Copper, usually in the form of jewelry or impregnated fabric, with its positive ionic charge, is theorized to neutralize this trapped electricity by submicron transdermal absorption. In possibly the only actual randomized, placebo-controlled human study with copper bracelets, 45 individuals with diagnosed osteoarthritis were enrolled into the trial.8 Participants wore a blinded rotation of magnetic, copper, and demagnetized metal wrist bracelets. Each bracelet was worn for 4 weeks, with participants evaluated during each phase by the standardized arthritis symptom scales of the WOMAC-A, B, and C. Even though results were statistically significant among the bracelets (favoring the copper bracelet), the overall outcome did not reach significance compared with placebo. 

Safety, how supplied, dose, cost


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The safety of external copper is only a problem in individuals who exhibit an allergic response to contact with jewelry or clothing items. However, using oral supplements to augment nutritional copper can lead to serious conditions as a result of copper accumulation in tissues. Excess tissue concentration of copper has been implicated in Alzheimer dementia and is a known consequence of the genetic condition Wilson disease.9 More minor side effects include nausea and vomiting. 

Copper in minute doses can be found in many over-the-counter supplements as well as in a variety of foods. Normal diets do not typically create a toxic level of copper, and supplemental copper in doses greater than 1 mg/day are not recommended.10 Cost of supplements is negligible and copper bracelets can be purchased for less than $10.

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Summary

Despite generations of believers, there is no scientific evidence of any efficacy of copper for the treatment of arthritic pain. There is, however, often a significant placebo effect of the treatment because of the long history in folklore and there is no real safety risk. In contrast, oral supplementation that is unmonitored or in excess of recommended amounts can be potentially lethal. Supplementation should not be recommended unless extensive metabolic testing shows a true copper deficiency.

References

  1. Dollwet HHA, Sorenson JRJ. Historic uses of copper compounds in medicine. In: Trace Elements in Medicine. 2nd ed. Totowa, NJ: Humana Press; 2001:80-87.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Arthritis. https://search.cdc.gov/search?query=arthritis&utf8=%E2%9C%93&affiliate=cdc-main. Updated 2017. Accessed October 6, 2017.
  3. Gaskin DJ, Richard P. The economic costs of pain in the United States. J Pain. 2012;13:715-724.
  4. Meija J, Coplen TB, Berglund M, et al. Atomic weight of the elements 2013 (IUPAC Technical Report). Pure Appl Chem. 2016;88:265-291.
  5. Stern BR, Solioz M, Krewski D, et al. Copper and human health: biochemistry, genetics, and strategies for modeling dose-response relationships. J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2007;10:157-222.
  6. Grace H. Copper for pain: the theory of trapped electricity. Intractable Pain J. https://thepainjournal.wordpress.com/2011/04/23/copper-for-pain-the-theory-of-trapped-electricity/. 2011. Accessed October 6, 2017.
  7. DeSantana JM, Walsh DM, Vance C, Rakel BA, Sluka KA. Effectiveness of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation for treatment of hyperalgesia and pain. Curr Rheumatol Rep. 2008;10:492-499.
  8. Richmond SJ, Brown SR, Campion PD, et al. Therapeutic effects of magnetic and copper bracelets in osteoarthritis: a randomised placebo-controlled crossover trial. Complement Ther Med. 2009;17:249-256.
  9. Bush AI, Tanzi RE. Therapeutics for Alzheimer’s disease based on the metal hypothesis. Neurotherapeutics. 2008;5:421-432.
  10. Institute of Medicine (US) Panel on Micronutrients. Dietary reference intakes for vitamin A, vitamin K, arsenic, boron, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, silicon, vanadium, and zinc. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2001.