Friday, 16 October 2009

Another Alternative Medicine Fail!

You may have seen people with arthritis wearing copper or magnetic wrist-bands which are marketed as being able to relieve the pain of what can be a truly horrific condition.

A recent, tightly controlled trial by researchers at the University of York, found that the supposedly pain-relieving magnetic or copper bands worked no better than placebo.

That is to say, you may as well just tie a bit of old string around your wrist as buy one of the bands - the copper or magnetism of the band doesn't help relieve the pain at all.

There are people selling these simple bands, to desperate people, for around £25 - £65, claiming (or, if they are more cautious about legal repercussions, just implying) that they can relieve the pain of arthritis.

In the absence of strong evidence of effectiveness* (and the presence of strong evidence of ineffectiveness, mentioned above), charging vulnerable, suffering people £65 for a simple magnetic or copper bracelet that is no more effective than placebo at treating their pain is surely exploitation of arthritis sufferers isn't it?

Somehow the alternative "medicine" industry often manages to portray itself as the little guy, trying to help people where conventional medicine and the "big bucks" of "big Pharma" struggles to.

This friendly, well-meaning cottage-industry image isn't accurate - its a multi-billion dollar international market, with large companies making large profits from the sale of their products, many (most) of which have either not been properly tested or have been properly tested and been found not to work.

Make sure you don't hand over your money for products that aren't tested, or which have been tested and found to be ineffective.

See the BBC's report on this at:

On the subject of alternative medicine in general, I highly recommend having a listen to Tim Minchin's excellent 9-minute beat-poem, Storm. It's scathing, but hilarious and fantastically well written - check out the official version on YouTube:

* there were some tests that showed some positive effects, but they concluded that the results could have been due to the placebo effect and that more research was needed. The BBC's report from back in 2004 is here: and is a lot more positive in tone, as the evidence was inconclusive but there was signs of positive effects.  The further research the previous tests concluded was necessary has now been done by the researchers at York University, and the new research strongly suggests and positive effects attributed to the bands are actually due to the placebo effect.

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