Fact Check: Can Magnets Really Help Your Depression?

Nearly 90% of treatment-resistant patients experienced relief.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Earlier this month, we brought you news of research that stipulated that stimulating your brain with magnets could help with memory loss. Now, a new study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry is revealing that magnets may also help with depression.

The research focused on repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). rTMS consists of magnetic fields that are temporarily applied to the head and has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration since 2018. So far, however, only 14% to 30% of patients receiving this treatment have reported an alleviation of their symptoms.

The Stanford researchers improved on this methodology to make it much more efficient. The new technique, now called the Stanford neuromodulation therapy (SNT), uses higher-dose magnetic pulses delivered over a shorter five-day schedule compared to the months-long schedule required for rTMS.

The treatment is said to recreate the effects of about seven months of standard rTMS treatment while also using MRI scans to pick out the best possible spots along the brain to deliver the healing pulses. That way the treatment is specialized to fit the needs of each patient.

“We were very interested in trying to solve psychiatric issues in an emergency setting, where we’re treating people in the time course of days. And so we figured out a way, based off of human neuroscience principles, to compress stimulation from a six-week schedule into a single day,” study author Nolan Williams, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford, told Gizmodo.

The treatment study also featured a placebo group which involved patients that thought they were being stimulated, but only received a weak or no pulse. Thus far SNT seems to work with the researchers reporting "a remission rate of ∼90% after 5 days of open-label treatment." 

Gizmodo also spoke to one of the trial's participants who reported an alleviation of all his depression treatments within three days of SNT administration. The patient said that the treatment continued to work long after he stopped receiving SNT indicating that the new treatment has long-lasting effects.

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