No longer is copper only found in pipes, wiring, and barely in the penny. We are seeing copper-infused items everywhere. Recently, a friend bought a supposed anti-dandruff brush infused with it. The most common on the market is a copper-infused suite of compression sleeves and socks. What makes copper so useful that it developed into a popular trend? We put on our investigative hats to hunt down provable evidence of copper’s benefits, then put our brains to work to snuff out misleading advertising.
What is Copper? Science Time.
Copper is an essential trace element that is vital to the health of all living things (humans, plants, animals, and microorganisms). In humans, copper is essential for proper functioning of organs and metabolic processes. But a careful balance must occur. The human body has complex homeostatic mechanisms to ensure a constant supply of available copper, while eliminating excess whenever this occurs.
Copper is classified as a micro-nutrient, which sounds like our need for it is minor. However, it is necessary for the proper growth, development, and maintenance of bone, connective tissue, brain, heart, and many other body organs. It is involved in the formation of red blood cells, the absorption and utilization of iron, the metabolism of cholesterol and glucose, and the synthesis and release of life-sustaining proteins and enzymes. These enzymes in turn produce cellular energy and regulate nerve transmission, blood clotting, and oxygen transport.
Copper stimulates the immune system to fight infections, to repair injured tissues, and to promote healing. Copper also helps to neutralize “free-radicals”, which can cause severe damage to cells.
This essential trace element is not found naturally in the human body.
Then How Do We Get Copper?
In humans, copper is absorbed in the stomach and small intestine. It is not absorbed through the skin (remember this for the next section). We can get our daily copper requirements simply with a well-balanced diet.
The World Health Organization recommends a minimal acceptable intake of approximately 1.3 mg/day. These values are considered to be adequate and safe for most of the general population. In the United States, the recommended intake for healthy adult men and women is 900 micro-grams/day (0.9 mg/day).
The best dietary sources include seafood (especially shellfish), organ meats (e.g., liver), whole grains, legumes (e.g., beans and lentils) and chocolate. Nuts, including peanuts and pecans, are especially rich in copper, as are grains such as wheat and rye, and several fruits including lemons and raisins. Other food sources that contain copper include cereals, potatoes, peas, red meat, mushrooms, some dark green leafy vegetables (such as kale), and fruits (coconuts, papaya and apples).
Crafted Copper Clothing Claims
You cannot watch TV without former Green Bay Packers quarterback, Brett Favre, running through your house in his Copper Fit copper-infused compression stockings. The thing is, Favre is as well-known for his incredible football passes as he is for the tough hits he took on the field, resulting in severe pain and a multi-year Vicodin addiction.
You probably also recall being tricked into watching the Tommie Copper infomercial, disguised as a fake Montel Williams talk show. “Tommie Copper is truly pain relief without a pill,” he said. Montel helped earn the company a $1.35 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission for that claim. He lent credibility, like Favre, as a long-time champion against his multiple sclerosis – so bad he was told he would be in a wheelchair by now.
Scientific evidence does show that copper alloy surfaces can both kill bacteria and inhibit bacterial formation. Clothing brands which add it in the proper ways can allow for an item which resists bacterial growth and the odors associated with them. This is helpful in products like braces or support garments, which do not get washed very often or at all.
History to Believing in Copper
Recently, these alternative therapy products have become fashionable, and even widely accepted as legitimate medicine. Sports leagues, professional athletes, and celebrities like Favre and Montel have helped by endorsing their healing properties. It is a $1 billion-a-year industry in the U.S., and it appears to be growing.
Belief in copper’s healing qualities is based upon centuries-old folklore. The Aztecs placed it into the throat to help heal sore throats. Ancient Egyptians and Greeks made pipes with it to clean drinking water.
Imagine if they had televisions and access to the internet!
Can Copper Cure Chronic Pain or Reduce Inflammation?
Copper bracelets, socks, compression sleeves and even athletic wear are said to have medicinal properties that alleviate joint pain, inflammation, and the effects of disorders affecting muscles. There are also promises of better athletic performance.
However, there is not sufficient scientific evidence or clinical trials to indicate that by adding copper to something, it can turn into a pain-relieving, inflammation-reducing miracle cure. The truth is, the item is as effective as it is without the metal.
Time Magazine wrote a good 2015 piece about using compression, in general. It included interviews with experts, who stated the medically-accepted role for compression is to treat where blood or fluid is not properly moving through tissue.
At the same time, it is reasonable to admit that a good number of folks will swear by these products. If it does no harm and works for you, the free market is wonderful.
We are big fans of science and medicine, as well as alternative medicine and the mind-body connection. However, there are a lot of scams out there. Celebrity investor and Shark Tank host, Kevin O’Leary, even once said he didn’t care if a device worked, as long as it sold. That is so wrong.
Oftentimes, people who buy and buy into heavily marketed fads are suffering and desperately looking for something to help. Whenever a “natural” product or service creates false hope only to fail, it cuts into the ability of legitimate alternatives to gain traction.
Reversing the Charges
A million-dollar+ legal payout usually turns around your advertising pretty quickly, as is the case with Tommie Copper below. Copper Fit has tightened its claims, too.
Bonus: Copper Health Claims Similar to 18th Century Magnets
Magnetic therapy is also said to relieve muscle and joint pain. Many of its proponents claim magnets can reverse degenerative diseases, improve circulation, manage depression and even cure cancer.
What is Magnetic Therapy?
Magnetic therapy, sometimes called magnotherapy, was first widely introduced in 18th-century Austria by physician and charlatan, Franz Mesmer. He believed there was a natural energetic transference that occurred among animated and inanimate objects, which he called “animal magnetism.” At one time, Mesmer believed magnets could create artificial tides in the body that could help cure “hysteria” and other psychological conditions.
While Mesmer eventually dropped the idea of using magnets on his patients (believing that he, himself, contained high enough levels of animal magnetism to promote health), he is widely accepted by history scholars as the father of magnotherapy.
The most common modern suggestion is that wearing magnets helps improve blood flow and oxygenation in underlying tissues and organs. But the devices used in magnet therapy are far too weak to appreciably affect blood components, muscles, bones, blood vessels, or organs.
A 1991 study showed that magnets had no effect whatsoever on blood flow. Other respected studies show that magnets had no effect on tissue oxygenation.
Therapeutic qualities, such as restoring the body’s hypothetical “electromagnetic energy balance,” draw great skepticism from the medical community. No such energy balance has ever been observed in physiological studies. Moreover, critics point out that even the strong magnetic fields used in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI’s), should create changes in magnetic energy balance — if it indeed existed — but they do not. MRI’s are hundreds of times stronger than your typical magnet.
Bonus: How to Identify Cheap Copper
Real copper is not low-priced. If your product is turning your skin green, you have not been sold a truly 100% copper item. Most likely, the item has some in it for color and to calm regulators, but it is mixed with inexpensive nickel. Nickel reacts with water and the oils from skin, leaving behind the familiar green tinge.
Pennies were once made with nickel. Now, they are produced with zinc and a small amount of the good stuff.