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E
nergy Medicine: An Overview - NCCAM
 

Veritable Energy Medicine
There are many well-established uses for the application of measurable energy fields to diagnose or treat diseases: electromagnetic fields in magnetic resonance imaging, cardiac pacemakers, radiation therapy, ultraviolet light for psoriasis, laser keratoplasty, and more. There are many other claimed uses as well. The ability to deliver quantifiable amounts of energies across the electromagnetic spectrum is an advantage to studies of their mechanisms and clinical effects. For example, both static and pulsating electromagnetic therapies have been employed.2

Magnetic Therapy
Static magnets have been used for centuries in efforts to relieve pain or to obtain other alleged benefits (e.g., increased energy). Numerous anecdotal reports have indicated that individuals have experienced significant, and at times dramatic, relief of pain after the application of static magnets over a painful area. Although the literature on the biological effects of magnetic fields is growing, there is a paucity of data from well-structured, clinically sound studies. However, there is growing evidence that magnetic fields can influence physiological processes. It has recently been shown that static magnetic fields affect the microvasculature of skeletal muscle.6 Microvessels that are initially dilated respond to a magnetic field by constricting, and microvessels that are initially constricted respond by dilating. These results suggest that static magnetic fields may have a beneficial role in treating edema or ischemic conditions, but there is no proof that they do.

Pulsating electromagnetic therapy has been in use for the past 40 years. A well-recognized and standard use is to enhance the healing of nonunion fractures. It also has been claimed that this therapy is effective in treating osteoarthritis, migraine headaches, multiple sclerosis, and sleep disorders.2 Some animal and cell culture studies have been conducted to elucidate the basic mechanism of the pulsating electromagnetic therapy effect, such as cell proliferation and cell-surface binding for growth factors. However, detailed data on the mechanisms of action are still lacking.

Millimeter Wave Therapy
Low-power millimeter wave (MW) irradiation elicits biological effects, and clinicians in Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe have used it in past decades to treat a variety of conditions, ranging from skin diseases and wound healing to various types of cancer, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular diseases, and psychiatric illnesses.7 In spite of an increasing number of in vivo and in vitro studies, the nature of MW action is not well understood. It has been shown, for example, that MW irradiation can augment T-cell mediated immunity in vitro.8 However, the mechanisms by which MW irradiation enhances T-cell functions are not known. Some studies indicate that pretreating mice with naloxone may block the hypoalgesic and antipruritic effects of MW irradiation, suggesting that endogenous opioids are involved in MW therapy-induced hypoalgesia.9 Theoretical and experimental data show that nearly all the MW energy is absorbed in the superficial layers of skin, but it is not clear how the energy absorbed by keratinocytes, the main constituents of epidermis, is transmitted to elicit the therapeutic effect.10 It is also unclear whether MW yields clinical effects beyond a placebo response.

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