Magnet therapy is big biz; does it work?

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SARASOTA - Magnetic therapy has been used in China and Japan for many years, and modern use began in the 90’S -- but the jury is still out.

Like many alternative and holistic treatments, there are both fans and skeptics. From mattress toppers to insoles and necklaces, magnetic therapy dates back many centuries and is big business in the United States and Europe.

Vendors in local malls tout their benefits, and it’s common to see people wearing magnetic accessories. But do they really work?

"In my experience, it has not been very helpful in orthopedic or general medical treatments. So although I want to keep my mind open, and be aware that different entities can come around…magnet therapy has been around for a very long time, in my experience it has not been very helpful for general medical or orthopedic diagnosis," says orthopedic surgeon Dr. John T. Moore.

But one local grandmother of an autistic boy with moderate Asperger’s Syndrome says they make a difference. "It completely and immediately stopped his nightmares, and he uses it every night to this day. And he also started to get a lot of tics, sensory issues, he didn't want anything close to his neck, he would pull all of his shirts and he would swing his arms around. And when we bought him one of the necklaces, a magnetic necklace, and he never takes it off and he’s never ever had another tick," says Denise Hynds.

"The magnetic necklace during the day, almost every child or parent that I've spoken to, the child won’t take it off, because they know when they take it off there’s a difference; there’s hyper-ness, there’s lack of the attention when doing their school work, and their personalities, their nightmares come back…it’s almost like a light switch for them," says Sharon Rahall.

Moore says that there's not a great treatment for Asperger’s or autism right now, so this is a reasonable alternative to try because it’s inexpensive, readily available, and it’s not going to cause harm.

But he cautions that it may be just wishful thinking. "A placebo works about 30% of the time, and so it’s easily led astray by seeing some good results from happenstance, or timing, or who knows what," says Dr. Moore.

Although magnets as we know them may not be considered an approved medical therapy, principles of magnetism have been applied successfully in conventional medicine. You may have heard of an MRI? Well that stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging.