Some say wearing copper helps with pain, arthritis, or body odor. Today we look at the concept that wearing copper can provide certain health benefits.
Copper is a trace mineral element and nutrient that the human body requires for essential functioning. According to the American Cancer Society website, copper within the body is known to help manage blood pressure and heart rate, aid the stomach in absorption of iron, is necessary for the formation of new blood vessels, and is required for nerve activity. However, an excess of copper within the body can cause liver damage and contribute to the development of plaque within the brain. Taking copper supplements is not recommended unless an individual has been diagnosed with a the very rare condition of copper deficiency.
Since the 1970s, wearing copper has been a trendy treatment for pain, swelling, and rheumatoid arthritis. Assumptions that worn copper has restorative abilities may originate with traditional or folk medicine beliefs that go back centuries or even thousands of years.
In more recent times, the influx of companies selling copper-infused compression wear has brought mainstream acceptance to notions that wearing copper can impart beneficial properties to the human body. Included in these claims are assertions that dressing oneself in copper can reduce pain, swelling, relieve symptoms of arthritis, and provide antimicrobial protection which counters body odor.
Pain, Swelling, and Rheumatoid Arthritis
Despite beliefs that wearing copper can provide certain health benefits, there is a lack of scientific evidence confirming these convictions. Below are several credible sources which provide evidence to dispel myths about wearing copper:
WebMD – WebMD has two different webpages (which can be found here and here) that cover a 2013 science study which tested the effects of copper bracelets on rheumatoid arthritis. The study, which was carried out in the United Kingdom over a period of 5 months, was featured in a peer-reviewed science journal called PLOS ONE. Results of the study showed that wearing copper bracelets do not help with rheumatoid arthritis and “…have no real effect on pain, swelling, or disease progression.”
Any perceived benefits by those wearing the copper bracelets were attributed to a placebo effect.
Following are a several quotes in relation to the study:
- “The research team suggested two main reasons why wearers sometimes report benefit: firstly, devices such as these provide a placebo effect for users who believe in them; secondly, people normally begin wearing them during a flare up period and then as their symptoms subside naturally over time they confuse this with a therapeutic effect.”
- “What these findings do tell us is that people who suffer with rheumatoid arthritis may be better off saving their money, or spending it on other complementary interventions, such as dietary fish oils for example, which have far better evidence for effectiveness.” – Stewart Richmond (University of York)
- “Copper bracelets and other devices such as copper insoles are heavily marketed towards people with both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis on a purely anecdotal basis and without any evidence that they actually work, and this study confirms this lack of effectiveness.” – Jane Tadman (Arthritis Reasearch U.K.)
University of Arkansas For Medical Sciences (UAMS) – A website associated with the University of Arkansas devotes a portion of their site to addressing medical myths. In an article entitled “Can wearing a copper bracelet cure arthritis?“, it is explained that some copper bracelet merchants allege that the body absorbs metal from wearing copper which facilitates cartilage regeneration. The page points out that that there is no proof this actually occurs while wearing copper, and other researchers have said there is no way for copper to be assimilated into a joint even if it were absorbed by the body.
American Cancer Society – The American Cancer Society rejects the opinion that wearing copper can relieve symptoms of arthritis in the following quote from their website, “Many people wear copper bracelets for their arthritis, and some people report improvements in their arthritis symptoms. However, available scientific evidence does not support claims that the bracelets are effective.”
WiseGeek addressed the question as to whether wearing copper jewelry imparts any health benefits. The article concludes, “It is unlikely for copper to be absorbed through the skin in significant amounts as a result of wearing copper jewelry,” and that “the benefits of a germ-resistant bracelet or anklet are negligible.”
Does Wearing Copper Impart Antimicrobial Features?
In the marketing of athletic compression wear embedded with copper fibers, one of the current selling points seems to be the declaration that wearing copper conveys antimicrobial characteristics which will prevent or reduce body odor caused by bacteria. While copper is known to have some anti-bacterial properties, experts are presently skeptical of these claims as well. In 2006, NBC News covered the then-blooming industry of “performance” textiles with an article entitled “Company says copper clothes, fabrics heal“. The write-up specifically addresses the supposed antimicrobial qualities of donning copper with quotes from director of the Biotechnology Study Center at New York University, Dr. Gerald Weissmann: “Some copper compounds are anti-bacterial, but that does not mean copper-containing compounds put in socks will necessarily be good.”
In the article, Dr. Weissmann is also quoted as saying, “Very often claims of copper, especially in arthritis, have been shown to be pure quackery.”
The article goes on to admit that some experts believe it may one day be possible to invent a formula for copper infused clothing that does provide antiseptic qualities. A. Blanton Godfrey, dean of the North Carolina State University College of Textiles in Raleigh, made the following remark, “The interest in antimicrobials, especially antiviral coating, is very, very high… Whoever gets it right will have a very nice business.”
Nevertheless, at present there does not seem to be any indication that a viable formula has been invented.
There is no scientific evidence that wearing copper contributes any health benefits. Any perceived improvements from copper infused attire is likely due to a placebo effect. Although the health benefits of copper fabric can seemingly be ascribed to ongoing marketing hype, some experts believe that an antiviral fabric is a potential invention of the future.
Updated January 19, 2016
Originally published January 2015