Study debunks copper, magnetic arthritis "cures"

The only measurable effect is psychological, researchers report

It's long been a treasured myth that wearing a copper bracelet or magnetic wrist strap can relieve arthritis pain, and many late-night infomercial artists have made big bucks selling the trinkets to a hopeful audience.

But do they work? There haven't been many scientific studies because, quite honestly, there's not much reason to believe the things work, but that didn't stop Stewart Richmond, a researcher at the University of York in England, from running a randomized, controlled trial.

The verdict: "It appears that any perceived benefit obtained from wearing a magnetic or copper bracelet can be attributed to psychological placebo effects," Richmond said. "People tend to buy them when they are in a lot of pain, then when the pain eases off over time they attribute this to the device. However, our findings suggest that such devices have no real advantage over placebo wrist straps that are not magnetic and do not contain copper."

The research is published in the latest issue of the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine. It involved 45 people aged 50 or over, who were all diagnosed as suffering from osteoarthritis. Each participant wore four devices in a random order over a 16-week period – two wrist straps with differing levels of magnetism, a demagnetised wrist strap and a copper bracelet.

The study revealed no meaningful difference between the devices in terms of their effects on pain, stiffness and physical function.

At least the things are harmless, though expensive. It's estimated that consumers shell out more than $4 billion annually on magnetic wrist bands.

"Although their use is generally harmless, people with osteoarthritis should be especially cautious about spending large sums of money on magnet therapy. Magnets removed from disused speakers are much cheaper, but you would first have to believe that they could work,” Richmond said.

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