Over the years I've come across a lot of products that have purported to improve your health, welling being or fitness in various ways. Most have a fleeting impact and become the 'in thing' for a while (remember power balance bracelets?) only to then enter the grave yard of fads that is the resting place of throw away pseudo-scientific ideas and products. Some however re-emerge to stumble and shuffle their way into the spotlight once more like a character from a George A Romero zombie flick. One such fad that refuses to die is Magnet Therapy.
The efficacy of magnetic therapy has been reported for over 3000 years. For many this is all that's required to suggest it must be beneficial. This is of course bollocks. (see argumentum ad antiquitatem AKA the appeal to antiquity for confirmation).
The evidence for the efficacy of any therapy should be established through clinical trials and would you believe it no such evidence exists for the use of magnetic therapy. The effects of static magnetic fields on the body have been extensively studied and shown to have no significant physiological effect. On the other hand pulsed electro magnetic fields, whose purported effects are due to electrical stimuli rather than magnetic, have shown some positive results in the literature.
As with many such ideas there doesn't seem to be any plausible mechanism by which magnetic therapy could affect the human body. But wait I hear you say, our blood is full of iron (haemoglobin) so surely magnets could have some effect? Well.....No. The iron in our blood is non ferromagnetic (i.e. it doesn't respond to a magnetic field). This is the main reason that people don't explode in a bloody mess inside MRI scanners!
Selling a lie
However, rather than pick apart the pseudo-science that is magnetic therapy any further, I thought I'd use this post to highlight how the purveyors of this sort of quackery dress up their products to sell to the public. In this case it's a company that I came across recently, which sells a magnetic therapy device for pain relief but it could just as well be a plethora of similar companies selling pseudo-scientific ideas and products to health and fitness consumers.
Steams with a Z?
StreamZ Global is a company that says it is;
"devoted to improving the life of humans, plants, and animals".
Now that's an admirable sentiment but the question is how do they wish to achieve this goal? Well apparently it's by selling magnetic bands for people, plants (yes you heard right!) and animals, that if strapped around various body parts, (do plants have body parts?) will somehow reduce pain and improve health and wellbeing. As I've stated previously there's no well founded evidence for magnetic therapy so this is most likely nonsense. This of course has never stopped a snake oil salesman.
Put simply streamZ is a band you wear around your ankle. It's advertised to help with a plethora of pain related issues as well as reducing the recovery time from and apparently, reoccurrence of injury. The product web page is plastered with silhouettes of runners wearing the band so I would venture to say that fitness consumers are a big part of their target market.
On the home page of the website it states;
"StreamZ Technology is a patented material that when applied naturally rebalances minerals found within living cells. A well-balanced system is a healthy system.".
It doesn't go in to any detail about this but there is a link to another page that talks about the technology behind StreamZ. The page first talks about how traditional magnetic products have;
"long been recognised as having health benefits but without clinical support".
It then goes on to tell you they have invented a patented smart magnetic material that creates a magnetic spin rather than a pulse?! It continues by explaining that the earth a has a natural magnetic resonance of 7.83hz and that all our modern electrical technology unbalances this within our cells. Luckily for us however streamZ technology causes bio-magnetic rebalancing returning our cells back to their natural state?!?
Got any Evidence?
None of this is referenced in any way which is not surprising as I suspect no evidence exists for any of this bullshit. But luckily for us streamZ global has an explanation;
"Some people request to see our "clinical evidence"
(the very fact that they put clinical evidence in quotes says a lot).
We have yet to achieve clinical status however in April 2017 independently run clinical studies on our equine products are set to be published. Until data is published and recognised by science, streams technology is not "clinically proven" (again in inverted comas)"
I checked on google scholar and couldn't find any such published material. It may of course come out in the future but don't hold your breath.
Anecdotes will have to do for now
To make up for the lack of evidence they then resort to telling us that anecdotal evidence is just as important as clinical evidence.
"our belief is that in this era with social media presence being as it is, that companies and products like ours would simply not survive if they claimed false results. We are incredibly proud of the support and results streamZ have achieved, and in our eyes results are key! Anecdotal evidence, which we have by thousands, is as important to most as a clinical stamp of approval. If it works it works"
The reliance on anecdotes is further advertised on their product page.
The small print
All the stuff I've quoted above is from the main pages of the website. With a bit of hunting you'll find their terms and conditions page where you'll find this gem of a paragraph;
No representation or warranty is made as to the fitness of goods for the purpose for which they are intended, or for any particular purpose. Statistics and data shown on this platform is collated by StreamZ Global and contains anecdotal evidence; StreamZ does not claim to be a cure, or to be used as a replacement to prescribed medications or treatments. StreamZ Global do not guarantee that results will be found across every subject. Although a registered medical device StreamZ technology has not yet been clinically proven although independent doubled-blind studies have been carried out by a UK University and will be published in May 2017. (Oh so it's May 2017 now for the publish data?)
I'm pretty sure that this is a legal requirement to cover their backs just in case anyone, god forbid, was to return their band saying that it didn't work!
A small fish in a big pond
StreamZ is by no means alone selling woo woo products on the health and fitness market but their marketing approach is quite typical. Companies that for example sell supplements to improve your workouts, equipment that'll give you better training results, diets that guarantee weight loss and superior training methodology's that will improve your athleticism often use the same non-scientific approach in promoting what they have to sell.
Separating the woo from the true.
If a company makes a claim for their product, check if they reference any evidence anywhere on their website. (And by this I mean reference to scientific data.) If they don't then be suspicious. If they do, then check out where that evidence was published and by whom it as written. If it's something written by a person promoting the product or working for the company (which is often the case) and not published in a recognised journal then again be suspicious.
Ignore anecdotes, endorsements or personal testimony which are meaningless in establishing if something actually works. Even if the anecdotes are accurate they don't usually represent what is typical as confirmation bias will mean that who ever is collecting them will only publish those that match the outcome they're trying to support. Remember, science tends only to use anecdotes to suggest a hypothesis and not to support one.
Chalk and Cheese
If you compare the streamZ band (which is supposed to relieve pain and aid injury recovery) to any medically accepted and available pain relief or rehabilitation treatment you'll see that one is supported with anecdotes and the other by clinical trials that establish efficacy through statistical evaluation of results. I know which one I'd trust! The same should also apply to other products on the health and fitness market. For example; Why would you trust the efficacy of a diet if it's never been tested appropriately? Why would you believe a supplement can improve your workout if it's not been researched? And why would you think that wearing this type of running shoe would reduce your risk of injury if no research had been done?
You wouldn't. At least I hope you wouldn't?
Fitness Skeptic Score
While I'm at it I might as well give StreamZ ankle bands an FSS.
It gets a nice round....
To be revised perhaps if and when they publish their research.
Be skeptical everyone ;-)
A historical perspective of the popular use of electric and magnetic therapy. ARCHIVES OF PHYSICAL MEDICINE AND REHABILITATION. Sept 2001.
Magnet Therapy; Extraordinary claims but no proved benefits. theBMJ, Jan 2006.
Magnet Therapy: A Billion-dollar Boondoggle. THE SKEPTICAL INQUIRER, July 2006.