The recent emergence of Cougar Women appears positive. These are older women who are still sexually active, often with younger men. The trouble is, the main Cougar message appears to be that it's fine to be older as long as you don't look like you are. Being a Cougar is about cheating time, not about celebrating the sexuality of older women.
It's no surprise then that women are anxious about the menopause. Taking HRT is seen as, at best, a gamble, a necessary evil. Doing nothing is rarely presented as an option. Which makes women a prime target for 'alternative' remedies.
One of these is LadyCare, a magnetic device worn in the underwear.
The website claims that 'LadyCare may help to reduce or completely eliminate the symptoms of menopause'. It goes further: Ladycare 'may prove to be one of the greatest natural solutions for the alleviation of menopause symptoms'- including 'Feelings of Doom'. By invoking the N word (natural), it plays on women's fears of side effects (because natural things are safe and soft and fluffy, of course. Like deadly nightshade, ricin, cyanide, hemlock and death cap mushrooms).
What is it? According to the website, it's 'a small powerful, static magnetic device that simply attaches discreetly and comfortably to your underwear' and which should be worn about four inches below the navel.
That's it. That's the sum total of the information about how it works. There is a link that will take you to an 'extensive list of trials'. There has been one trial. Ladycare was worn day and night for three months by 508 women. There is also, apparently, the LadyCare Double Blind Trial underway with results expected in January 2010. It's mid-April now and no signs of any such results.
Although they are careful to use words like 'may' and 'reported', they are clearly making a link between wearing the magnets and symptomatic relief. There is also a warning that users 'may experience a slight detox effect' for the first 24 hours of use, including mild nausea and headaches. This would suggest that there is some active process going on.
What could it be? I've written before about therapeutic magnets, on that occasion magnets sewn into hijabs to alleviate a range of symptoms with some background to magnet therapy and also a link to a BMJ article.
Why don't magnets work? Blood is not ferro-magnetic. In other words, yes there is iron in blood but it does not respond to magnets, not even really really powerful ones. Which is just as well or anyone in an MRI scanner would explode.
To get technical, a therapeutic effect is unrealistic because any magnetic effect is entirely overwhelmed by the thermal motion, not to mention haemodynamic forces, in flowing blood. Incidentally, there are only about 3 or 4g of iron in the body anyway, and not all of that in the blood.
LadyCare is at best a placebo, at worst a health threat.
The magnets 'may' also cause weight loss - one of the listed problems associated with menopause. The website reports a 'median weight loss of 14lbs' in the 508 women trial. Cougar women must be thin and look like Courtney Cox.
More worryingly, there is a question in the FAQs about whether diabetics can use LadyCare and the response is: 'We've had many cases reported of sugar levels being reduced with the use of LadyCare'. The use of the word 'reported' is a get out of jail free card but the association is there.
There are testimonials but anecdotes are not evidence. Expecting to feel better often leads to feeling better especially if women follow the one bit of common sense advice on the website about leading a healthy lifestyle - diet, exercise and relaxation.
LadyCare uses various sales tactics: the promotion of the product as natural, feeble science, testimonials - and fear.
HRT is discussed in what starts out as a reasonable tone: 'In some cases, HRT may be the right thing for women who find themselves unable to function without it for a while (...) So, be kind to yourself, accept whatever decision you have made...'. But then there are a series of images of (mostly tabloid) newspaper headlines that shout things like 'HRT is linked to cancer', 'HRT raises cancer and stroke risks' and 'Millions in HRT danger' followed by a long list of serious HRT side-effects.
LadyCare, it says, has no side effects. That's because it has no effects. The mention of the 'slight detox effect' is bunkum. It's safe because it does nothing except possibly make you feel a bit more positive.
The man behind LadyCare is Dr Nyjon Eccles BsC, MBBS, MRCP, PhD. His CV is here and says, among other things, that 'He is primarily a general and naturopathic physician and has special interest and experience in complementary nutritional supportive treatments that promote well-being and recovery'. He runs the Chiron Clinic in Harley Street that offers a whole slew of alternative and complementary treatments which are, it claims, evidence-based. Which is an interesting use of 'evidence'.
His published research includes a study of 35 women with dysmenorrhea (painful periods) in 2005 that found a reduction in pain and irritability. Thirty five women do not make for compelling evidence and irritability is not exactly measurable on a scientifically quantifiable scale.
To sum up: There is nothing on the website that explains how LadyCare works. Probably because there is no evidence that magnets do work. Or because ladies don't need to know about all that science stuff. They've got more important things to worry their heads about. Especially when they're having hot flushes, mood swings, sleep loss and vaginal dryness. This is yet another product exploiting women at a vulnerable time in their lives purporting to be both scientific and natural when it is nothing of the kind. You might as well put a lucky rabbit's foot down your pants. Or a photo of Dr Nyjon Eccles.
Ladycare is made by Magnopulse Ltd, a self-proclaimed 'leader in magnotherapy' who started out selling pet-related magnetic products and then moved on to treating humans. Quackometer reports that in 2007 Magnopulse were forced to change their advertising about other magnetic products by the Office of Fair Trading.
LadyCare costs £19.95 including p&p, or you can buy it in Boots for £19.49. Boots is, of course, the place that sells homeopathic remedies not because there is any evidence they work but because people like them.