PEMF Therapy for Osteoporosis: Will It Help?
At the most refined level the human body is seen not as blood and bones, but as a concentrated field of energy and information. In fact, the human bio-energetic field is measurable up to 15 feet into space (1). This localized field of energy and information is embedded within, and intertwined with, a universal matrix of energy and information. Every cell is sensitive to, and dependent upon, the flow of energy. The advent of modern physics has opened the door to the age of “Energy Medicine,” one aspect of which involves the Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (PEMF). Two decades ago one of my great teachers, Dr. Deepak Chopra, declared that one day we would heal with energy — we would know the vibrational frequency, say, of a healthy liver and be able to apply that frequency to heal an unhealthy liver. PEMF therapy is indeed a step in that direction.
What is Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (PEMF) therapy?
PEMF therapy can be envisioned as a type of physical therapy employing therapeutic, time-varying, low–energy pulsed electromagnetic fields. These pulsed electromagnetic fields offer specific wave signal shapes and are of extremely low frequencies, generally between 5 and 100 hertz.
The impact of both the earth’s natural electromagnetic field and externally applied PEMFs influences many biological functions. On the cellular level the membranes of healthy cells have positive and negative magnetic charges. These charges are necessary for the exchange of ions carrying chemical elements in and out of the cells. If cells deteriorate or become injured, they can experience a reduction in their electromagnetic charge and thus a reduced ability to exchange ions. PEMF therapy can assist in the restoration of the cellular electromagnetic charge enhancing cellular energy production. Experiments have been constructed with many types of PEMF therapies, and each type of PEMF therapy involves many variables — such as hertz frequency, waveform and magnitude, and duration of treatment. Each of these parameters can modify specific biological responses and therapeutic effects. PEMF therapy was first tested by NASA in the 1970s to help alleviate astronaut muscle and bone loss, and later this therapy gained approval from the FDA for varied clinical treatments.
Although the potential of PEMF therapy was recognized decades ago, even today this therapeutic modality remains on the outer margins of Western medicine. Much of the PEMF research has been conducted in China and Russia and many of these research reports are not available in English-language medical databases.
PEMF and bone
The bone-building potential of PEMFs (Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields) has been a topic of interest to me since 1985, when I was exposed to the work of orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Robert Becker. His book (2), The Body Electric, introduced me and much of the world to the possibility that certain electrical fields could stimulate bone regeneration. Today, 35 years later, one can find more than 5,000 scientific articles on PEMF and bone health, yet there are still many uncertainties and few human clinical trials.
In the 2000s researchers indeed verified that PEMFs could stimulate healing of selected fractures (3). Soon bone stem cells became a focus of research and it was found that application of an alternating electric current to these mesenchymal cells could encourage these stem cells to develop into bone-building osteoblasts and promote fracture healing (4). Today in 2020 the use of “electrical stimulation” to help resolve non-union fractures where fracture healing is impaired, and to heal breaks of the upper limbs is a commonplace medical practice (5,6,7). Further, it is well accepted that PEMFs effectively relieve chronic bony pain with side effects (8).
Can Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields (PEMFs) help prevent and treat osteoporosis?
Given that PEMF therapy has been shown to speed healing of recalcitrant non-union fractures, the next obvious question is, “Can pulsed electrical frequencies help to build bone density?” The answer is likely “yes.” However, there are many variables that impact PEMF treatment and too few human clinical trials have been conducted to allow for a definitive bone-enhancing protocol.
As we enter 2020, PEMF has been demonstrated to reduce pain and improve functional outcomes of patients with osteoporosis, but few studies have been conducted attempting to enhance bone density and strength with PEMFs (9). Successful animal and test-tube cell studies, however, suggest various mechanisms by which PEMFs could help prevent and treat osteoporosis. Among other actions, PEMFs activate various intermediaries and hormonal pathways which likely end up enhancing osteoblast bone-building activity and limiting osteoclastic bone breakdown.
Human studies using PEMFs for osteoporosis
Surprisingly, there are few human trials on Pub Med using PEMF therapy to prevent or treat osteoporosis.
- A Chinese study, for example, looked at the use of PEMFs for postmenopausal women with osteoporosis. In this study a small group of women were treated with PEMFs (at 8 hertz, intensity of magnetism of 3.82 mT, and 40 minutes/day) over 6 months. Although this was a study of short duration, results suggest that this course of PEMF therapy was as effective as Fosamax (alendronate) in treating postmenopausal osteoporosis over the 6 months. Specifically, there was no significant difference in the mean percentage change of BMD in lumbar spine and left proximal femur between PEMF and alendronate groups from baseline to 24 weeks(10,11).
- Another, shorter–term study exposed 20 patients to 100 hertz PEMF exposure for 60 min/day 3x a week over 3 months and found no significant increase in bone mineral density from placebo. However, in this short time period those treated with PEMFs experienced an increase in bone formation markers. These markers returned to baseline 1 month after the end of treatment(12).
- A small, controlled trial tested if PEMF treatment could reduce the bone loss that occurs with forearm disuse (as wearing a cast due to fracture, or disuse due to carpel tunnel surgery). PEMFs of 15 hertz were applied for 1, 2, or 4 hours per day for 8 weeks. Although there was a substantial variation in the bone loss associated with disuse, the results of this study suggest that the PEMF waveform for the duration applied did not substantially reduce bone loss in the subjects(13).
- Hawaiian researchers, on the other hand, reported that 12 weeks of 72 hertz PEMF exposure to the forearm for 10 hours per day significantly increased wrist bone density in the immediate area of the PEMF field exposure. A similar but weaker response occurred in the opposite untreated arm, suggesting a “cross-talk” effect. Researchers suggest this might have been due to weak general field effects or possible arm proximity during sleep. This bone density gain was lost over the next 36 weeks(14).
All in all, the handful of available clinical trials looking at the bone–building capacities of PEMFs report contradictory and controversial results. Multiple reasons can be listed for these varied and often contradictory results. Even with varied results, I and other PEMF researchers maintain optimism about the bone-building potential of PEMF therapy (8).
Some important variables to consider when analyzing PEMF studies include:
- Different clinical designs using varied frequency ranges from 8 to 100 hertz
- Varied field range intensities
- Varied numbers of PEMF treatments per day
- Variations in length of study duration (on-going treatment may prove necessary)
- Inconsistencies in bone mineral density testing
The Better Bones, Better Body perspective on PEMF therapy
While there is a considerable body of research looking at the effects of various PEMF fields on test-tube bone cells and animal bone health, only a few studies have been conducted with living humans. And these yield inconsistent results. Every cell in the body responds to electromagnetic forces and to the flow of electrons, and I expect that one day scientists will identify the specific waveforms, frequencies, and duration of treatment that provide a lasting effect on bone regeneration.
Keep in mind, however, that there is no single “magic bullet” that will resolve the osteoporosis epidemic. Rather, bones will be strengthened and fractures prevented through the consistent implementation of a multifaceted nutrition and lifestyle program, the most comprehensive of which is our Better Bones, Better Body® 6-Step Program. So, while it’s fine to experiment with PEMF therapy, be sure to maintain your Alkaline for Life® diet, be regular with your osteogenic loading exercises, use adequate amounts of all the 20 key bone nutrients, build digestive strength as necessary, seek the causes behind excessive bone loss, and worry less.
Here at the Center for Better Bones we are experimenting with the German Pulsed Electromagnetic Field device known as the “BEMER.” This PEMF device is designed to increase capillary circulation, bringing more nourishment and detox capacity to every tissue in the body, including bone. We are looking at its potential to speed fracture healing, reduce bone breakdown, and enhance circulation in necrotic bone, and we are also monitoring clients who are using PEMF therapy as an adjunct to our full Better Bones Program. If you are using the BEMER Pulsed Electromagnetic Field device as part of your bone health program, let us know how it is working for you, or send me a note (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you want help finding a BEMER in your area. Stay tuned, we’ll be giving updates on PEMF therapy in future blogs.
- Oschman, J. L.2000. Energy Medicine: The Scientific Basis. Churchill Livingstone, Elsevier Limited, Edinburgh.
- Becker, R. O. and G. Selden. 1985. The Body Electric: Electromagnetism and the Foundation of Life. William Morrow and Co., New York.
- Walker,N. A., C. R. Denegar, and J. Preische. 2007. Low-intensity pulsed ultrasound and pulsed electromagnetic field in the treatment of tibial fractures: A systematic review. Journal of Athletic Training 42(4):530–535.
- Creecy, C. M., C. F. O’Neill, B. P.Arulanandam, V. L. Sylvia, C. S. Navara, and R. Bizios. 2013. Mesenchymal stem cell osteodifferentiation in response to alternating electric current. Tissue Engineering Part A 19(3–4):467–474.
- Hannemann, P. F. W., E. H. H.Mommers, J. P. M. Schots, P. R. G. Brink, and M. Poeze. 2014. The effects of low-intensity pulsed ultrasound and pulsed electromagnetic fields bone growth stimulation in acute fractures: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Archives of Orthopaedic and Trauma Surgery 134(8):1093–1106.
- Murray,H. B. and B. A. Pethica. 2016. A follow-up study of the in-practice results of pulsed electromagnetic field therapy in the management of nonunion fractures. Orthopedic Research and Reviews 8:67–72. DOI:10.2147/ORR.S113756.
- Daish, C.,R. Blanchard, K. Fox, P. Pivonka, and E. Pirogova. 2018. The application of pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMFs) for bone fracture repair: Past and perspective findings. Annals of Biomedical Engineering 46(4):525-542. DOI: 10.1007/s10439-018-1982-1.
- Huang, L. Q., H. C. He, C. Q. He, J. Chen, and L. Yang. 2008.Clinical update of pulsed electromagnetic fields on osteoporosis. Chinese Medical Journal 121(20):2095-2099.
- Wang, T.,L. Yang, J. Jiang, Y. Liu, Z. Fan, C. Zhong, and C. He. 2019. Pulsed electromagnetic fields: Promising treatment for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis International 30(2):267–276. DOI:10.1007/s00198-018-04822-6.
- Liu,H. F., L. Yang, H. C. He, J. Zhou, Y. Liu, C. Y. Wang, T. C. WU, and C. Q. He. 2013. Pulsed electromagnetic fields on postmenopausal osteoporosis in Southwest China: A randomized, active-controlled clinical trial. Bioelectromagnetics 34(4):323–332.
- Liu,H. F., H. C. He, L. Yang, Z. Y. Yang, K. Yao, Y. C. Wu, X. B. Yang, and C. Q. He. 2015. Pulsed electromagnetic fields for postmenopausal osteoporosis and concomitant lumbar osteoarthritis in Southwest China using proximal femur bone mineral density as the primary endpoint: Study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials 16:265.
- Giordano,N., E. Battisti, S. Geraci, M. Fortunato, C. Santacroce, M. Rigato, L. Gennari, and C. Gennari. 2001. Effect of electromagnetic fields on bone mineral density and biochemical markers of bone turnover in osteoporosis: A single-blind, randomized pilot study. Current Therapeutic Research 62(3):187-193.
- Sparado, J. A., W. H. Short, P. R. Sheehe, R. M. Hickman, and D. H. Feiglin. 2011. Electromagnetic effects on forearm disuse osteopenia: A randomized, double-blind, sham-controlled study. Bio Electro Magnetics 32(4):273-282. DOI:10.1002/bem.20632.
- Tabrah, F., M.Hoffmeier, F. Gilbert Jr., S. Batkin, and C. A. L. Bassett. 1990. Bone density changes in osteoporosis-prone women exposed to pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMFs). Journal of Bone and Mineral Research 5(5):437-442.