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Mesmerized by Magnetism

An 18th-century investigation into mesmerism shows us how to think about 21st-century therapeutic magnets
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In an uncritical August 11, 1997, World News Tonight report on “biomagnetic therapy,” a physical therapist explained that “magnets are another form of electric energy that we now think has a powerful effect on bodies.” A fellow selling $89 magnets proclaimed: “All humans are magnetic. Every cell has a positive and negative side to it.”

On the positive side, these magnets are so weak that they cause no harm. On the negative side, these magnets do have the remarkable power of attracting the pocketbooks of gullible Americans to the tune of about $300 million a year. They range in scale from coin-size patches to king-size mattresses, and their curative powers are said to be nearly limitless, based on the premise that magnetic fields increase blood circulation and enrich oxygen supplies because of the iron present in the blood.

This is fantastic flapdoodle and a financial flimflam. Iron atoms in a magnet are crammed together in a solid state about one atom apart from one another. In your blood only four iron atoms are allocated to each hemoglobin molecule, and they are separated by distances too great to form a magnet. This is easily tested by pricking your finger and placing a drop of your blood next to a magnet. (continue reading…)

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