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Florsheim's MagneForce Shoes
Should We Worry about "Magnetic Deficiency"?

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

Do you suffer from "magnetic deficiency"? Florsheim Group Inc., one of America's top shoe manufacturers, thinks you might be. Fortunately for you, its MagneForce shoes have magnetic insoles. The company's Web site describes them as:

The first shoe with its own power supply. Comfortable, quality footwear constructed with a lightweight, flexible magnetic insole to generate a deep-penetrating magnetic field which increases circulation; reduces foot, leg and back fatigue; provides natural pain relief and improved energy level.

The site also contains "The MagneForce Story," which gives the history and rationale for the shoes. Here's my reaction to this commercial fairy tale:

Claims Analysis
Research indicates that in general, magnetic therapy works because of the electromagnetic nature of the body. Functionally, according to biomagnetic researchers, the brain generates an electromagnetic current that controls every motor and sensory response in our body. Every cell in our body consists of electrically charged particles that are either positive or negative ions. All are directly affected by exposure to external magnetic fields. Utter nonsense. External magnetic fields have very little effect on the body's electrically charged particles (negative and positive ions). Only ions that are moving are affected. Those that are not moving are completely unaffected. The body's ions move very slowly, so even a strong external magnetic field will have little effect. The very powerful magnets in MRI machines can cause tiny changes that the equipment can detect but are temporary and have no known health effect. The magnets in shoes -- similar to refrigerator magnets -- are too weak to produce any measurable effect within the body.
Magnets generate a magnetic field that penetrates the skin, tissue and bones. Studies show this increases blood flow, thus enhancing the body's healing process. The improved circulation has been shown to bring in oxygen and nutrients. Several studies have found that magnets do not increase blood flow. If blood were strongly attracted to magnets, it would tend to pool and might even come through the skin when a person is exposed to the powerful magnets in MRI machines.
Magnetic fields have also been shown to normalize the body's pH, the acid/alkaline balance which creates an internal environment conducive to good health. While magnetic therapy is not effective on everyone, most studies indicate many individuals have benefited from this non-invasive approach to healing. Most studies of static magnets have found no measurable effect on any body function. The idea that magnets normalize pH is insane.
Physicists estimate that because the earth has lost some of its electromagnetic field over the past 4,000 years, it is possible that some of us suffer from a magnetic deficiency. The concept of magnetic deficiency is absurd because the body is not magnetic. If deficiency did exist, how would it be diagnosed? Would there also be a magnetic excess condition? If these conditions existed, how could one know how long to wear the shoes? If they are removed at night, could there be a relapse by morning? I wonder which physicists think that "some of us" suffer from a magnetic deficiency. Fortunately, even if everyone on earth were magnetically deficient, the good folks at Florsheim could fix us for less than a trillion dollars every few years.

While removable magnetic insoles for footwear have been available for many years, to our knowledge, Florsheim Group Inc, is the first shoemaker to offer them permanently constructed into the shoe. This technology, first introduced in Florsheim Golf MagneForce footwear for spring 1999, has an interesting beginning. In the spring of 1998, executives of Florsheim Golf met with famed golf instructor David Leadbetter, who was well aware of the many benefits of magnetic therapy, was instantly excited about Florsheim using magnets in a therapeutic way, based on his experience with his Asian golf schools and senior professional golfers.

The designers were cautious at first, but worked extensively with Magnetherapy Inc., the makers of Tectonic® magnetic therapy products and a provider of limb braces, back belts bracelets, insoles, etc. specifically targeted to participant sports users. Florsheim then created a golf shoe construction design incorporating a flexible magnetic sheet in the footbed. The new MagneForce golf shoes were an instant success. Strong demand continues as more golfers, convinced that their MagneForce golf shoes have improved their energy, relieved foot, leg and back fatigue and even improved their game, share their MagneForce stories with their friends. The rapid success of MagneForce golf shoes, coupled with an unusually high volume of requests from golfers eager to enjoy the benefits of magnetic insoles in shoes they could wear everywhere, spurred Florsheim to expand the MagneForce technology to casual and dress shoes for 2000.

Lots of athletes swear that doing one thing or another has improved their health or their performance. I am not aware of any published scientific study demonstrating that golfers who wore magnetic shoes improved their game. Since such studies would be easy and inexpensive to do, It is safe to assume that the marketers of magnetic clothing are afraid to sponsor them.

In 1997, the FDA warned Magnetherapy to stop claiming that its products would relieve arthritis; tennis elbow; low back pain; sciatica; migraine headache; muscle soreness; neck, knee, ankle, and shoulder pain; heel spurs; bunions; arthritic fingers and toes; and could reduce pain and inflammation in the affected areas by increasing blood and oxygen flow. In 1998, Magnetherapy signed an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance with the State of Texas to pay a $30,000 penalty and to stop claiming that wearing its magnetic device near areas of pain and inflammation will relieve pain due to arthritis, migraine headaches, sciatica or heel spurs. The agreement also required Magnetherapy to stop making claims that its magnets can cure, treat, or mitigate any disease or can affect any change in the human body, unless its devices are FDA-approved for those purposes. Ads for the company's Tectonic Magnets had featured testimonials from athletes, including golfers from the senior pro tours. Various ads had claimed that Tectonic Magnets would provide symptomatic relief from certain painful conditions and could restore range of motion to muscles and joints. The company had provided retailers with display packages that included health claims, written testimonials, and posters of sports stars.

Continuing our 108-year heritage of innovation, Florsheim is proud to be the first shoemaker to offer its customers the benefits of magnetic insoles permanently embedded in men and women's golf shoes, casual and dress footwear for men, and our John Deere work shoes. We have combined our expertise in making quality footwear with the latest comfort and magnetic technology to create footwear that feels as good as it looks. The high quality magnetic insoles in Florsheim MagneForce footwear are tested by Tectonic. A research report prepared by Magnetherapy Inc, indicates that the magnetic field they generate penetrates the foot to a depth of two inches, Studies indicate that magnetic fields increase blood circulation, bring natural pain relief and increase range of motion, leading to an increased level of energy.

I do not believe there is any scientific evidence that magnetic fields increase blood circulation, increase range of motion, or lead to an increase in energy. In fact, several studies have found that static magnetic fields -- including fields stronger than those in Florsheim insoles -- do not influence blood flow [1-8].

The research reports on magnets for pain relief are far too skimpy to demonstrate that they are effective. In fact, static magnetic fields strong enough to bend steel bars have no measurable effect on the human body. Magnet and fusion researchers are exposed to fields that strong -- much stronger than those of magnetic insoles -- without becoming either more or less healthful.

The Federal Food and Drug Administration's position is that magnetic therapy is yet an unproven area of science and prohibits in indications for cure, prevention, mitigation or treatment of disease, condition or state; however, magnets can in some cases be helpful in reducing pain. I do not believe that FDA laws and regulations permit manufacturers to claim that magnets can relieve pain. As Magnetherapy found out, unsubstantiated claims are still prohibited by the Federal Trade Commission Act.

Competing Products

Florsheim is not the only company offering foot products that contain magnets. BIOflex Medical Magnetics, of Oakland Park, Florida, claims that the magnetic fields in its shoes and foot insoles:

  • "attract and repel charged particles in the blood, creating movement and heat. This process causes the blood vessels to dilate, increasing circulation, thus accelerating the natural healing process."
  • "also create a slight electrical current. This electrical current stimulates the nervous system, triggering a blockage of pain sensations."

Wissota Trader, of Chippewa Falls, Minnesota, states that MagneTec footware are "designed with their own energy." Pages 34 and 35 of its early Fall 2000 catalog state:

MAGNETEC shoes . . . feature BIOflex concentric circle magnets, which are permanently magnetized and specifically designed for use in footware. They's scientifically arranged to provide accurate alignment to draw blood to the painful area, which has the potential to speed up the healing process. We've put this unique magnetic system into the 13 styles shown on these two pages.

The catalog further states that BIOflex president, Ted Zablotsky, M.D., "has spent over thirteen years becoming an internationally known expert on magnetic field therapy." Although BIOflex's Web site contains articles he wrote on the subject, my Medline search on July 8, 2000 located nothing written by him in a scientific journal. Nor did my search of medical databases find evidence that he holds a current medical license.

The Sharper Image states:

What if you could help relieve pain and stiffness naturally - without sleep-inducing over-the-counter drugs? Now you can! Magnetic therapy is widely recognized today as an effective, non-invasive, non-addictive treatment for pain. How does it work? Magnetic fields are believed to draw oxygenated, iron-rich blood to the site of an injury, helping to reduce pain, stiffness, and swelling, and to enhance the body's own natural healing processes. And, unlike over-the-counter drugs, magnetic therapy won't make you drowsy, foggy, or lethargic, one of the many reasons professional athletes - including football players, tennis pros, and more than 90% of Senior PGA tour golfers - regularly use it to help reduce pain and to increase their flexibility.

Alternating bipolar wave-form magnets are believed to provide deeper penetration for enhanced pain relief. Magnetized insoles (400+ gauss) work to energize your whole body. Cushioned for comfort. Trim to fit work boots, sneakers, dress shoes, pumps, slippers - any footwear! Men's sizes 7-12; women's sizes 5-10. Each comes with a 90-day warranty.

Dr. Scholl's makes more modest claims:

If you're being hindered either at work or at play by tired, achy feet, Dr. Scholl's® has a solution. Introducing Dr. Scholl's Magna-Energy Insoles! 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 your feet. In addition, they provide excellent cushioning comfort, absorb shock, and are designed to enhance pain relief.

The Bottom Line

John W. Farley, Ph.D., Professor of Physics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who served as a consultant for this article, has concluded that, "Anyone looking for a health-enhancing effect from a shoe magnet might just as well put the fortune from a Chinese fortune cookie in their shoe. It will be equally effective." On August 8, 2000, the Consumer Justice Center, of Laguna Niguel, California, filed suit in Orange County Superior Court charging that Florsheim and the Shoe Emporium have made false claims about MagneForce shoes [9]. I look forward to seeing whether how Florsheim attempts to persuade the Court that its claims are legitimate.

References

  1. Saygili G and others. Investigation of the effect of magnetic retention systems used in prosthodontics on buccal mucosal blood flow. International Journal of Prosthodontics 5:326-332, 1992.
  2. Belossi A and others. No effect of a low-frequency pulsed magnetic field on the brain blood flow among mice. Panminerva Medica 35:57-59, 1993.
  3. Barker A, Cain M. The claimed vasodilatory effect of a commercial permanent magnet foil; results of a double blind trial. Clinical Physiology and Physiological Measurement 6:261-263, 1985.
  4. Turner T, Wolfsdorf K, Jourdenais J. Effects of heat, cold, biomagnets and ultrasound on skin circulation in the horse. Proceedings of the 37th Annual Convention of the American Association of Equine Practitioners 249-257, 1991.
  5. Stick C and others. Do strong magnetic fields in NMR tomography modify tissue perfusion? Nuklearmedizin 154:326, 1991.
  6. Ramey, D, Steyn P, Kirschvink J. The effect of magnetic wraps on circulation to the equine third metacarpal region. Proceedings of the 44th Annual Convention of the American Association of Equine Practitioners 272-274, 1998.
  7. Ichioka S and others. Biological effects of static magnetic fields on the microcirculatory blood flow in vivo: A preliminary report. Medical and Biological Engineering and Computing 36:91-95, 1998
  8. Ichioka S and others. High-intensity static magnetic fields modulate skin microcirculation and temperature in vivo. Bioelectromagnetics 21:183-188, 2000,
  9. Jeff Wynton and the Consumer Justice Center v. Florsheim Group, Inc., Shoe Emporium. Superior Court of California, Orange County, Case #00CC09419, filed Aug 8, 2000.

CSICOP Press Release on MagneForce Shoes (6/14/00)
CSICOP's Open Letter to Florsheim (6/17/00)
Quackwatch Home Page

This article was revised on August 8, 2000.