The most controversial types of energy medicine use only the hands to heal. Some styles, such as Reiki, do not even involve touching the patient at all. Instead, they rely on affecting the electromagnetic fields that surround our bodies, just as there is a field surrounding any system that involves an electric charge.

But the fields generated by the body are very weak; the fields around most any electronic device are much greater. The question of whether these fields have a hand in regulating the body, or are just a normal side effect of the currents generated by our nerves, has not been fully answered.

The current scientific viewpoint is that the only benefits from the “laying on of the hands” are psychological or emotional. But there is growing evidence that electromagnetic fields influence our bodies. Dr. Robert Becker, author of “The Body Electric,” found that a very strong magnetic field, applied to the head of a salamander, caused complete anesthesia. His studies suggest that anesthesia drugs “knock you out” by preventing the nerves of the brain from generating these fields. And early research showed our hands can generate a strong field, and that it gets stronger with practice, although follow up studies have not been able to duplicate this.

Dr. James Oschman, author of “Energy Medicine,” makes the case that our bodies are extremely efficient, and make use of every form of resources available to them. So it is likely that this form of energy is not wasted, or just a byproduct of the other processes of life.

An overview of the published literature in 2000 showed that electromagnetic treatments using medical equipment led to improvements in bone healing and reducing inflammation. There is also evidence of harm from these radiations, at least from man-made sources. The World Health Organization places electromagnetic fields in Group 2B, considered to be “possibly carcinogenic.”

Our bodies already have sensors for another form of radiation: light. Those who study electromagnetic fields believe there may be sensors in our bodies for them, but they have not been discovered yet (or simply are not recognized for what they are.) Some animals can “see” magnetic fields; it is thought this is why pigeons have such good navigation skills. Actually, we humans have the same receptors in our eyes, but it is unclear whether they perform the same function.

When you investigate online the topic of using hands-on therapies to improve health, you tend to see information that either completely rejects it and anyone associated with it (often with personal attacks) or websites touting the enormous health benefits (often with a sales pitch). In my opinion, and my limited experience, there is certainly “something there” when it comes to the idea of electromagnetic fields influencing our bodies. It is a very promising area of study, which may shed light on some of the most fundamental parts of healing and even perhaps consciousness.

If we are to find out the truth, we have to look at the subject without either unquestioning belief or rejecting it out of hand. However, there is almost complete agreement that this type of care can’t hurt you, so if you have chronic health problems it might be worth checking it out for yourself.

Dr. Michael Noonan practices chiropractic, chiropractic acupuncture and other wellness therapies in Old Town. He can be reached at