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Magnet Therapy Helps Treat Severe Depression
What the Study Showed
In this 1999 Israeli study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers found that magnetic stimulation of the scalp significantly improved mood in individuals suffering from severe depression.

How It Was Done
The 67 men and women who completed this study were all suffering from severe depression. Over a two-week period, they underwent 10 daily sessions of either magnet therapy or a faked (placebo) version of this treatment. To eliminate bias, participants were assigned randomly and neither they nor the investigator analyzing the data knew who received which treatment.

The individuals undergoing magnet therapy, also known as "repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS)," had a magnetic coil placed on their scalp. The coil then delivered a slow, repetitive, low-frequency stimulus. The participants assigned to the sham treatment also had magnetic coils placed on their scalps, but in such a way that minimal energy would be permitted to flow into the skull.

An evaluator rated depressive symptoms before therapy, after five sessions, and after the last treatment. All the participants continued to take antidepressant medication during the study.

Why It's Important
Since its introduction in the mid-Eighties, TMS has been used to map parts of the human brain. In fact, stimulation of certain areas of the cerebral cortex in normal (nondepressed) volunteers had been found to cause mood changes. This intrigued the investigators of the present study, who decided to undertake a relatively large, classically designed trial.

Indeed, results for magnetic therapy proved so successful at reducing depressive symptoms in this study that the investigators speculate that for certain patients, it may provide a means of minimizing the need for other antidepressant therapies. While there was an apparent difference in depression scores between the two groups after one week, this became especially evident after the second week, at which point almost half of the magnet therapy group had at least a 50% improvement in their depression scores. Only 25% of the placebo group experienced such an improvement.

Additional Findings
The lowered depression scores in the magnet therapy group translated into a direct clinical benefit. Specifically, of those who had initially been considered candidates for electroconvulsive therapy (ECT, also known as electroshock therapy) to alleviate their severe depression, only 47% of the magnet group went on to receive ECT compared to 100% of the placebo group.

The investigators conclude that the therapeutic benefit of magnet therapy may, at least in the short-term, be comparable to that of ECT. Longer studies in patients who are not taking anti-depressant medication are needed.

Date Published: 02/14/2000
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