It's claimed that sleeping on a BioMag - that is, a wool layer with ceramic magnets sewn into it - can ease pain.

Under the subheading "DRUG FREE PAIN RELIEF", the website says: "Magnetic [t]herapy has been helping people all around the world for thousands of years" and "we fully expect that you will find pain relief ... from using a BioMag underlay. There's a huge range of conditions we've had success with - including arthritis (osteo and rheumatoid), back, neck, hip, shoulder and limb aches and pains, circulation problems, cramp, fatigue ... sleepless nights, and stress."

It continues: "95% of our customers find their pain is eased". Furthermore: "Drugs can become more effective because of your improved circulation, and may need to be reduced or even discontinued."

In October a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority about a BioMag radio advertisement was upheld after the advertisement was found to be in breach of the Therapeutic Products Advertising Code. The Complaints Board was concerned about a specific statement with an implication it described as "misleading and irresponsible".


The Silly Beliefs website (motto: "Support Science Not Superstition") asks: "Do magnets have health benefits? Can sleeping on a magnetic underlay ... improve your wellbeing? ... Do they really work or are they just ... a waste of money?" Its answer was succinct: "No, they don't work. It's a scam."

Our local Skeptics organisation also debunks some of the myths: "Having ... a change in mattress softness may well produce a positive result whether magnets are involved or not ... Some say that the electromagnetic field helps circulate blood, some claim magnets affect the iron in red blood cells ... If blood [was] strongly attracted to magnets, it would ... pool and possibly even ooze through the skin when a person is exposed to an MRI scan."

It also says a magnet with the "field strength of a fridge magnet" is "far too weak to produce any measurable effect within the body". Furthermore, "on filing a lawsuit against a magnetic mattress pad manufacturer for false health claims and fraudulent business practices", a California Attorney General said: "We will not allow companies to hawk unproven products as a cure-all to the elderly and those with serious illnesses who are desperately searching for pain relief."

However, if you remain sceptical about the sceptics' claims, there's a plethora of products offering magnetic therapy. BioMag has magnetic brushes "to stimulate your hair follicles" and magnetic slippers "to give your feet cosiness and pain relief at the same time". Our four-legged friends are also catered for. Magnetic Focus has magnetic collars for cats and dogs while Horsewell has magnetic boots for horses and rugs that "offer magnetic pain relief and ... help your horse recover from exercise".

All of which has reminded me of the Christmas I received a rubber wristband that purportedly enhanced athletic performance. Later that day I spoke of this gift to friends over turkey and cranberry sauce. My sceptical commentary tapered off when I realised several people at the table were wearing just such a wrist ornament. These coloured bracelets were all the rage that particular year.

Of course, the most morally bankrupt component of the "magnetic therapy" industry is the fact it preys on vulnerable people - especially those who suffer from arthritis, which is the single greatest cause of disability in New Zealand. The canny operators at BioMag recognise a motivated target market when they see it.

What's your experience with magnetic therapy? Is it a scam or do you believe it can have a positive effect?