Quackery comes in all shapes and sizes, and it is often presented to you by someone within your own family. It is easy enough to cry fowl when you read about magical unicorns of wart removal on the internet, but far more difficult to tread the narrow line between truth and faith with someone whose feelings you’d prefer not to hurt. The subject of this post is just such an encounter I had with an acquaintance who is dear to somebody in my family.
While discussing my persistent knee problems (caused by a motor cycle accident) Lisa* suggested that I allow her to demonstrate her amazing BEAMER3000. A device which, she claimed, has magical healing abilities and has cured everything from her sore back to her horses spider bites. Always game for a laugh, I agreed. Twenty minutes later I had a small box strapped to my right knee with pretty lights blinking at me and Lisa sat expectantly awaiting my declaration of miraculous healing. Before I tell you the result of my BEAMER session, perhaps I should tell you exactly what it is and what it claims to do.
I am holding in my hands a pamphlet for the BEAMER3000 and am pleased to discover that “BEAMER” is an acronym for Bio-Electro-Magnetic-Energy-Regulation. Isn’t that clever? Well, that’s about as clever as it gets I’m afraid. On the first page of the brochure they make some pretty bold (and in complete opposition to the germ theory of disease) claims:
The human organism is created in such a way, that if it has a sufficient supply of energy, it can compensate for illness and disease with natural regulatory mechanisms and self-healing capacities.
Each form of illness has at its foundation an energy deficit.
When further considering that BEAMER treatment is non-invasive, has no negative side-effects and is safe and easy to apply, it is a no-brainer to at least try it out for yourself.
And my personal favorite:
Are you Skeptical?
You don’t believe in scientific exploration, clinical tests, experiences of numerous physicians, therapists, naturopathic practiotioners and delighted users?
Then why not try it yourself?
After reading this brochure a few times I feel no more enlightened as to what scientific exploration or clinical tests they might have run in order to establish the truth of the claims about the BEAMER3000. So I reach for the second flyer I have picked up regarding this device, a black and white slip of paper with personal testimonies on one side and the following claims for what the BEAMER VET can do for your horsey:
- Ease muscles
- Reduce tension
- Relax mentally
- Increase suppleness
- Maintain performance
- Reduce lactic acid build-up
- Increase blood circulation
- Assist with natural healing
- Reduce recovery time
- Warm your horse up before you ride
Nothing there except more bold claims, taking the next logical step; I Google it and find a bewildering array of unsubstantiated claims, personal testimony and pictures of people smiling like idiots.
I am particularly interested in two things: firstly, what claims are being made for the health benefits of the BEAMER products, and secondly, what evidence do they have to back up these claims? There is no shortage of supposed benefits, here are a few I have gleaned from local BEAMER websites:
What the Bemer 3000 can do for you:
~ Chronic pain relief/recovery
~ Chronic condition relief/recovery
~ Improved vitality and quality of life for disabled
~ Accelerated healing (wounds, surgery, injuries)
~ Boosts and supports immune system
~ Prevention and relief of “age-related” conditions
~ Optimising fitness and performance in sports
~ No overdosing. No side-effects. No risk.
And as if that isn’t enough:
This is exactly what BEMER therapy accomplishes, nothing more, nothing less:
• Improved macro circulation (dilation of blood vessels)
• Improved micro-circulation (opening of capillaries and thus increasing capillary blood flow)
• Increased partial oxygen pressure
• Improvement of the blood’s ability to attach and transport oxygen to the individual red blood cells
• Improved cell metabolism
• Strengthened immune system
Those are some pretty bold claims! I imagine they have plenty of high quality clinical trials available to substantiate these statements.
BUT THEY DON’T!
All I could find was mumbo-jumbo about the shape of the electromagnetic wave emitted by the BEAMER, and a .pdf entitled “Superiority: Classification / Comparison to other PEMF devices” – a long winded marketing brochure touted as “scientific evidence”. I have requested copies of studies claiming to show remarkable effects, but won’t hold my breath about receiving these.
Let’s take a step back and look at what we do know:
- Magnet Therapy is Bullshit
- When I hear “No bad side-effects” I immediately think of homeopathy – if it has no side effects, it probably doesn’t have any real effects either.
- The Placebo effect can account for most, if not all, of the claims made for the BEAMER
Got some chronic pain? An itchy rash? Hypertension? Depression? We’ve got the solution for you. It’s guaranteed to have no side effects, but it’s an extraordinary treatment for your symptoms. It’s the placebo, a completely inert and ineffective intervention, that does nothing to your body at all, except to convince you that it does. Whether it’s a pill containing no medication, an expensive looking electronic device that does nothing, an inhaler that provides the same air you’re already breathing, or just a manipulative treatment that doesn’t manipulate anything, the medical placebo is not only a crucial component of clinical trials, but it can also be an effective medical treatment in itself.
Understanding the power of the placebo effect is crucial to understanding the value of a claimed alternative therapy. If it’s well designed and well delivered, an implausible therapy with no clinical value can indeed produce a subjective improvement in the patient’s symptoms. To debunk a worthless alternative therapy, it’s not necessary to prove that it has no effect at all. Rather, understand that under the right conditions it can, in fact, have a sometimes significant effect; an effect which can almost certainly be fully explainable as a placebo.
What effect did the BEAMER have on my knee? None, I had to undergo a second operation and many months of physiotherapy before I was able to walk without pain. That’s after the BEAMER therapy. And my father who was using it extensively for a shoulder injury also returned to the physio. But those are just anecdotes, and anecdotes (such as the pervasive drone of personal testimonies from people who use the extremely expensive BEAMER) are worthless in the domain of science.
BEAMER3000 – no evidence for any effect beyond that of placebo.
*Not her real name