Throughout history, copper has been used for its perceived medical properties. This continues today, with everything from copper socks that claim to heal broken skin to copper bottles said to kill bugs in drinking water.
But do they really work? ADRIAN MONTI asked experts to assess a selection of copper products. We then rated them.
SOCKS TO HELP HEAL DRY SKIN
Copper Compression Socks, £24.95, allergybestbuys.co.uk
CLAIM: The maker says these copper-infused socks promote ‘healing in eczema’ and ‘destroy odour-causing bacteria’. It also claims they improve circulation and ‘eliminate swelling in the feet, ankles and lower legs’.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘Copper has anti-microbial properties so these socks might prevent bacteria, viruses and fungi growing in them — and, in turn, may help prevent smelly feet and certain infections, such as athlete’s foot, from taking hold,’ says Dr Hayley Leeman, a consultant dermatologist at Cadogan Clinic in London.
‘But I don’t think they will do much to prevent infections in skin broken by eczema, especially the most common type, atopic dermatitis, which often has a genetic link.
‘Compression stockings can reduce the swelling that’s part of venous eczema [that affects the lower legs and feet and is common in people with varicose veins]. But as these socks are ankle-length, the compression benefit will be minimal.
‘It’s also not clear what the copper concentration is, or how machine washes will affect it.’ 4/10
WATER BOTTLE KILLS HARMFUL BACTERIA
Paani Copper Bottle, £35, paanibottles.com
CLAIM: This 700ml reusable bottle is made from copper that’s said to be ‘scientifically proven to kill bacteria’. The copper can ‘improve digestion, relieve joint pain and reduce inflammation’ because it ‘helps purify the water and makes it easier for the body to absorb’.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘Copper has both antibacterial and antiviral qualities — that’s long proven,’ says Professor Nigel Brown, a molecular microbiologist and former president of the Microbiology Society.
‘It’s thought copper particles attach to bacteria and viruses in water, inactivating them.
‘Copper also stops bacteria from attaching to the surface inside the bottle and forming a sticky biofilm, on which they’d flourish. . This would happen with a plastic or glass bottle and you’d need to wash with detergent to remove it.
‘A study last year by Southampton University found that this bottle reduced bacteria in tap water by 99.9 per cent. Our tap water is, however, generally safe to drink and most microorganisms in it are harmless.
‘Note, leaving water inside this bottle for more than 16 hours might cause a metallic taste because it changes the pH — although this is harmless.’ 8/10
BRACE THAT EASES LOWER BACK PAIN
Copper Compression Lower Back Lumbar Support Brace, £54.74, amazon.co.uk
CLAIM: The compression provided by this brace helps ‘alleviate lower back pain with reliable support’, while copper threads are anti-microbial and ‘anti-odour’.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘This back brace might ease stiff and sore muscles because it offers the person wearing it physical support,’ says Lucy Macdonald, a physiotherapist at Octopus Clinic in London.
‘This, in turn, helps them feel more confident to move, and I’m an advocate of movement to treat and prevent back pain.
‘But there’s no conclusive evidence copper will ease pain. A back brace would do exactly the same job even without copper thread — and there are cheaper options available.’ 5/10
TABLETS SAID TO SUPPORT IMMUNITY
Solgar Chelated Copper Tablets, £10.95 for 100 tablets, solgar.co.uk
CLAIM: The copper is ‘chelated’, a chemical process the maker says improves absorption. Take one a day to ‘support immunity’ and for ‘healthy hair and skin’.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘Copper deficiency is rare, but can occur if you’ve had bariatric surgery or have untreated coeliac disease,’ says Aisling Pigott, a dietitian in Cardiff. ‘Adults need 1.2mg of copper day, which you can get from a balanced diet, as it’s found in fruit, vegetables, cereals, milk, dairy and meat. So don’t waste money on supplements — just eat well.’ 1/10
BRACELET FOR ARTHRITIS RELIEF
Pure Copper Magnetic Bracelet, £24, gausstherapy.com
CLAIM: This bracelet offers relief from fibromyalgia (pain around the body), joint pain, carpal tunnel and sore muscles, the maker says. It also reduces inflammation in the arm and ‘restores energy to reduce fatigue, stress, insomnia and migraines’.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘Many people with arthritis wear copper to try to help with stiffness and pain,’ says Dr Wendy Holden, a consultant rheumatologist at Hampshire Hospitals NHS Trust and medical adviser for the charity Arthritis Action.
‘People think copper is absorbed through the skin and that this will help arthritis — but there is no strong evidence for this.
‘In fact, there’s also no evidence that copper bracelets will help with fibromyalgia and carpal tunnel either.
‘But wearing a bracelet like this will not cause any harm, so if patients feel better because of it, then that’s good — it could have a placebo effect.’ 3/10
NOSE SPRAY WARDS OFF COLDS
Sterimar Cold Defence Nasal Spray, 50ml, £6.25, boots.com
CLAIM: Made with sea water enriched with copper salts, this spray protects against colds’ by washing out impurities, the maker says. Spray into each nostril, then blow your nose.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘I haven’t seen any clinical evidence for this product, but given that we know copper is effective at killing viruses, this may have efficacy,’ says Dr Simon Clarke, an associate professor in cellular microbiology at Reading University.
‘I would guess it might work best in the early stages, but you may have to use it frequently.
‘However, viruses can go through the mouth and eyes, too, which this spray would not help prevent.’ 7/10
INSOLES TO SOOTH ACHING FEET
The Original Copper Heeler for Pain Relief, £16.65, medicalsupplies.co.uk
CLAIM: Placed inside your shoes, these insoles ‘use the benefits of copper to eliminate aching feet, ankles and legs, improve posture and take stress away from knees’.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘The principle of these supports is that they help to address a presumed foot position abnormality, such as an issue with the arch of the foot,’ says Matthew Fitzpatrick, a consultant podiatrist based in London.
‘Other similar orthotics help with biomechanical or musculoskeletal concerns, but you need a professional to diagnose the cause of the underlying issue first before finding the right support for you.
‘The copper is a bit of red herring — I haven’t seen any robust research to show that copper specifically can help with the likes of aching feet or ankles, as claimed.
‘Standard insoles, made from plastics, EVA [a compressed foam] or carbon fibre, would be a better idea.’ 3/10
PILLOW TACKLES SKIN COMPLAINTS
Wellbeing Copper Infused Pillow, £24, silentnight.co.uk
CLAIM: This pillow’s copper-infused cover can reduce ‘skin irritations caused by allergens, dust mites and bacteria’, ‘prevent breakouts [i.e. spots], reduce wrinkles and boost collagen production’, says the maker.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘There are a few poor-quality studies which suggest that lying on a copper pillow would reduce facial wrinkles and fine lines, but I cannot see how that works,’ says Dr Leeman.
‘You do need a small amount of copper to help with collagen and elastin production to keep your skin looking younger, but this is done internally.
‘You cannot absorb copper simply by lying on it.
‘The pillow’s maker also claims that the copper helps prevent acne breakouts. But acne is primarily an inflammatory condition, not an infectious one — it’s caused by clogging up of the skin’s pores by dead skin cells and sebum.
‘It can be exacerbated by things like dust or oil on your pillowcase, but washing your normal pillowcase twice a week would be a better way to tackle acne.’ 2/10
LIQUID DROPS TO BALANCE MOOD
Upgraded Formulas Copper (59ml), £26.96, functionalself.co.uk
CLAIM: The maker claims adding 2ml of the liquid copper supplement to your drink daily will ‘promote healthy skin and nails’ and ‘balance mood’.
EXPERT VERDICT: Aisling Pigott says: ‘I am not aware of a strong link between mood and copper intake. A balanced diet will provide you with enough copper — save your money and buy an apple to eat instead.’ 2/10
At home remedies… Traditional treatments that really work
This week: Honey can stop a cough
When researchers from Oxford University analysed studies comparing the effect of taking honey for upper respiratory tract infections to that of cough syrups or antibiotics, they concluded that honey was better at reducing cough severity and frequency.
A 2007 study in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine said honey is a demulcent — a substance known to reduce irritation of the mucus membranes.
Note: Honey should not be given to children under a year old due to a slight risk of botulism contamination, which can be dangerous in infants.