The blatant blanket blag
Thursday August 28, 2003
Talk bad science
Â· My informants send news of the new Magneto-Tex blankets, available for only Â£399. They have set themselves apart from other magnet therapies (many of which have been successfully prosecuted for fraud in the US) by offering “patented alternating magnets” that, remarkably, don’t seem to require an alternating electrical current. But how do we know it works? Fortunately bad science spotter GJ Pitt sent me the company’s leaflet, featuring diagrams of “the healthy cell” in which the positive and negative ions defy brownian motion and all congregate at opposite ends of the cell. Not so in unhealthy cells, where the ions are all over the shop. You can also prove it to yourself: “You will feel the effects right away because the body becomes pleasantly warm.” Please remember, this is a blanket we’re talking about.
Â· But it’s a lot more technical than that. Apparently, “The magnets in the underblanket influence the iron atoms in your blood each time they are passing the magnetic foils.” It takes a 1.5 Tesla magnet in an enormous MRI scanner to make water molecules line up, and they’re at least slightly bipolar, but if you want to have a go at home, why not bleed yourself on to a plate and wave a magnet around over the top of it. You’ll notice that when the four iron atoms in a haemoglobin molecule are spread out, rather than lined up nicely in your magnet, they’re not terribly magnetic.
Â· Even better than the dodgy science are the “experts” recommending the therapy. Chasing these guys around the internet is the best fun I have, in my sad little world. Professor Johan Schulze apparently performed a double blind placebo trial on Magneto-Tex, which is reported in the leaflet but not on the Medline archive, and he completely ignores the placebo group in the results. Good work. There is, unusually for any professor, no trace of his work anywhere on Google.
Â· But here is “Dr Jean Monro MB BS MRCS LRCP” of Breakspear Hospital in Hemel Hempstead, apparently in a nice white coat, recommending the therapy. Breakspear is a private day centre offering alternative therapies; the publications section of their website is empty. They offer Chelation Therapy, which “corrects the major underlying cause of the blood vessel blockage by dissolving the plaques.” A Cochrane Library systematic review found that there was insufficient evidence for this claim last year.