Have you heard about the “healing power” of copper?
What about the “undeniable power” of magnets?
Late night television and the Internet are full of ads touting the benefits of wearing copper or magnetic bracelets.
“Research has shown that magnetic bracelets can improve circulation, reduce inflammation, and even help in the treatment of chronic pain,” proclaims one advertisement.
The so-called healing power of magnets and copper can be traced back thousands of years and remain popular today. Magnetic therapy, in fact, may be more popular – and more profitable — than at any other time in history, with estimated annual worldwide sales exceeding $1.5 billion.
But all that money may be going to waste, according to a new study by British researchers, who found that magnets and copper do nothing to alleviate the pain, swelling, or disease progression of rheumatoid arthritis.
In what’s being called the first randomized controlled study on the effects of copper bracelets and magnetic wrist straps on rheumatoid arthritis, 70 patients wore four different devices over a 5-month period, while keeping a diary on their pain, disability, and use of medication. Participants also provided blood samples to monitor changes in inflammation.
The study, published in PLOS ONE, found that both magnetic wrist straps and copper bracelets provide no meaningful therapeutic effect beyond those of a placebo.
“It’s a shame that these devices don’t seem to have any genuine benefit. They’re so simple and generally safe to use. But 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,” says study leader Dr. Stewart Richmond, a Research Fellow in the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York.
“Warning people who suspect they may have rheumatoid arthritis to consult their GP and seek early medical treatment, rather than placing faith in such devices, is also important in helping to avoid long-term joint damage resulting from uncontrolled inflammation.”
But what about all those testimonials through the millennium that copper and magnets really do alleviate pain?
Richmond has a simple explanation.
“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. Pain varies greatly over time in conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, and the way we perceive pain can be altered significantly by the power of the mind,” explained Richmond.
An earlier study by Richmond and his colleagues, published in 2009, threw doubt on the effectiveness of copper bracelets to treat osteoarthritis.
In the current study, seven patients reported skin irritation caused by wearing a copper bracelet. One reported headaches and another complained of an unpleasant metallic taste in the mouth.
A small number of adverse reactions were also attributed to magnetic wrists straps. These included minor skin irritation and dizziness.