Proponents of magnet therapy claim that subjecting certain parts of the body to doses of magnetic "energy" (or fields) has a beneficial effect. This belief has led to the popularization of an industry involving the sale of magnetic-based products for "healing" purposes: magnetic bracelets and jewelry; magnetic straps for wrists, ankles, and the back; shoe insoles, mattresses, and magnetic blankets (blankets with magnets woven into the material); and even magnetic water (water that has been "magnetized"). Criticism of these products focuses on various scientific facts about magnets, including the claim that the typical magnet used in a bracelet purchased over-the-counter is not powerful enough to penetrate human skin, let alone strong enough to have a lasting effect on muscle tissue, bones, blood vessels, or organs.
Few have demonstrated scientifically that they actually achieve what they claim, and most magnet healing product manufacturers cannot even agree on what exactly the magnetic fields do. Some claim that the magnets help to circulate the blood by some interaction with the iron in hemoglobin, a major component of red blood cells. Still others claim that the magnets can restore the body's electromagnetic energy balance. There are also claims that the south pole of a magnet acts different on the body than the north pole. The list of ways that manufacturers purport that magnetic fields affect the body is almost endless.
The vast majority of information sources and Web sites promoting magnetic therapy belong to people and understandably biased companies that sell magnetic products.
Mesmer and Magnet Therapy
In 1766 Dr. Franz Mesmer introduced a technique which he called "animal magnetism," in his doctoral thesis, De planetarum Influxu, which was in turn heavily influenced by the works of Richard Mead. He theorized initially that the influence of the planets was somehow related to magnetism, and that these influences could be reproduced and cures effected by stroking diseased bodies with magnets. In 1773 Mesmer successfully defended a legal claim by the Jesuit priest, Maximilian Hell that Mesmer had stolen his ideas about the use of magnetism. When Mesmer became familiar with the work of the celebrated Swiss exorcist, Johann Joseph Gassner he abandoned the use of magnets, preferring the hypothesis that there existed a naturally occurring force in the living body, i. e. animal magnetism. With this the term "magnetism" became ambiguous, and the path that led to magnet therapy became known as ferro-magnetism. In 1784 the French government established a commission, chaired by Benjamin Franklin to investigate the medicinal value of animal magnetism; within the narrow terms of reference of that commission animal magnetism was found to have no curative value.
Animal magnetism was a forerunner of what would later became better known as hypnosis. The term "animal magnetism" is used today as a popular reference to the supposed ability of some people to attract or be attracted to each other.