Monday, September 15, 2014

Magnetism, Biomagnetism and Human Health


Maria Teresa De Donato, PhD, RND, CNC, CMH, CHom

For centuries the Western world has shown a great skepticism towards biomagnetism and only in relatively recent times started to recognize its potential, beneficial effects on human health. To the contrary, other civilizations, from the Indians to the Chinese, from the Eastern Mediterranean to the Australian Aboriginals and from the native Africans going back to the ancient Egyptians, whose priests used magnets in some of their religious rituals, they all made use of it though probably not completely understanding its dynamics.

Despite that, they never doubted about its intrinsic efficacy and validity with some among them being either physicians, physicists or researchers trying to move a step forward in order to improve the understanding of it and its possible application in the sphere of human health. Among them, there were the Greek physician Galen, who witnessed magnetism being used for its purgative powers around 200 B.C.; the Persian physician Ali Abbas, who used it to treat spasm and gout; the Swiss physician Paracelsus, who used this methodology to cure hernias, gout and jaundice; and the French surgeon Ambroise Paré who, in the sixteenth century, applied this technique to cure open wounds and injuries.

Although magnetism dates back to very ancient times with the Chinese using the compass already around A.D. 100 and the Arabs, Vikings and Europeans utilizing magnets in navigation during the Middle Age, the term biomagnetism is more recent. It refers to the phenomenon of magnet fields produced by living organisms and their interaction with the earth's magnetic field and artificial magnets fields which may have the same or similar intensity.

During the last several decades, three scientists in particular were able to make some breakthroughs in the fields of magnetism and biomagnetism: David Cohen, John Wikswo and Samuel Williamson.
David Cohen, a PhD physicist in experimental nuclear physics, now faculty member at the Harvard Medical School, was interested in working with large magnets. In 1963 he came up with the idea of creating a magnetically shielded room to protect people from external magnetic influences, like it was done in the case of nuclear experiments. This allowed him, later on, to obtain clearer signals which enabled him to verify the heart's magnetic field. He went on with further research to obtain a more complete magnetic shielding ending up, in 1969, to the building of a more complex shielded room at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). At the same time James Zimmerman co-invented the radio-frequency superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID), a quite sensitive detector which the two used in the new built shielded room to check the body's heart signal. The now clear signals enabled Cohen to finally create the “magna carta of biomagnetism”. He was the first to measure a clear MEG (Magnetoencephalography). For this reason he was also named the father of the MEG.

John Wikswo, a biological physicist, has been working on biomagnetism and cardiac electrophysiology, that is the science which studies the electrical activities of the heart, and magnetocardiography (MCG), a method which allows to measure the magnetic fields produced by electrical activity in the heart. Through the use of a SQUID magnetometer, in 1980 he was the first to measure the magnetic field of an isolated nerve by threading a frog sciatic nerve through a wire-wound, fer rite-core toroid and detecting the induced current. Along with Ken Swinney, Wikswo was also able to calculate the magnetic filed of a nerve axon.

Samuel Williamson, a physicist and a neuroscientist, was the co-developer of magnetic source imaging (MSI), a technique he used to visualize and study brain activity especially in relation to vision and hearing.

Today the use of magnets and other electrical devices in the medical field is widely spread and also considered one of the most effective tools to diagnose illnesses. The most known examples are those of the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), which has been replacing X-ray diagnosis due to the fact that MRI is safer and also more accurate, and magnetoencephalography as a tool to record brain's electrical activity.

According to Dr. Wolfgang Ludwig, PhD, Director of the Institute for Biophysics in Horb, Germany, the reason why magnetic field therapy works depends on the fact that it “penetrates the whole body and can treat every organ without chemical side effects.” (Trivieri & Anderson, 2002, p. 326) As consequence, this method can be applied to a wide range of health issues ranging from “cancer to rheumatoid disease, from infections and inflammation to insomnia and sleep disorders, from circulatory problems to fractures and pain and even environmental stress.” (p. 327)

Its efficacy is due to the fact that – as Dr. Zimmerman, PhD, President of the Bio-Electro-Magnetics Institute in Reno, Nevada, stated - “the body's nervous system is governed, in part, by varying patterns of ionic currents and electromagnetic fields.” This means that the magnetic fields, produced either by magnets or by electromagnetic generating devices, penetrate the human body impacting the functioning of the nervous system and cells by stimulating the metabolism and increasing the level of oxygen in each cell. (p. 328)

Disclaimer: The information above are intended for educational purpose only and not as a medical advice. Whatever health issue you might have or be concerned with, consult first with your physician. For any other information about how I can assist you, please contact me at


Wikipedia: Text of Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike

Alternative Medicine – The Definitive Guide. (Trivieri & Anderson, 2002, pp 326-328)

Magnet Therapy – The Gentle and Effective Way to Balance Body Systems (Birla & Hemlin, 1999, pp. 1-13)

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