By Derrick Chapman, PharmD Student Cedarville University
Magnetic and copper bracelets have become a popular natural remedy for many ailments, most commonly for arthritis and pain. Advertisements claim these bracelets offer improvements in energy, increases in strength, and relief from pain, as well as many other health issues. The basis for these claims is that electromagnetic cell signaling, disrupted by illness, may be altered and corrected by a magnetic bracelet.2
There were no known scientific studies known supporting the effectiveness of magnetic or copper bracelets. In preparation for their study, the researchers did find one article comparing different strength magnets in arthritic pain relief. This study did not find an effect to either strengths of magnets that they tested.4 Because minimal research has been done on the actual effectiveness of copper and magnetic bracelets on pain relief, researchers decided to study the effects of different bracelets on pain relief in rheumatoid arthritis patients. The researchers provided a strongly magnetic bracelet, a weakly magnetic bracelet, a copper bracelet, and a nonmagnetic bracelet. The researchers had the patients self-report the severity of their pain. The researchers also examined plasma viscosity and C-reactive protein of the subjects to test for anti-inflammatory effects. None of the bracelets produced any significant effect in either pain relief or inflammation. The conclusion was that these products do not help with pain and inflammation.4
There were some limitations to the study. The patient was used as their own control. Pain is a feeling and concept, and therefore had to be measured on a self-reported scale. While very careful measures were taken to blind the study, researchers anticipated that some patients may try to determine on their own if their bracelet was magnetic or not.4 None of these limitations significantly affected the validity in my opinion. As a student pharmacist, I found this article, as well as the research it presents, very accurate and helpful. The scientific rationale behind using these products is flimsy at best, and the studies that have tested the efficacy of these products disprove any positive effects. Some of the anecdotal evidence may be due to psychological reasons rather than actual scientific reasons.1 Also, the placebo effect may be due to the fact that arthritis naturally flares and mitigates. Starting treatment at the height of a flare up may synchronize the treatment with the perceived relief.3
This article and the research it presents have reinforced my decision to not recommend magnetic or copper bracelets to patients. The research is consistent with the standard care guidelines that over-the-counter analgesics, namely NSAIDs and acetaminophen, are the best treatment options for arthritis pain. I recognize that some alternative therapies may work mainly because of the placebo effect. The article, quoting researcher Stewart J. Richmond, introduced an interesting patient counseling issue and ethical concern about the placebo effect. “Is it ethically correct to allow patients to live in blissful ignorance? Or is it better to provide them with the facts?”1 I agree with researcher Stewart J. Richmond that as a healthcare professional I am obligated to be honest with my patients.1 I must provide the unbiased truth on the many products that make false health claims and will only recommend the safest, most effective treatment options.1 However, relief, whether real or perceived, is relief nonetheless and I would not stand in the way of something that works for a particular patient. However, three things must be in place before use. First, the patient must be informed of the unbiased truth about the product. Second, the patient must not be foregoing necessary medical treatment. Third, the product must not pose a serious risk to the patient. Even though I would not recommend one, I see no reason to discourage use of a magnetic bracelet in a patient who has experienced relief provided those three stipulations are met.
Whether you are a health professional or a patient suffering from arthritis, what are some non-traditional methods you have found to relieve arthritis pain? Have you tried these bracelets and found they work for your pain?
1. Bakalar, N. Magnets Fail to Relieve Arthritis Pain. The New York Times. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/09/19/magnets-fail-to-relieve-arthritis-pain/?_r=0. Published September 19, 2013. Accessed October 3, 2013.
2. Hellesvig-Gaskell K. How Do Magnetic Bracelets Work?. LIVESTRONG. http://www.livestrong.com/article/32851-magnetic-bracelets-work/. Published August 16, 2013. Accessed October 3, 2013.
3. Hope J. If that copper bracelet eases your arthritis, it’s just a trick of the mind: Straps which claim to help chronic illnesses are useless, says landmark study. Mail Online. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2422965/Copper-bracelets-straps-claim-help-chronic-illnesses-like-arthritis-useless-says-study.html. Published September 16, 2013. Updated September 17, 2013. Accessed October 3, 2013.
4. MacPherson H, Bland M, Gunadasa S, Richmond S. Copper Bracelets and Magnetic Wrist Straps for Rheumatoid Arthritis – Analgesic and Anti-Inflammatory Effects: A Randomised Double-Blind Placebo Controlled Crossover Trial. PLoS ONE. 2013; 8(9): e71529. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071529