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Medicine Science

Researcher Claims Magnets Can Affect Blood Viscosity 175

BuzzSkyline writes "A few minutes in a high magnetic field (1.3 Tesla) is enough to thin blood by 30%, potentially leading to a new drug-free therapy to prevent heart attacks. The powerful field causes blood cells to line up in chains that flow much more easily than randomly-scattered individual cells, according to research scheduled to appear this month in the journal Physical Review E." I can't help thinking of Penn & Teller's look at magnets-as-medicine, though at least the idea here described sounds testable and doesn't rely on the power of suggestion.
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Researcher Claims Magnets Can Affect Blood Viscosity

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  • subtle issues (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NetSettler ( 460623 ) * <> on Thursday June 02, 2011 @02:43PM (#36323224) Homepage Journal
    As a treatment in an emergency to quickly resolve a bad situation on a temporary basis, it sounds fine. As a therapy to hold back trouble, it sounds less fine. Not that the same isn't perhaps true of aspirin in some ways but since one can quantify the effect here and since one might not see as many negatives, I predict this will get used with less reservation than aspirin. What holds people back from using aspirin more is the fear of side-effects, but if you were assuming there were fewer to this, you might be inclined to lean more heavily on this one's stated capacity limitations. It eliminates a margin for error such that if a person really regularly took advantage of it, they'd be well over the maximum limit and any failure to use the magnets would sound fatal. Moreover, it won't surprise me if it creates some situation in which a bunch of aligned things, while normally they work well, can also create unexpected kinds of clots or other problems not previously possible to create in more chaotic systems. It certainly doesn't sound as glowingly positive to me as a term like "drug-free therapy" is supposed to imply. It sounds more like the potential pitfalls are hidden in different places, like the way nuclear radiation is "drug-free". Not that we're talking radiation effects here, but we're definitely not talking automatically safer than drugs, either.
    • Just as anecdotal evidence, I used to hang around huge-ass magnets all the time. NMR spectrometers are in the order of magnitude of the fields discussed here. Haven't had any ill effects so far, except for erasing a couple of credit cards.
      • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Thursday June 02, 2011 @02:53PM (#36323362)

        You didn't develop superpowers? Man, that's a letdown.

        • Tried it all, man - magnets, radiation, toxic chemicals, gene manipulation. Nothing. Well, I might have become Nerdman in the progress, but, well....
          • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *

            I had a friend who got hit by lightening and all it did was kill him. And so far not ONE supervillain, superhero, or giant fire-breathing lizard has come out of Fukushima. Not even ONE.

            Fucking lying comic books.

            • by gnick ( 1211984 )

              ...not ONE supervillain, superhero, or giant fire-breathing lizard has come out of Fukushima.

              That's exactly what they want you to think Stuff like this happens all the time in Japan - You really think Godzilla was just some dude in a lizard suit?? Get real.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by grub ( 11606 )
        We have a 3T (and 7.1T) at work; research devices. I get woozy when moving through the field. Fine when I'm still but nearly vomiticious when moving.
        • Interesting. Never felt anything - and with the older ones, also in the 3T range, i used to crawl around right below them for calibration daily. Completely unrelated, but may I ask what your field of research is?
        • My astrophysics prof claimed that magnets of that strength could make you see colors.

          Have you been checked for Hemachromatosis or other blood/iron disorders?
        • Um, they only turned the magnet's lights on to make people think it was running. The magnet itself isn't on, hypochondriac.

        • Re:subtle issues (Score:5, Informative)

          by robotkid ( 681905 ) <alanc2052@ y a h o> on Thursday June 02, 2011 @04:18PM (#36324386)
          Back when I was doing biomolecular NMR research, I would regularly have to crawl under a 16.4 T magnet to calibrate the pulse sequences. All the fillings in my mouth would ache like I was getting my first set of braces in middle-school again. Freaky.

          Back to TFA - only an abstract is posted, so I can't read about the proposed mechanism, but as all the people who work with MRI's have pointed out this amount of effect on blood viscosity at such a "low" field strength is hard to imagine unless there is something unusual about the shape or duration of the pulse that makes it substantially different from the static field in an MRI. Previous work with static fields has shown maybe a 1% change at 1T field strengths, with the more significant, 15-20% changes not evident until 5T or so (which is much higher than a typical clinical-use MRI, although some research MRIs certainly are in this range)

          see fig 5 of this article if you have institutional access for the work cited above []

          similarly, the WHO summary of health effects of exposure to magnetic fields only cautions against cardiovascular effects for fields > 8T []

        • Re:subtle issues (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Cosgrach ( 1737088 ) on Thursday June 02, 2011 @04:54PM (#36324838)
          I work with field mapping in NMR magnets. I've had to pass most of the work to others. 3T fields now give me migraines. Even the silver and gold dental work in your teeth are affected - the magnetic fields generate eddy currents in the metal. Nothing better than the weird taste of metal in you mouth. Once or twice, I've been in 7T research magnets - what a trip (not the fun type) - woozy and dizzy for hours after even a few minutes in one of them.
        • Re:subtle issues (Score:4, Informative)

          by Sleepyhead5 ( 1246752 ) on Thursday June 02, 2011 @07:16PM (#36326326)

          That's because you are moving. Per Maxwell's laws changing magnetic fields induce a current. If you move your head too quickly through them those tiny currents can be induced in your inner ear resulting in the nausea.

          I work in the MRI field on the engineering research side of things. Those sounds a lot like MRI scanners. The 7T scanners are notoriousness for inducing nausea when moving in and out of them because the field drops off and grows so quickly around the scanner. I've never heard of nausea being induced from a 3T before though. Maybe I just haven't been moving around fast enough inside it.

    • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

      It does make sense, though -- blood is red because of the iron content, so it stands to reason that it could be magnetic.

      Interestingly, my dad (now 80 and retired) was an electrical lineman for 40 years and could never wear a wrist watch. He was apparently magnetized by the magnetic fields from the high voltage (90kv on the towers he worked on) because they'd stop two or three days after he bought one, even though he didn't wear them to work.

      Aspirin works well to lower blood pressure, if you can take it. Be

      • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
        It makes no sense. You believe that all the blood vessels and capillaries of the heart are lined up in parallel, do you? This might theoretically increase blood flow to some blood vessels, while hampering flow to others.
        • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

          You believe that all the blood vessels and capillaries of the heart are lined up in parallel, do you?

          No, but if you subject a bunch of iron filings to a magnetic field they'll line up in predictable patterns. Belief? No. Hypothesis? Possibly.

          • The idea is that if they're chained together in the direction of flow they have less probability of hampering with each others' flow. But if they're lined up perpendicular to the flow wouldn't that just cause a clog?
          • by treeves ( 963993 )

            But there's a big difference between metallic iron where all the atoms in the magnetic domain are aligned, and individual (unaligned) hemoglobin molecules, each with four heme groups, each of those having a single iron atom. I would not expect RBCs to align in any particular way with an applied magnetic field.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        [His watches would] stop two or three days after he bought one

        Tell him he needs to wind them.

  • Assuming it's true, is there a concern that an MRI might cause blood thinning when it isn't needed? Is it possible for your blood to be too thin? Might it accelerate bleeding?
  • by yincrash ( 854885 ) on Thursday June 02, 2011 @02:54PM (#36323372)
    Smallest value in a magnetically shielded room 10^-14 Tesla 10^-10 Gauss
    Interstellar space 10^-10 Tesla 10^-6 Gauss
    Earth's magnetic field 0.00005 Tesla 0.5 Gauss
    Small bar magnet 0.01 Tesla 100 Gauss
    Within a sunspot 0.15 Tesla 1500 Gauss
    Small NIB magnet 0.2 Tesla 2000 Gauss
    Big electromagnet 1.5 Tesla 15,000 Gauss
    Strong lab magnet 10 Tesla 100,000 Gauss
    Surface of neutron star 100,000,000 Tesla 10^12 Gauss
    Magstar 100,000,000,000 Tesla 10^15 Gauss
    from []
  • Another researcher lying, and gettin' me pissed. I mean, fucking magnets... how do they work?
  • by Yaddoshi ( 997885 ) on Thursday June 02, 2011 @03:03PM (#36323470)
    The art of deception and misdirection is all part of a magician's trade. How exactly did Penn & Teller become the deciding factor on whether magnets are beneficial to health?
    • How exactly did Penn & Teller become the deciding factor on whether magnets are beneficial to health?

      Mythbusters marked that as "Confirmed". You can't get more scientific than that.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Easy - transparency and at least an attempt to adhere to the scientific method. If Paris Hilton did a special on how homeopathy is bunk and did it using facts, reason, and evidence she'd be credible (on that matter).
    • by Jabrwock ( 985861 ) on Thursday June 02, 2011 @03:33PM (#36323858) Homepage

      The art of deception and misdirection is all part of a magician's trade. How exactly did Penn & Teller become the deciding factor on whether magnets are beneficial to health?

      They don't claim to be. They do however, claim to be the masters of the art of deception and misdirection. The whole idea of their TV show was "it takes a thief to catch a thief", namely someone well versed in deception and misdirection has a better chance of spotting when someone ELSE is using those same techniques to sell, say refrigerator magnets as medical cures...

      • If magnets should have any health benefits, then all magnets of the same strength would be similarily beneficial.

        It's like the speaker wire thing.

    • by sco08y ( 615665 )

      The art of deception and misdirection is all part of a magician's trade. How exactly did Penn & Teller become the deciding factor on whether magnets are beneficial to health?

      They didn't. They let the magnet nuts have their say, and they let actual scientists have their say, and provided a running commentary.

  • According to the article, this effects only lasts for a few hours. How is that a viable replacement for taking an Aspirin pill ?

    • Well, for just about 500k you can get that 1.5 T cryomagnet set up right in your home. The running costs for LN2 and LHe are negligible... Save that aspirin money, sleep in the MRI machine...
      • by Arlet ( 29997 )

        Going to the hardware store to buy some nails, while carrying a 1.5T magnet, becomes a whole different exercise, though.

        • by Mindcontrolled ( 1388007 ) on Thursday June 02, 2011 @03:30PM (#36323824)
          Tell me about it. Had some asshat janitor walk into our lab one day, carrying his leather tool bag, despite of all the huge-ass warning signs. The thing of course got ripped out of his hands and stuck to the magnet casing when he came too close. Had the pleasure of removing the contents - including a couple of hundred nails and screws - piece by piece. The magnet survived, at least. Just slightly dented and some of the shim coils where shot.
    • by blair1q ( 305137 )

      How long does an Aspirin pill last?

      • by Arlet ( 29997 )

        Aspirin's blood thinning effects last several days. For somebody suffering elevated risk of heart attacks, taking one pill per day is sufficient to obtain protection.

    • It isn't. This wouldn't be at all useful for preventing blood clots. "Blood thinners" don't thin the blood, they prevent clotting (which in turn helps prevent heart attacks, strokes, etc.). This actually thins the blood, which could be quite useful for treating heart failure.

      • by Arlet ( 29997 )

        I know how blood thinners work, but I was commenting on the part of the TFS where it speculates it could replace existing drug therapy. If this doesn't prevent clotting, anti-coagulant drugs are always going to be a useful therapy, and this magnetic treatment (if it really does work) only additional.

  • by realsilly ( 186931 ) on Thursday June 02, 2011 @03:16PM (#36323648)

    I have a couple Rare Earth Magnets. They have a very strong magnetic pull. So I figure I'll just run them up and down my body. It could be fun.

    • I have a couple Rare Earth Magnets. They have a very strong magnetic pull. So I figure I'll just run them up and down my body. It could be fun.

      Right until you have one on one thigh and one on the other and the magnetic pull slams them together, turning anything caught between into something not entirely unlike inverted-color guacamole.

    • Knew someone who did that once. Aligned himself, he did. Found it harder walking east-west than north south. But that was okay, he was a snowbird by inclination.

      He's dead now, but he still helps us out: We fitted him up with a couple of coils and he's generating power for us. Spinning in his grave, of course....

    • Dude, thats so gross. Rule 34 in effect? But whatever floats your boat. Just don't use it as a fridge magnet later.

    • by jamesh ( 87723 )

      I have a couple Rare Earth Magnets. They have a very strong magnetic pull. So I figure I'll just run them up and down my body. It could be fun.

      Be careful you don't thin your blood too much. There should be a warning on such strong magnets!

  • Since there is quite a bit of iron the the blood and it has magnetic properties.
    Similar effects are used in Corvette's active suspension

    • by treeves ( 963993 )

      You're referring to ferrofluids right?
      Just because something contains iron does not mean it is ferromagnetic.
      Austenitic stainless steels are *mostly* iron, and yet they are not ferromagnetic.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 02, 2011 @04:06PM (#36324264)

    These guys should have talked to a biophysicist before they stated talking about this in public. A hemoglobin complex holds 4 individual iron cations, in four pockets that are pretty far apart from each other. On top of that, the whole hemoglobin molecule is tumbling around inside red blood cells, without any physical attachment to the cell membrane or cytoskeleton. The magnetic moment of an iron atom is the net result of its electrons orbiting the nucleus, the orientation of the electron orbitals and the nuclear spin, all of which tumble pretty randomly. You only get macro ferrormagnetic behaviour when a bunch of iron atoms are locked right next to each other in a rigid lattice structure, like a crystal of magnetite.

    Even if you could align all the iron magnetic moments in hemoglobin, you probably wouldn't be able to get the hemoglobin to aggregate, it would just tumble a bit differently. You certainly wouldn't have any observable mechanical effect on red blood cells. Red Blood Cells are however very sensitive to mechanical pumps. It you mechanically force them through a relatively small aperture (like you would to measure viscosity), they would probably start to coagulate (clump together) until the pressure let off, in which case they would fall apart again.

    Since they stored the blood in the fridge for some time and didn't end up with one giant ball of clot, they obviously had an anticoagulant mixed in too, which would impact what they observed (namely that the cells fell apart again some time after they stopped pumping).

    Talk to a biophysicist next time guys!

    • Great post. Just to add to it. I am a mechanical engineer. There are types of stainless steel that are not magnetic even though they are over 70% iron. Also when you are heat treating steel you can tell when it transitions to Austenite because it is no longer magnetic. So that is a case where something that is almost all iron 97%+ becomes nonmagnetic due to a change in the crystal structure.

  • There is an old high school science teacher's trick where you place mushed up boiled corn flakes in a zip-lock plastic bag and stroke a strong magnet to one corner. After a while a collection of dark stuff occurs in the corner, which visibly moves with the magnetic field. This is in fact iron.

    I'm not sure how the human body's concentration of iron in the blood compares to corflakes but it's convincing there should be some small effect. Interesting to learn it's potentially beneficial.

    Problem is of cou
    • by treeves ( 963993 )

      The concentration of iron is not the issue: austenitic stainless steels are *mostly* iron, yet they are not ferromagnetic.

  • []
    "When it comes to combating heart disease, most information sources promote drugs and surgery as the only viable lines of defense. As a result, the demand for high-tech, expensive and largely ineffective medical care is overwhelming, causing medical costs and insurance rates to skyrocket. This chase for 'cures' is both financially devastating and futile. Morbidity and premature mortality from heart disease continue to rise with no sign of abating. Interventi

  • How do they work??
  • TFA says the viscosity reduction lasts for a couple of hours. I wonder if it would be possible to establish a strong field using, say, a wearable Halbach array on an arm or a leg, with the reduced viscosity blood then circulating into the rest of the body? This would provide a chronic treatment effect and reduce the need for an expensive whole body 1T machine. It's pretty easy and cheap to get a 1T field in an arm-sized crossection by Halbaching some rare earth magnets.

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