Chris Eicher on Brett Favre, alchemy, and the magic of copper

Posted by David Eicher
on Thursday, June 18, 2015

My son, Chris Eicher, is a journalism student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He is starting a series of pro-science, anti-pseudoscience blogs, and I hope that you will read them and support him in his interest. We know that the world is awash in misinformation, nonsense, and bad science. It‘s all around you every day, on television and on the Internet, and it needs accountability. His blogs will address a variety of subjects, sticking up for reality and attacking the unrealities too often taken as fact in this world of ours.

Here’s his second . . .

Brett Favre, alchemy, and the magic of copper

I have many fond memories of Brett Favre, growing up in Wisconsin and seeing him perform magic on Lambeau Field many a time. But now Brett is associated with another kind of magic, and one that’s a little more dubious. I’ve been struck recently seeing him on commercials for Copper Fit, a so-called healing compression sleeve made for knees and elbows. This past fall, in fact, Brett was named ”Copper Fit Brand Ambassador” in a press release dated September 15, 2014.

This all got me wondering about what was really going on here. What exactly do compression sleeves do? What does copper infusion have to do with anything? In Copper Fit’s commercials, we hear the phrases “Feel the power of Copper Fit,” the sleeves’ trademark “therapeutic copper infusion,” and the fact that the product delivers the “relieving power of copper compression.” Frankly, the ads reminded me not of 21st-century chemistry or physiology, but of an earlier science, alchemy, which promised magical healing powers from Greco-Roman times through about the 18th century.
What exactly do compression sleeves do? The compression, regardless of the material used, keeps muscles warmer than normal during exercise and may reduce muscle strain and fatigue. They may provide a slight decrease in possible chafing or rashes by moving perspiration away from skin. They increase skin temperatures during workouts. The compression aspect slightly increases circulation throughout the covered joint, but too much compression can be dangerous.

Consulting objective authorities on healthcare, such as the National Institutes of Health, shows that physicians recommend compression sleeves for acute injuries to joints, to protect the joints and muscles during exercise, but that they do little if anything for chronic stiffness or soreness. Improperly fitted compression sleeves can cause significant problems such as swelling or other vascular complications.

And what of the magical copper? What benefit does copper have in the equation? The “therapeutic copper” line in the ad is outright silly — quackery. Copper, an orange-gold metallic element, is an essential metal for life; in fact, you have some 70 milligrams of it in your body right now, and you take in some 1.2 milligrams or more of copper every day, largely from meats. Various enzymes in our bodies use copper to help our cells produce energy. It helps protect us against free radicals, produces the pigment melanin, and helps produce hormones that regulate the chemistry of our bodies. And yet too much copper ingestion would be poisonous.

But as a component of a compression sleeve, copper may offer a little strength, but has nothing to do with “therapy.” There’s no supernatural back-and-forth between copper atoms in the compression sleeve and your body. That kind of thinking died off more than two centuries ago with the rise of modern chemistry and understanding the behavior of atoms and molecules.

So keep to the football, Brett. The compression sleeves may be helpful, especially if you’re exercising on a wounded knee or with a damaged elbow. Otherwise, it’s another product out there trying to make a buck on a gimmick, and one that falls flat with anyone who knows anything about what copper really is and what copper really does.

You can see all of Chris’ blogs here:

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