first to associate the possible effect of magnetic field exposure with disease. Previous studies in humans have found associations with asthma and diabetes; and in mice, ADHD.

"EMF exposure during pregnancy could impact the fetal development, including endocrine and metabolic systems, predisposing offspring to higher risk of obesity," Dr. Li said. He added that environmental impacts tend to be amplified during fetal development both in terms of affecting multiple organ systems and having long-lasting changes to physiology, such as to the endocrine systems and hormone receptors.

While the findings are preliminary and in need of further research to determine the actual extent in which magnetic field exposure during a pregnancy can affect a developing fetus, it would be prudent for women to consult with their gynecologist before deciding to try magnetic field therapy. Back pain during pregnancy is a common complaint and may be a temptation for some women seeking alternative medicine as a way to deal with the pain. The consensus of health officials—as well as manufacturers and sellers of magnetic therapy mats and services—is that until proven safe, that women who are pregnant or may be pregnant should avoid using magnetic field therapy for their ailments.

Image Source: Courtesy of Wikipedia

Reference: “A Prospective Study of In-utero Exposure to Magnetic Fields and the Risk of Childhood Obesity” Nature Scientific Reports 2, Article Number: 540, doi: 10.1038/srep00540 (27 July 2012); DE-Kun, Lee et al.

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