Copper Bracelets, Magnetic Devices Don't Help Arthritis

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Alternative treatments for arthritis, including copper bracelets and magnetic wrist straps do not relieve arthritis symptoms, according to researchers at the University of York. This study is the first randomized, placebo-controlled attempt to evaluate the use of both copper bracelets and magnetic wrist straps for controlling pain in osteoarthritis.

The use of copper bracelets and various magnetic devices, including magnetic wrist straps and other items containing magnets (e.g., mattresses, pads, bracelets), have been promoted for years as treatment options for arthritis pain relief. Scientific proof of their efficacy, however, has been lacking.

A placebo-controlled study that included 300 people who had arthritis and rheumatoid conditions was conducted in the 1970s. A significant number of the participants reported that wearing a copper bracelet provided relief from arthritis pain. The researchers found that the copper bracelets lost weight, which they suggested could mean the copper was absorbed by the patients. Although a Journal of Rheumatology study reported that people with arthritis tend to have low levels of copper and several other minerals, absorbing copper from bracelets is not an efficient way to address a possible copper deficiency.

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Claims made about the power of magnets for arthritis center around the ability of the magnets to increase blood circulation, reduce inflammation, or that the iron in the magnets stimulate production of heme (iron) in the blood. Scientific proof that these benefits are associated with wearing or exposing the painful body areas to magnets has been lacking, however.

The University of York study, which was published in the latest issue of the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine, involved 45 people aged 50 or older who had been diagnosed with osteoarthritis. During a 16-week period, each participant wore four devices in a random order: two wrist straps that contained different amounts of magnetism, a demagnetized wrist strap, and a copper bracelet. The researchers found no significant difference between any of the devices in terms of their impact on pain, physical function, or stiffness.

Despite evidence to the contrary, many people use and will likely continue to buy copper bracelets and magnetic devices to help relieve arthritis symptoms. Those who report getting relief from such alternative treatments for arthritis are likely experiencing a placebo effect, which is harmless. A concern, however, is that individuals may be spending large amounts of money they can ill-afford in the hope that copper and magnets will provide lasting relief or a cure for their arthritis symptoms.

SOURCES:
BBC News, October 16, 2009
Kremer JM, Bigaouette J. Journal of Rheumatology 1996 Jun;23(6): 990-94
Walker WR, Keats DM. Agents Actions 1976; 6:454-59

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