Magnetic Migraine Miracle Madness?

In today’s Daily Mail, Brendan Montague brings us the sensational story that Migraine suffers need not suffer much longer thanks to a wonder device about to be launched in the US and available for a paltry £1,000 (with a further £15 for each treatment).

Millions of migraine sufferers have been given hope of a cure with the invention of a magnetic pain “zapper”… The handheld device is placed at the back of the head and uses a gentle pulse to disrupt the “electrical storm” which is believed to lead to migraines.

Now the black duck’s beak tingles like mad whenever the words ‘magnetic’ and ‘cure’ are found in the same sentence. Quackery is sure to follow.

Let’s look a little more. How does the device work?

Gary Stroy, the president of California-based Neuralieve, said last night: “The device is about the size of a hairdryer and is held at the back of the head. “It releases electrical energy through a magnet, and this magnetic field then passes into the brain. This then interrupts the nerve signalingling process which would otherwise result in a migraine.

Well, I hope it only interrupts the nerve signals responsible for the migraine and not other ones for say, controlling my bladder, or worse, breathing.

But a reputable paper like the Mail reporting a plain old quack puff marketing story as truth? Surely not. So is this device quackery? What are the tell-tale signs of it being quackery? Well, you decide. Let’s show you my thoughts…

First, lets go to Neuralieve web site (3 Canards) and see what they have to say and what we can find out:

  1. It’s a start up! Good luck to them. If clinical trials had given good results, the big businesses would be rolling in. Quacks are almost always found as sole traders (heroes) or as small companies.
  2. They do not ever claim that the device cures migraine. Read that again. They do not claim the device works! Look at the language used:
    – ‘The company ‘is pursuing a completely novel approach’ – it doesn’t have a novel approach.
    – ‘The company believes that TMS has the potential’ – it doesn’t have any evidence.
    – ‘Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) has the potential to meet this need’ – yes, if it works.
    ‘perhaps reduce the frequency of migraine attacks.’ – well only perhaps.
    – ‘TMS has an established record of safety’ – not of efficacy.
  3. There is the rather brilliant distancing of the company from quacks: ‘Although such magnets are popular in the alternative medicine community, there is no validated clinical evidence to support their effectiveness in any condition.’ But it fails to point out that there is also no validated evidence for their own technique.
  4. The clinical research menu link is broken. Is this because there isn’t any?
  5. The front page disclaimer: ‘Caution: Investigational Use Only’. Translation: We don’t know if this works too.
  6. The various statements associated with the product that trials are ‘in progress’. Well let’s wait until they are written up in peer-reviewed journals.

Looking at the bigger picture, the use of magnets in healthcare falls into two categories: diagnostic (finding out what is wrong with you) and theraputic (trying to cure you.) Magnets in diagnostics have been enormously successful, most noticably with MRI scanners (Magnetic Resonance Imaging). However, there are no widely accepted uses of magnets in theraputic medicine. All such uses are either highly speculative and unproven, quackery or just plain health fraud. That is why ‘magnet’ plus ‘health’ in a sentence usually means quackery.

So unfortunatley, it does not look like we will see a miracle cure soon for this terrible condition. A great shame. Let’s hope the trials prove me wrong. I’m not holding my breath.

What is shameful is how the Daily Mail can publish this as ground breaking science news with no critical comment and no suggestion that this is controversial. The copy is little more than an advertorial for this new company. No wonder science gets such a bad press with all these ‘wonder cures’ coming to nothing. The truth is that the Mail has published a story based on little more than marketing blurb for this small company with a non-existent product and no reason to believe it will ever work.

Why does the Daily Mail publish such stuff?

The journalist Brendan Montague has an MA in English Literature.

On this theme…

14 Comments on Magnetic Migraine Miracle Madness?

  1. Bonjour Canard,

    I’m registerd on the JREF forums (forums.randi.org) as Blue Mountain.

    I was wondering, have you sent any sort of communication to Brendan Montague regarding his entirely credulous treatment of a quack device?

  2. Brendan Montague here, of the Daily Mail. Did he contact me? No. Did he check the ‘primary source’? No. Did he even pick up a phone? No. The quack is.. a lame duck.

  3. Welcome Brendon! If you would like to counter this piece, I will be glad to publish it here?

    In short, why such an uncritical piece of such obvious quackery?

  4. Maybe you should do a little more research before branding something as quackery. Startup doesn’t equal “quack”. Some people don’t want to be absorbed by big business. Mr. Stroy has a long and distinguised history in the medical technology field. Everything starts out with potential, which is hopefully eventually proven. Thank goodness their site is honest. They are not out selling this device on infomercials, or even selling it at all. You’ve taken an article about a potentially life-changing device and reacted to it as though Mr. Stroy was on your doorstep trying to get you to buy it. That makes YOU the quack, not him, and your site has now lost all credibility with me.

    For the record, I have NO connection whatsoever to Mr. Stroy, his company, the product, or anything remotely connected to the story. And I don’t suffer from migraines. I just ran across this post and didn’t like the tone at all. I DID do some research, and everything I’ve found about Mr. Stroy leads me to believe he’s an very bright innovator, who has developed technologies that have changed lives (re: LifeScan personal glucose monitor). Check your facts, Mr. Duck.

    • You are more easily persuaded that I am. Let’s see shall we what the actual published paper says and just how robust any conclusions might be.

    • Hmmm,

      quick look at the paper, doesn’t look too bad:

      Multi-center, “randomised, double-blind, parallel-group, sham-controlled.”

      And “patients were asked if they thought they were assigned to the active or sham group before and immediately after treatment”, where the response was that before treatment 80% thought they were in the treatment group and 70% maintained that view afterwards, irrespective of what actual group they were in.

      So far my only problem is the declared conflict of interest of the main author, but if blinding was good (and it looks like that)…?

      That would be quite cool. 🙂
      Daniel

  5. I heared this quack remedy being reported on The Naked Scientist podcast. It’s frustrating that this kind of bullshit is able to fool credible sources into reporting it’s fallacy as fact.

  6. So if the words ‘miracle’ and ‘cure’ were substituted for, oh I dont know, maybe ‘remarkable’ and ‘remedy’ … would this assuage?


  7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cranial_electrotherapy_stimulation

    Effectiveness

    At present, there are over 125 research studies on CES in humans and 29 experimental animal studies. The overwhelming majority of the scientific research is extremely positive.[citation needed] No significant lasting side effects have been reported.[citation needed]

    Harvard University School of Public Health, Department of Health Policy and Management found: “The meta-analysis of anxiety showed CES to be significantly more effective than sham (P<.05)."[5]

    A meta-analysis has been performed investigating the effectiveness of CES in the treatment of anxiety, depression, insomnia and the retention rates of newly abstinent substance abuse individuals in community-based residential treatment[5][6][7][8].

    However, most studies cited as evidence for its effectiveness failed to report all data necessary for meta-analysis.


    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcranial_magnetic_stimulation#FDA_actions_and_responses

    The user manual for the device warns that effectiveness has not been established in patients with major depressive disorder who have failed to achieve satisfactory improvement from zero and from two or more antidepressant medications in the current episode and that the device has not been studied in patients who have had no prior antidepressant medication

    Heaven forbid we are going to end up with devices costing a 100 dollars solving headaches and depressions!

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