Dr. Scholl’s Steps into Pseudoscience with Magnetic Insoles – Brief Article

Benjamin Radford

Alternative medicine has enjoyed a remarkably high profile over the past several years. It has turned into a multibillion dollar industry, and major health care companies that ten years ago wouldn’t try to sell unproven, non-FDA- approved remedies now do so openly. One of the latest (and thus far the most reputable) companies to join the lucrative market is Dr. Scholl’s, which recently introduced Magna-Energy magnetic shoe insoles.

According to promotional literature, “These insoles have revolutionized the insole category by combining magnet therapy with performance proven comfort technology. The exclusive bipolar magnet system found in our Magna-Energy Insoles allows alternating waves of magnet therapy to penetrate your body through the soles of the feet. In addition, they provide excellent cushioning comfort, absorb shock, and are designed to enhance pain relief.”

Perhaps aware of the shaky basis for magnetic therapy, Dr. Scholl’s avoids directly claiming that the magnets provide any benefit whatsoever. A careful reading of the statement above reveals that the issue of magnets is separated from the claim of pain relief: The only statement about magnets given is that magnetic waves penetrate the soles of the feet.

No claim is made regarding the benefits of those “alternating [magnetic] waves.” Of course, new insoles frequently make feet feel better with or without magnets. This will likely lead many consumers into the post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning fallacy (“after this, therefore because of it”): “I used the magnetic insoles, and my feet felt better, therefore the magnets worked.”

The Dr. Scholl’s Web sire has links to the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA). I contacted the association asking if they know of any scientific proof that magnetic therapy has any therapeutic value. The response was, “The APMA has no position statement regarding the use of magnetic insoles.” Essentially a “no comment,” it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement from the premier podiatry association in America.

By some accounts, magnetic therapy dates back to the 1500s, when physician and alchemist Paracelsus reasoned that since magnets have the power to attract iron, they might also be useful for attracting and “leaching” disease from the body. Since then, magnets have been proffered as cures for nearly every ailment ranging from arthritis to cancer. A 1997 study at Baylor College suggested that permanent magnets reduced pain in post-polio patients, although the study has been criticized on several grounds (see “Magnetic Therapy: Plausible Attraction?” SI July/August 1998). Other studies have showed no effects, and clearly much more research is needed to verify the myriad claims of magnetic therapy.

Benjamin Radford is Managing Editor of the SKEPTICAL INQUIRER.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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