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I remember a while back when I was younger (late 90's) when one of my friend's mom was pushing some Nikken magnetic insoles where she claimed that the effects of the magnets would increase muscular strength along with an increase in flexibility range.

Using my own anecdotal evidence, it did seem to have an effect. But this is before I had an understanding of placebos and the power of suggestion. I have seen other products like bracelets and other wear that claim to have health benefits.

Is there any research to back the claims? All I have been able to find are non-independent claims of such.

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    I know someone will add a well sourced answer soon, but in the mean time I have a brief comment for you. Magnets have very little to no effect on human tissue. Passive enhancement products like magnetic insoles, hologram bracelets, magic tape, etc. are the snake oil of the modern age. People like something for nothing and these all prey on that desire. – William Grobman Sep 6 '12 at 17:49
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    It was too against the spirit of the site to just make that comment without backing it up. You people are corrupting me; I no longer am content to spout off truth without citations. Question answered. – William Grobman Sep 6 '12 at 18:13
  • The only reason I would give this claim any merit is of the fact that we have iron and our blood and the central nervous system works off electrity. Iron and electricity both happen to be affected by magnitism. – Chad Harrison Sep 6 '12 at 20:03
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    Hemoglobin (the iron in blood) is not ferromagnetic--would you get in an MRI if it was?--and the nervious system's electic signals are sent via ions. Ions are electically charged particles and are no magnetic either. The electric force and magnetic force are not the same thing. Ferritin is the other iron store in humans and I think it's weakly ferromagnetic, but it's only ~2 grams spread throughout most of your cells. – William Grobman Sep 6 '12 at 20:15
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Evidence and theory both suggest that the answer is no, magnets do not have any health effect whatsoever. A nice article that surveys the topic notes problems with studies showing positive effects not being blind.

"Many “controlled” experiments are suspect because it is difficult to blind subjects to the presence of a magnet. An example is a randomised trial of powerful magnetic bracelets for the relief of hip and knee osteoarthritis, which reports a significant decrease in pain because of the bracelets. The patients given real magnets could detect them because the magnets often stuck to keys in pockets. Perhaps subjects with magnetic bracelets subconsciously detected a tiny drag when the bracelets were near ferromagnetic surfaces (which are ubiquitous in modern life), and this distracted or otherwise influenced the perceived pain. Patients with fibromyalgia detected which sleeping pads were magnetic by their mechanical properties, by “comfort with the firmness” and thus unblinded the study. In a sophisticated postural assay, where magnetic soles were found to decrease swaying, the authors admit that the magnetic soles could have differed in stiffness from the controls."

Additonally, when two different tests were properly blinded, both the placebo and magnet groups saw equal improvement.

"The use of a magnet for reducing pain attributed to carpal tunnel syndrome was no more effective than use of the placebo device."

and

"Application of 1 variety of permanent magnet had no effect on our small group of subjects with chronic low back pain."

Another reason the affect of magnets has been studied is the safety of MRIs. A paper studying this found,

"In the absence of ferromagnetic foreign bodies, there is no replicated scientific study showing a health hazard associated with magnetic field exposure and no evidence for hazards associated with cumulative exposure to these fields. The very high degree of patient safety in strong magnetic fields is attributed to the small value of the magnetic susceptibility of human tissues and to the lack of ferromagnetic components in these tissues."

I know that these claims are slightly different from the one you've heard. But at this point, all evidence suggests that magnets do virtually nothing to people. Someone can always invent a more specific or slightly different claim (maybe it only works on Tuesdays, or a particular brand, etc.) but at this point the science suggests rejecting all claims of bio-active magnets unless they are presented with very compelling evidence.

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