Thursday, 20 February 2014
Feeling Old? Shove A Magnet Down Your Pants!
Great, so it seems the world is conspiring to make me feel old at the moment.
Last week I went to see my GP and asked about going back on the pill. He told me I was getting on a bit for that**.
I went home and moaned to my husband that basically my biological glory days were waning and all I had left to look forward to was the slow, inevitable, decline towards the menopause. Now, I'm assuming the Twitter Ads department aren't yet desperate enough to have bugged my house, but a few days later I started getting promoted posts (adverts) in my timeline for "LadyCare". Which is, apparently, a "Natural" and "Drug free" treatment for the symptoms of, yes, the menopause.
I tried to ignore it, but they just keep on coming, so in the end, I looked it up. LadyCare (and I'm not alone in finding that name just a little, creepy? right?) is a magnetic devise that you put inside your knickers and which supposedly relieves menopause symptoms. Now, I'm not entirely sure what is so "natural" about shoving a plastic coated magnet down your under crackers, and I can think of no possible mechanism by which it could work, but HRT is problematic for many women and I hear very few good things about the menopause so it could be really great if it worked. Right?
Fortunately, the LadyCare website has a page on "Surveys and Trials" to prove just how great it is. This page gives us:
Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) trial with British Women's Police (I'm not entirely sure what the Women's police is, presumably they are only available to assist or perhaps arrest women? *shudder* actually that reminds me of a really unpleasant male stripper I once saw...aaaanyway)
Survey To Determine the Effect of the Static Magnetic Device, LadyCare, onMenopause Symptoms
Let's deal with the latter of those first. They put an ad in that bastion of reason and sound medical advice- The Daily Mail, offering women a free trial of the device. They then asked them if they thought it worked and some of them said yes. So basically, of the 508 women who liked the idea of the treatment and were given it as a free gift, quite a few thought it made a difference to various subjective symptoms (such as "feelings of doom"), from an intermittent condition, that always disappears in the end. Unsurprisingly this doesn't appear to have been published in any major, peer reviewed, medical journal. Actually, as far as I can tell it hasn't been published at all. In science terms I'd put it up there with "56% of women thought our mascara made their lashes fuller".
But the first link sounds more promising, more sciencey. Autonomic Nervous System and all! Weirdly, the website doesn't actually give much information on this trial. It says that sweating is "under the control of the Autonomic nervous system (ANS)" and that it's therefore "plausible" that "symptoms were related to an ANS imbalance". The doctor in charge "proposed" that "this was a likely target for the LadyCare mechanism of action" I'm not sure if this "plausible" explanation means that all the symptoms of the menopause are due to an ANS imbalance, but then I don't have nearly so many letters after my name as the doctor in charge, so what do I know?! I stupidly thought hormones were involved somewhere. I also don't understand exactly what the mechanism is of the mechanism of action, how does clipping a magnet to your lady garments re-balance your ANS?
Anyway, to the science bit. Since sweating is the crucial thing here I was expecting the study to measure that, instead it measured variation in heart rate as we're told this is also related to ANS activity. Now again, I'm no expert but surely lots of things alter your heart rate? If you want to test sweating why not, er, test sweating? I guess I'll have to live in ignorance as it's not really explained on the website and there is no link to where I can read the full, published, peer reviewed paper. It just says that 70% of the 35 women who took part said the device helped and this "coincided with the data" from the heart rate monitor.
The page is summed up thus:
We now know how LadyCare may help.
*raises hand* actually, I still don't get it?!
The thing is you could easily do a properly controlled, double blinded trial on this. Get your 508 daily mail readers, give half of them the real device and half a fake with no magnet, making sure none of them know if they have the real thing. Have them all clip it to their drawers and if it works, those with the real device will show far more improvement than those with the fake. Even if this was just assessed with a questionnaire about subjective symptoms it would likely get published. Given how safe the product claims to be and all the problems with HRT (which the website is careful to inform you of) it would stand a good chance of NICE approval and the makers could sell thousands to the NHS, rather than flogging them online for £19 (plus P&P).
Actually on the subject of safety, I came across a couple of potential issues with the LadyCare while I was googling it. Apparently one woman's laptop became rather problematic when sat on her lap, atop the large magnet in her pants. Another unfortunate lady became magnetically attached to a supermarket trolley. Though this is of course just anecdotal evidence from the internet, I'm sure no one would take that too seriously....
Anyway, at the grand old age of 34 I'm hoping that my own personal summers are still are a little way off. When they do arrive I don't think I'll be sticking a magnet in my best Bridget Jones' unless there is some more convincing evidence. Of course there are lots of anecdotes about it working, but that isn't evidence, especially when the symptoms are usually impossible to quantify and always go away in the end with or without the product.
I'm sure lots of people will carry on buying it though, HRT isn't always great, so, I guess for some it will seem worth a shot.
And of course, there are plenty of people out there who would pay good money for fanny magnet!*.
*With thanks to Josephine Jones on twitter who's punchline I have shamelessly ripped off.
** I was told the combined pill is not recommended for those over 35, although Dr Google suggests that it's only a big problem for those who are over 35 who are also smokers and/or obese. Neither of which I am by the way... now I think of it... did that GP think I was in one of those groups?...*feelings of doom*