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…
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The clinical research menu link is broken. Is this because there isn’t any?
- The front page disclaimer: ‘Caution: Investigational Use Only’. Translation: We don’t know if this works too.
- 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.