Two thousand years ago, the Roman physician Scribonius Largus reported that headaches could be relieved with the sting of a live electric eel. Ever since then, scientists have been interested in the healing powers of electricity. The human body has changed much.
Microcurrent therapy -- or MCT -- refers to a plethora of home-use gadgets that manufacturers claim can relieve countless conditions.
With names such as Alpha-Stim and Microdoctor, these devices are typically powered by little more than a few AA batteries, and deliver a tiny current to the skin via clips or sticky pads. The charge is so weak, it cannot usually be felt.
They are being touted as treatments for everything from joint and back pain to headaches, gout, multiple sclerosis and even depression.
All cells operate at a specific voltage that defines if they are healthy or not. Healthy adults normally measure -20 millivolts (mv) of energy, which translates to a pH of 7.35. Children, young adults, and athletes commonly measure -30 mv of energy. Problems occur when a body's voltage drops below the necessary operating level of -20 mv. Thus, at -15 mv, a person is tired. At -10 mv, he/she is sick. At -5 mv organs are no longer able to function properly. Problems resulting from continued drops in voltage include chronic pain, a decrease in oxygen levels, and infections. (Note: Infections continue to increase damage by feeding on healthy cells.) Moving up this scale into the positive range increases vulnerability to illness. At +30 mv, the cellular electrical system malfunctions, reversing cellular polarity (the way electricity is conducted through cells). Damage also occurs to DNA, and cancer is able to gain a foothold in the body and grow.
Chronic disease occurs when voltage drops below -20 millivolts. As voltage drops, these things happen:
1.Cells dont have enough energy to work correctly.
2.Chronic pain is caused by low voltage.
3.As voltage drops, the amount of oxygen in cells drops, switching from aerobic (oxygen- available) metabolism to anaerobic (oxygen diminished) metabolism.
4.With anaerobic metabolism, one unit of fat makes only two molecules of ATP whereas with aerobic metabolism, one unit of fat makes 32 molecules of ATP.
5.With anaerobic metabolism, microorganisms begin to grow and put out toxins to dissolve our cells so they can eat us.
It becomes obvious that chronic disease is always associated with a loss of voltage. At +30 millivolts, cancer may develop. To correct chronic disease, you must insert enough electrons to push the cells back up to the healing voltage of -50 mV. You must also have enough raw materials (nutrition) to make new cells. Nutrition without voltage does not work. Voltage without nutrition does not work. You must have both!
Many experts are quite open to the concept. Our bodies are composed of billions of atoms, which produceelectrical signals that run almost instantaneously through the body as nerve signals, controlling all bodily functions, both conscious and unconscious.
One can measure the body's voltage with a voltmeter that measures in millivolts. However, the voltage in the body pulses, making it difficult to get a true endpoint with a voltmeter. There are computerized devices that will measure the body voltage and impedance.
MCT device companies claim injury and illness upset these signals, and the treatment resets our ‘natural electrical currents', aiding healing and reducing pain.
The concept will be familiar to those who have tried a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machine, which delivers electricity to the skin's surface via sticky pads.
MCT typically involves electrical currents measuring less than one milliampere -- a thousandth of an ampere (a measurement of electrical current). To put this in perspective, a lightbulb may use about 500 milliamperes. TENS uses a higher electrical current than MCT, often above 60 milliamperes, to stimulate the nerves and block pain. ‘New applications are mostly used for pain relief and soft tissue injury,' says Tim Watson, professor of physiotherapy at the University of Hertfordshire.
His team reviewed the clinical evidence for its efficacy in medical use two years ago and concluded that it is unquestionably effective. ‘There is no doubt that MCT works,' says Prof Watson. ‘But we don't yet know whether it's the current strength, the pulse pattern or the treatment duration that makes a difference.'
His team concluded that microcurrent is most effective when used for significantly longer than the daily 20 minutes recommended by most manufacturers.
‘We went up to three hours a day in our trials, but there's no reason why it couldn't be used for longer,' he said.
Even clinicians who are sceptical about MCT agree that our increasing dependence on painkillers means that there is a gap in the market for treatments that do not include drugs.
‘We now know that patients need ever increasing amounts of painkillers as they develop a tolerance to them.
‘They also become dependent on them and suffer from side effects,' says Dr Lourdes Gaspar, a consultant specialist in pain medicine.
‘Manufacturers make outrageous claims [about MCT] that aren't substantiated,' says Dr Deane Halfpenny, consultant anaesthetist and pain specialist at the London Independent Hospital.
'However, I've read a recent study that showed that microcurrents reduce post-operative pain. And anecdotally it clearly makes a difference. If a patient wanted to use it, I wouldn't dissuade them on this basis. It's unlikely to cause any harm.'
Physiotherapist Andy Buckley says: ‘I've been using a microcurrent device called a Tendonworks for the past 18 months for my older patients who have suffered injuries while jogging. Normal therapy might include mobilisation and exercises, and MCT works well when used in combination with these.'
Prof Watson, who has no affiliation to any company, suggests that as long as they carry the European safety mark and provide less than one milliampere of power, all MCT machines are similar.
‘Don't feel you have to spend lots of money. More expensive does not automatically mean better,' he says.
Joanne Thompson, 32, developed depression four years ago after her youngest daughter was born with a rare bowel condition. Joanne says: ‘By the time I went to my doctor the following December, I was having suicidal thoughts.
‘I was put on antidepressants and referred to a therapist.
‘For the next two years I was anxious and frequently in tears. I suffered panic attacks and had severe side effects from the medication -- tummy upsets, nausea and weight gain.
‘A friend of mine had been using a machine called Alpha-Stim to help with stress and she suggested I try it alongside the pills. I was sceptical, but did some research and was impressed by the clinical studies and testimonials.
‘You attach the clips to your ears and turn it on. I used it daily for two to three hours and would fall asleep with it on.
‘Within two months I felt a definite lift in my mood. After three months I felt I was able to cope with everyday life. It was a very gradual process.'
Dr Lesley Parkinson, a consultant clinical psychologist, believes Alpha-Stim may have had an effect: ‘The pills didn't appear to have been working and they had been given plenty of opportunity to do so.
‘Also, Joanne wasn't expecting MCT to work, which would indicate that the machine did help. Anything like this that doesn't have side effects is worth a try.'