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Magnetic therapy and the authorities

Complementary medicine has always had an uneasy relationship with its orthodox counterpart. To some extent the same is true of its relationship with the regulatory authorities that control what doctors may do and what pharmaceutical companies may say.

So it would be interesting then to take a look at what the regulatory authorities have to say about magnetic therapy.

One of the toughest regulatory authorities is the Food and drug Administration in the USA. They are known to be so stringent in their requirements, that if a drug was authorized for the treatment of one disorder, whilst it could be prescribed for other disorders on an experimental basis (they did not regulate actual medical practice), it was forbidden for the pharmaceutical company to claim in their advertisements that it was being used for those unauthorized purposes. Indeed, they even ruled that it was a breach of the rules for the pharmaceutical companies to send out reprints of published scientific papers attesting to these alternative uses. They even set up an anonymous hotline to allow people to report such prohibited distribution.

From this it can be seen that the FDA were no pushovers when it came to taking on and regulating the huge, powerful, multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry. So how then has the FDA reacted to claims regarding magnetic therapy?

Firstly it must be stressed the FDA has never actually evaluated claims of health benefits from magnet therapy. Secondly, strictly speaking, the FDA doesn’t “approve” of medications or treatments it merely authorizes their use and/or authorizes certain claims to be made in association with them. (It should be stressed that this capacity to authorize or withhold authorization of claims relates to the commercial speech of those who sell or purvey the medications and treatments. Private individuals in a non-commercial context have the right, under the first amendment, to make such claims as they like.)

With this in mind it is worth noting that the FDA has indicated that four specific claims can be made in relation to magnetic therapy: “provides pain relief,” “improves circulation,” “promotes relaxation” and “enhances well-being.”

Now this does not mean that a magnetic products store can blithely claim that their titanium magnetic bracelets or hematite bracelets will cure them of specific painful conditions. Magnetic therapy back pain relief for example may be attested to by patients but cannot be claimed (in the USA) by doctors or the sellers of such magnetic products. However, the more general statements listed above may be made by sellers, even in the stringent, heavily-regulated jurisdiction of the United States.