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Medical Frauds, Fakes, and Hoaxes: Magnetic Healing, Crystal Therapy, and Copper Bracelets

written by: Robyn Broyles • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 12/15/2008

Can magnets cure arthritis pain? Can crystals restore balance and treat illnesses? Read a skeptical view of these and other devices that are said to heal through mystical emanations.

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    I was grocery shopping last week when I noticed something bizarre in the pharmacy: a copper bracelet for sale. Why would a bracelet be located in the pharmacy section instead of the beauty section? Because it was alleged to be a treatment for joint pain!

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    Mysterious Effects

    Magnets, crystals, and metals are sometimes unscrupulously (or piously) promoted as having the ability to heal noninvasively. The products are not ingested, injected, or otherwise taken into the body. Instead, they are placed in proximity to the patient, with healing supposed to come via some mysterious effect or emanation from the object.

    The copper bracelet I saw was based on a false idea that metallic copper can be absorbed directly into the body and that this localized copper could increase circulation (Barrett, 1999). Increased localized circulation is also called inflammation; if the bracelet worked by increasing circulation, it would turn the wearer's wrist red.

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    Magnet Therapy and Magnetic Healing

    While it is true that magnets do have invisible magnetic fields surrounding them, and a specific form of electromagnetic treatment has been shown effective to improve slow-healing fractures, the consensus of research shows that magnets are not effective for relieving pain (Barrett, 2008).

    Magnets do not increase circulation or reduce inflammation. If magnetic fields had these effects, they would have been noticed after the millions of MRI scans that have been done, some on patients with poor circulation or inflammatory conditions.

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    Crystal Healing and Gemstone Therapy

    Crystal therapy is based on the idea that the human body has "energy" that must be "balanced." According to this idea, there are seven centers called chakras in the human body. Illness results from imbalanced or disturbed vibrations, and crystals of certain colors "vibrate" with "energy" that is said to be pure (Bode & Godwin, 2008). Thus holding crystals near the proper chakras is supposed to cure the illness.

    Crystal healing is not based on scientific principles of mineralogy nor of medicine. The "vibrations" that practitioners claim originate in the crystals are not related to piezoelectricity, an electrical phenomenon that occurs when certain crystal are compressed. Also, the color of a crystal does not determine its properties. The color of a crystal is one of its properties, and completely dissimilar crystals can coincidentally have the same color, such as topaz (a mineral) and amber (fossilized tree sap), which are both yellow-gold.

    The human body does not have a special "energy" that must be kept in balance. This is a belief called vitalism which has no basis in science. The mythical "vital energy" goes by other names, such as chi (Chinese) and ki (Japanese).

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