Copper and Arthritis
Wearing copper bracelets as a remedy for arthritis has been popular in folklore for thousands of years. So the question is do they work? Lots of people have bought my copper bracelets on the understanding that they help alleviate painful joints caused by arthritis but I was never certain that this is how I should promote them. So now here is some research that ought to bust a modern myth, but does it?
Copper bracelet study results
A 2013 University of York study looked at the effects of copper bracelets and magnetic wrist straps on rheumatoid arthritis. The research published in the journal PLOS ONE, found that both the standard magnetic wrist strap and the copper bracelet provided no meaningful therapeutic effects beyond those of a placebo. The research team suggested two main reasons why wearers sometimes report benefit: firstly, devices such as these provide a placebo effect for users who believe in them; secondly, 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. Arthritis Research UK agrees that “there’s no scientific or medical evidence that copper bracelets offer any benefit.” The charity says copper in the bracelet can’t be absorbed into your joint in any way, and even if it did get absorbed, there’s no evidence a shortage of copper in the body is linked to arthritis. However, if people do decide to wear copper bracelets, they do appear to be safe to use.
Okay cards on table, I kind of suspected this, but that’s not the end of the story.
“It’s possible that some people who wear copper and feel positive health effects are experiencing a placebo effect”
This is where it gets interesting, the placebo effect has been demonstrated many times by experiment, like this one
“In 1996, scientists assembled a group of students and told them that they were going to take part in a study of a new painkiller, called “trivaricaine”.
Trivaricaine was a brown lotion to be painted on the skin, and that smelled like a medicine. But the students were not told that, in fact, trivaricaine contained only water, iodine and thyme oil – none of which are painkilling medicines. It was a fake – or placebo – painkiller.
With each student, the trivaricaine was painted on one index finger, and the other left untreated. In turn, each index finger was squeezed in a vice. The students reported significantly less pain in the treated finger, even though trivaricaine was a fake.
In this example, expectation and belief produced real results. The students expected the “medicine” to kill pain; and, sure enough, they experienced less pain. This is the placebo effect.”
What a marvellously fiendish experiment….
“Placebo medicine has even been shown to cause stomach ulcers to heal faster than they otherwise would. These amazing results show that the placebo effect is real, and powerful. They mean that fake or placebo treatments can cause real improvements in health conditions.”
and from Harvard Medical School “Putting the placebo effect to work Published: April, 2012. Rather than dismiss it, we should try to understand the placebo effect and harness it when we can. For a long time, the placebo effect was held in low regard. If people responded to a suspect treatment, we said it was “just the placebo effect.”
The suggestion was that they had been fooled in some way, and their response was inauthentic. But attitudes are shifting, even in conventional medical circles. Randomized trials, some of them led by researchers at the Harvard-wide Program in Placebo Studies and the Therapeutic Encounter, have deepened the understanding of the placebo effect and its various components. Researchers have also used brain scans and other technologies to show that there may be a physiological explanation for the placebo effect in many cases. There is some danger that uncritical acceptance of the placebo effect could be used to justify useless treatments. But more important is the growing recognition that what we call the placebo effect may involve changes in brain chemistry — and that the placebo effect may be an integral part of good medical care and an ally that should be embraced by doctors and patients alike.”
“Expectations appear to have a lot to do with the effect. If an intervention is believed to help a condition, a certain percentage of people who receive it will experience some benefit. How large a percentage varies tremendously and depends on the condition, the strength of belief, the subjectivity of the response, and many other factors. The placebo effect may also have an element of psychological conditioning: once someone benefits from an intervention, the person starts to associate that intervention with a benefit. The association, and therefore the benefit, may get stronger with additional exposures to the intervention.”
“There’s also evidence that some of the placebo effect is a favorable reaction to care and attention from people who patients believe can help ease their suffering and distress. Researchers associated with Harvard’s placebo studies program published a study in 2008 that illustrates this aspect of the response very nicely. The volunteers for the study were people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a condition that causes abdominal pain and changes in bowel movements in the absence of any discernible changes to the bowel. The placebo treatment was sham acupuncture, which involves the use of needles that, unbeknownst to the patient, retract into their handles instead of penetrating the skin. The placebo effect of the sham acupuncture needles was impressive: 44% of those treated with just the sham needles reported relief from their IBS problems. When sham acupuncture was combined with attentive, empathetic interaction with the acupuncturist, the placebo effect got even larger, with 62% reporting relief from their IBS woes.”
I like the cunning retractable needles
“Research is showing that the placebo effect often seems to be associated with objective changes in brain chemistry. A number of studies have shown, for example, that the brain releases natural pain-relieving substances, called endorphins, when people enrolled in pain studies are given placebos. Research results indicate that measurable changes in brain chemistry may explain the large placebo effect seen in depression treatment. Parkinson’s disease is associated with a shortage of a brain chemical called dopamine, and in studies of the disease, placebos have increased the production of dopamine.
We’re a long way from fully understanding the placebo effect. But here are some things you can do (and think), based on what researchers have discovered so far:
Find treatments you can believe in… Expectations that an intervention will have some benefit increase the chances that it will.”
So there’s the rub. However they work, and It’s important to me that I’m not selling you snake oil, copper bracelets and bangles have their place in modern pain management. On the other hand you could wear them because they are beautifully hand crafted pieces of jewellery that may make you seem cool, beautiful and alluring. nuff said. Steve