Sceptic's View of the Scientific Research on Copper Bracelets.
When I first discovered the electrical effect of copper bracelets I thought it would be a good idea to stimulate some discussion on the subject. I looked for science based forums where there was already a question related to how copper bracelets work. I did not claim any medical benefits I just pointed out that the majority of posts that claimed science has proved that copper bracelets have no method of effecting the body are probably wrong as anyone with a multi meter can prove there is an effect.
I naively thought readers would try this for themselves.
I did not expect what would happen next, every post I made was removed before any discussion could take place on the grounds that I was speculating.
To be honest I was quite shocked that the moderators did not understand copper being a conductor of electricity was a scientific fact and the laws of physics on their own without a multi meter would predict copper touching the skin of a body will produce electricity.
It appeared to be a knee jerk reaction from moderators who themselves appeared to have invested a lot of ego in their own posts on the subject and did not want any dissenters.
This was an excellent learning process for me, an ordinary guy who has always believed science is the search for the truth. Maybe ego trumped truth? I decided it was time to take a close look at the research on copper bracelets.
Well it is easy to find the news quotes describing the research but it is not quite so easy to read the actual research without having to pay to join a site or pay to download the pdf. Apologies but I have no spare money to do that but I did find what is probably the latest piece of research done at York University and the paper-
'Copper Bracelets and Magnetic Wrist Straps for Rheumatoid Arthritis – Analgesic and Anti-Inflammatory Effects: A Randomised Double-Blind Placebo Controlled Crossover Trial'
is free on-line here -
There are hundreds if not thousands of websites quoting this research, from Fox news to the BBC and nearly every site dealing with arthritis either quotes this research or the research the same team did on Osteoarthritis.
Well, who am I to go against such a flood of a largely respected system?
I do not benefit in any way by copper bracelets working, or not working and to be honest there is a part of me that does not feel right perceived to be on the side of those who make money with their wild claims about copper bracelets but I think we deserve the truth and I am not sure we are getting it.
So I took a sceptic's look at this research.
The first thing I noticed is that the copper bracelets were not even the real subject of the research!
"Plain copper bracelets were used with the intention of serving as an additional placebo. In the case of osteoarthritis, at least, research evidence indicates that such devices may be considered as inert –."
They say copper bracelets 'may be considered as inert' what do they mean?
Well 'inert' means
"1. Unable to move or act.
2. Sluggish in action or motion; lethargic. See Synonyms at inactive.
3. Chemistry Not readily reactive with other elements; forming few or no chemical compounds.
4. Having no pharmacologic or therapeutic action."
So what they are saying is that the research is designed around the available evidence that points towards similar devices, of all the considerations one could think of, and I can think of a lot, is one that copper bracelets create no chemistry or therapeutic effect in osteoarthritis.
In plain English, Despite the fact that it clearly states copper bracelets were to be one of the subjects of the research it appears the research method starts with the belief that copper bracelets do not work and is designed around that belief.
Of course copper bracelets are not inert in the 'unable to act' or 'not readily reactive with other elements' meanings of inert but let us not dwell in semantics, just get out your multi meter!!
The second point I noticed was the patients who were excluded from the research.
"Of the 106 people who initially volunteered to take part, 24 were excluded because they did not meet eligibility criteria, most commonly because of low levels of pain."
For me this alone completely invalidates the conclusions the researchers came to, for two reasons.
Of course I cannot get the funding to scientifically research what I am about to say but it is common sense.
If one did this research exactly the same but to find out if one tablet of aspirin a day had any any analgesic or anti-inflammatory effect and those with a low level of pain were excluded, the research would be completely discredited. And it is doubtful that one tablet of aspirin a day would be strong enough to have any effect on high levels of pain. So our research would produce the same results as this research on bracelets and we could conclude there was no evidence aspirin had any effect. Yet we know aspirin can be used as a pain killer and we know it would work better with low levels of pain!
The second reason is copper bracelets are in the low risk 'home remedy' arena like band aid, bandaging a sprained ankle, dettol, cuts and scratches and burns, cough medicine, aches and pains, relaxing in a hot bath with bath salts (which probably has something to do with electricity aswell!) headaches, and dare I say, the taking of one aspirin.
I make no claims that copper bracelets can cure any arthritis and without knowing the surface area of the copper bracelets I can make no claims about the amount of electricity they may have produced but by excluding those who may have noticed a difference and only testing those whose arthritic pain was at a level that a small difference could go unnoticed I can only conclude this research on the effects of copper bracelets was designed to have a certain result which was to prove a biased belief.
The Daily Telegraph headlined an article
'Copper bracelets useless for arthritis sufferers, study finds'
and quoted Dr Richmond who led this research
"Firstly, devices such as these provide a placebo effect for users who believe in them;" One presumes he includes himself as in the report's own words
"Plain copper bracelets were used with the intention of serving as an additional placebo".
This is not proper research this is just as bad as making wild claims for the therapeutic effects of copper bracelets yet this piece of research has become the definitive answer to the question about copper bracelets.
Tuesday, 31 December 2013
Thursday, 26 December 2013
If one googles "Copper bracelets, do they work?" There are three main answers to be found.
There are those who believe they have been helped by using them,there are those who point to the science that according to research has found no benefit in wearing a copper bracelet and there are those who believe if it does work at all it is the placebo effect.
Does the Eiffel Tower exist?
A stupid question?
Well let's see, if one were to search the world except for France one could quite truthfully conclude that the Eiffel Tower does not exist.
I believe science has been looking in the 'wrong place' for evidence that wearing copper has an effect on the function of the body and I think I can prove it in a way anyone else can prove it for themselves.
First we have to set some parameters.
What is it that we are expecting to be healed or relieved?
How can the copper bracelet facilitate this relief?
What is taking place in the body to create healing or relief?
With knowledge of the above what is the best way to use copper?
What is it that we are expecting to be healed or relieved?
Though there are various suggested benefits, one of which is clearer thinking, copper bracelets are usually associated with the relief of pain and stiffness linked to
So what is Arthritis?
"Arthritis (from Greek arthro-, joint + -itis, inflammation; plural: arthritides) is a form of joint disorder that involves inflammation of one or more joints. There are over 100 different forms of arthritis. The most common form, osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease), is a result of trauma to the joint, infection of the joint, or age. Other arthritis forms are rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and related autoimmune diseases. Septic arthritis is caused by joint infection.
The major complaint by individuals who have arthritis is joint pain. Pain is often a constant and may be localized to the joint affected. The pain from arthritis is due to inflammation that occurs around the joint, damage to the joint from disease, daily wear and tear of joint, muscle strains caused by forceful movements against stiff painful joints and fatigue."
"Arthritis involves the breakdown of cartilage. Cartilage normally protects a joint, allowing it to move smoothly. Cartilage also absorbs shock when pressure is placed on the joint, such as when you walk. Without the normal amount of cartilage, the bones rub together, causing pain, swelling (inflammation), and stiffness.
Joint inflammation may result from:
An autoimmune disease (the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue)
General "wear and tear" on joints
Infection, usually by bacteria or virus
Usually the joint inflammation goes away after the cause goes away or is treated. Sometimes it does not. When this happens, you have chronic arthritis. Arthritis may occur in men or women. Osteoarthritis is the most common type."
From the above we can deduce that it is likely to be impossible that any one form of treatment could help the over 100 types of arthritis suffered by patients at varying degrees of severity but is it possible that certain types of arthritis that have not yet reached a certain severity could be helped by wearing a copper bracelet?
How can the copper bracelet facilitate this relief?
The 'pro' copper bracelet websites all speak of minute amounts of copper being absorbed into the skin, this has never been substantiated by science.
Arthritis research UK states -
What are they?
Many people with arthritis wear copper bracelets to reduce pain or stiffness, but there’s no scientific or medical evidence that copper bracelets offer any benefit. The copper in the bracelet can’t be absorbed into your joint in any way and there’s no evidence that arthritis is caused by shortage of copper in your body.
Are they safe?
There’s no current research supporting the use of copper bracelets, but they’re perfectly safe to use."
I believe this to be true, though we do need copper in our bodies what we ingest in our food is organic copper, absorbing the actual metal would probably poison us.
Having said that an interesting study was done in a hospital in Birmingham UK. It was found that arthritis sufferers suffered less arthritis around the area of their gold wedding ring.
"CONCLUSIONS—The results of this preliminary study suggest that there may be less articular erosion at the left hand ring, and perhaps adjacent, MCP joints observed in ring wearers with RA. These data support the hypothesis that gold could pass from a gold ring through skin and local lymphatics `downstream' to nearby MCP joint in sufficient quantities to delay articular erosion."
The actual actual study adds
"It is also possible that the observed differences could simply reflect a local mechanical effect of the ring, unrelated to its gold content."
Copper and gold (and silver for that matter), have one particular thing in common they are excellent conductors of electricity and I believe it is this, not the ingesting of the metal but the wearing of an electrical conductor like copper or gold against the skin that is the 'method of transfer'.
The copper bracelet acts as an electrode which as we will see in the next section can be proved by anyone with a cheap multi meter available from any hardware shop.
What is taking place in the body to create healing or relief?
I am neither a Physicist or a Physician, just a normal guy who likes making joule thief solar lights for a hobby but when I was learning the basis of electronics I was intrigued to discover the laws of electricity apply the same to our bodies as they do to our iPad.
The inventor of the battery, Volta, discovered that the chemical reaction between a copper and a zinc electrode in a bath of salt water generates a steady electrical current. As far as I can make out ALL the cells in our body use similarly chemically made electricity to function.
Being able to see these words, reading these words, understanding their meaning, disagreeing with them, agreeing with them is nothing more than a chemical reaction producing electricity sending instant messages across your brain.
We are in effect a chemical battery, when we are fully charged we work perfectly, when we are flat, well lets just say the analogy we use when there is no charge left in a battery (the battery is dead) is a good one!
As I say, I am no scientist, I have no idea what science understands today about how the body works, I am not even that clever but I can use a computer and I can flatten a piece of copper pipe with a hammer and shape it into a bracelet.
This is what I did and instantly noticed some changes in how I felt, as these 'changes' are unprovable, I will not dwell on them, but suffice to say that these perceived changes made me question what was going on.
I knew it could not be that I was ingesting copper as the effects were too quick, my next thought was copper is a good conductor so it seemed just natural to test the electricity my body was making without my metal watch and copper bracelet and then test again with them both on my wrists.
Now this is not quite as easy as it sounds as there are so many variables like sweat, how strong one holds the probes, I have even noticed if it is a rainy day all the readings will be higher but nevertheless even on my 10 Euro multi meter every time I have done this test with my watch on and with my copper bracelet on I produce around 14 millivolts electricity at the fingertips, but when I test the the voltage between my right hand (holding one probe between my fingers) and the copper bracelet (on my right hand) there is an increase of up to 100 millivolts!
I have read our bodies naturally can produce between 1 and 100 millivolts, I produce around 6 millivolts normally (not wearing a watch or bracelet) which seems to me pretty low (I am an unfit 60+ year old). If I do have a low production of electricity and the copper bracelet was stimulating my production of electricity then that electricity could only be coming from a chemical electrical cellular action (the flow of negative and positive electrons across the cells), which appears to show that a copper bracelet can stimulate a reaction at the cellular level.
This understanding only flags up more questions. What kind of reaction? Which cells? What do our zinc or other mineral and chemical levels have to do with this? Is there a healing process initiated or is there just a blocking of pain? Could increased cell production stimulated by a copper bracelet cause cancer? Could stimulated electricity production fight cancer cells? Could the level of human electricity production be a diagnostic tool? Could wearing metal jewellery, far from having just a feel good factor linked to self image actually stimulate a real physical difference in how we feel? Could this stimulated electricity production make us feel stronger? Could it help our brains work better? Is this how copper peptides in cream help the skin to repair? Alzheimers ???
These questions I am not qualified to research let alone answer but this is what I offer as an explanation as to what takes place when we wear a substantial copper bracelet (my experiments were done with what is quite a large bracelet made of 1/2 inch copper pipe) .
In the paper on gold wedding rings they refer to the use of gold in treating Rheumatoid Arthritis-
"Gold has been used for the treatment of
rheumatic disorders since the turn of the
century and has been used with demonstrable
effect in the treatment of RA since 1929. It is
widely distributed throughout the body after
chronic administration but in considerably
varying concentrations. Concentrations of gold
in tissues such as bone marrow, liver, and
spleen are considerably higher than values in
synovial membrane and cartilage, suggesting
that comparatively small amounts of gold may
be required at these sites to achieve a therapeu-
tic effect. Gold has a wide variety of effects on
elements of cellular and humoral immunity.
However, the use of gold in the treatment of
RA remains empirical, as its precise
mechanism of action in these patients remains
poorly understood. There is evidence that gold
treatment can slow the rate of radiological pro-
gression in RA."
They are speaking of a gold solution that can be taken orally but has been found to to work quicker if injected. There are two very important points here. The first is that 'empirical' means they do not know why it works (for 7 out of 10 patients), the second is the values of gold in synovial membrane and cartilage are low.
Synovial membrane and cartilage do not receive a lot of blood flow, which could account for the low levels of gold found in synovial tissue and the large levels found in the spleen, liver and bone marrow but if we were to look anywhere to relieve arthritis we would look first a synovial tissue especially synovial fluid.
Now I have to make it quite clear what I am about to say is pure speculation from someone completely out of their depth.
It is likely that the small levels of gold found in the synovial tissue do not have any effect on their own but that all the gold together is stimulating cell production due to the gold acting as an electrode as does the copper bracelet. But which cells?
Synovial fluid lubricates the joints, reduces friction, absorbs shock and acts as a nutrient and waste transporter. Synovial fluid contains hyaluronic acid.
"Hyaluronan has been used in attempts to treat osteoarthritis of the knee via injecting it into the joint. It has not been proven, however, to generate significant benefit and has potentially severe adverse effects.
Dry, scaly skin (xerosis) such as that caused by atopic dermatitis (eczema) may be treated with a prescription skin lotion containing sodium hyaluronate as its active ingredient.
In some cancers, hyaluronan levels correlate well with malignancy and poor prognosis. Hyaluronan is, thus, often used as a tumor marker for prostate and breast cancer. It may also be used to monitor the progression of the disease.
Hyaluronan may also be used postoperatively to induce tissue healing, notably after cataract surgery. Current models of wound healing propose the larger polymers of hyaluronic acid appear in the early stages of healing to physically make room for white blood cells, which mediate the immune response.
Hyaluronan has also been used in the synthesis of biological scaffolds for wound-healing applications. These scaffolds typically have proteins such as fibronectin attached to the hyaluronan to facilitate cell migration into the wound. This is particularly important for individuals with diabetes suffering from chronic wounds.
In 2007, the EMA extended its approval of Hylan GF-20 as a treatment for ankle and shoulder osteoarthritis pain."
Hyaluronan appears to be significant in the body's healing process and we produce a lot of it -
"The average 70 kg (154 lbs) person has roughly 15 grams of hyaluronan in the body, one-third of which is turned over (degraded and synthesized) every day." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyaluronic_acid
As we can see that the metal, gold, is proved to treat rheumatoid arthritis, could it be that it works by some sort of electrochemical stimulation of hyaluronan, (a major component of synovial fluid) which in turn stimulates the production of synovial fluid? In which case is it too far fetched to suggest in certain cases that a copper bracelet could act the same to stimulate the growth and repair of synovial tissue?
An interesting theory, so why have respected scientific studies on copper bracelets found quite the opposite, that there is no benefit to wearing a copper bracelet for sufferers of arthritis?
Metaphorically speaking I suggest they have been trying to find the Eiffel tower in Texas!!
With knowledge of the above what is the best way to use copper?
On channel 4 tv (UK) there was a programme testing 'home' remedies. A guy full of life entered the studio and told his story. He had suffered from arthritis in his knees and now was 'completely cured'. He was suggesting that copper insoles in his shoes had cured his arthritis, when asked how they worked he told them that minute amounts of copper from the insoles were ingested into the system and cured the arthritis (as mentioned on at least one of the websites I have seen selling these insoles).
The panel of doctors agreed this was worth putting to the test. I cannot quite remember the details but the test was carried at a University with 4 or 5 people with arthritis in the knees. It comes as no surprise that no increase of copper was found in the blood, but, even though there was no miraculous cures amongst those testing the insoles, every single one of those tested felt the insoles had helped a little and all had decided to keep wearing them.
Placebo? Possibly, I do not rule that out especially as the desire to find a cure for one's arthritic knee must be very strong.
There is though another explanation which again lies in the laws of electricity.
Copper insoles have a very large surface area and there are two of them, they reside in a warm humid atmosphere. The surface area and humid atmosphere are perfect for the copper to act as an electrode.
Copper bracelets on the other hand are usually very narrow and thin metal, often with the additions of magnets (I make no claims about whether or not magnets help, personally I doubt it). Gold wedding rings are very small with very little metal which may be why their benefit is so localised.
The greater surface area of the metal the more electrons it can accommodate, so with copper bracelets, size really does matter!
I surmise the reasons why Scientific research is often portrayed as proving copper bracelets don't work is a little disingenuous. When scientific research finds no benefit in wearing a copper bracelet that is exactly what they mean, they found no scientifically provable benefit. I cannot help wondering how many people who took part in these research projects continued to wear their copper bracelets and I seriously wonder if the research has been looking in the wrong place for evidence that may be there waiting to be discovered.
The bracelet I wear and tested is 35mm wide 190mm long and being made of flattened tube it is in effect two pieces of copper 35x190mm.
To answer the question 'Copper bracelets. Do they work?' I am confident that copper bracelets do effect the body at a cellular level by means of electricity. This is easy prove by anyone with a copper bracelet and a multi meter.
I would speculate that taking a general mineral supplement including zinc can help to facilitate this effect.
As for 'do they work?' I suggest we need more research to discover what 'work' the electro chemical process stimulated by a reasonably sized copper bracelet is capable of doing, and this means science looking in the right place.
In the mean time if you find wearing a copper bracelet helps you, that is really all that matters.