Myth Or Reality? : The Health Benefits Of Copper:

How many 1p and 2p coins did the UK’s “Royal Mint” produce last year? The answer; None at all. The reason for this, as the Daily Telegraph columnist, Reena Sewraz has observed, is that there’s currently a combined total of 16.8 billion of them in circulation around the country. HM Treasury concluded there was simply no need to add to the 240,990,600 1p’s and the 16,600,000 2p’s it had issued during the previous twelve months.

A proposal to get rid of them altogether, briefly considered by former Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond was abandoned following concerns expressed by organisations such as the Small Charities Coalition, due to a considerable proportion of their members’ income being derived from the millions of pounds of “coppers” they collect from the public.

The Government’s decision was also welcomed by Mike Cherry, the national chairman of the Federation for Small Businesses, who emphasised to the BBC’s personal finance analyst, Kevin Peachey, that “The freedom to use pennies and to be able to charge prices that end in 99p is still important to a lot of firms”. Despite this, data provided by Gocompare.com and cited by the Daily Mirror’s Finance Editor James Andrew, has indicated that less than 32% of people in Britain actually use copper coins. The rest don’t carry or spend them but instead put them into jam jars and around 8% just throw them away.

The only alternative to donating one’s copper coins to deserving causes would therefore seem to be to melt them down for use as personal ornaments such as bracelets or sold for a profit. That, however, is prohibited by the UK Coinage Act 1971, though this law applies only to British coins and is not enforceable if the procedure is carried out abroad. In France, for example, affirms “leftovercurrency.com”, it’s not illegal to melt down coins, whether foreign or domestic – so the only question would be whether it would be financially worthwhile.

1p & 2p British coins made before 1992 (of which there are still plenty) are 97% copper, whereas modern day ones consist of copper-plated steel – hence prior to the melting process they’d need to be separated by the metal dealer, who’d also require a commission which, along with the travel costs, would further diminish the merits of doing it all in the first place.

The age-old debate about the healing powers of copper has become even more intense and polemical since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. In an article for “Organic Facts” on January 31st, the American publisher John Staughton acknowledged that although the folk medicine tradition of wearing a copper bracelet has been around for thousands of years in the belief that it may help relieve arthritis inflammation and pain, boost immunity and cure skin ailments, “research unfortunately has not substantiated this claim”.

Staughton maintained, nevertheless, that copper has “a long history of being used to sterilize wounds”, can kill 99% of bacteria within two hours of exposure and that its antioxidant properties are needed for the production of collagen, which “can help fight the signs of ageing, such as sagging skin and wrinkles”.

Dr Karrera Djoko, a biochemist and microbiologist at Durham University, concurs with Staughton that copper’s sanitizing abilities have been known since at least as far back as ancient Egypt: “Even before we had a concept of what a germ is”, he declared to the New York Times journalist Katherine J Wu on June 19th, “we were using copper to contain water and keep it safe to drink”.

An investigation carried out by the University of York’s Department of Health Sciences, however, has concluded that copper bracelets and magnetic straps are “useless” for relieving pain in people with arthritis. Any perceived benefit obtained from wearing them can be largely attributed to “psychological placebo effects”, the team leader, Stewart Richmond, told BBC News.

Irrespective of either Richmond’s judgement or the recommendation from Jane Tadman of the Arthritis Campaign that sufferers should “avoid spending a lot of money on products for which there is very little scientific evidence”, the market for these items is – as the BBC report also noted – “worth billions of dollars”. Amazon, for example, offers (for £23.99 and free delivery) a “Jeracol Copper Bracelet” which it claims “can help reduce pain, fatigue and muscle tension and improve your energy, blood circulation, balance and sleep”. The “Copper Care” company advertises, among many others, a “pure Copper Delta Bracelet with 6 Rare Earth Magnets” for £17.50.

Meanwhile, a study conducted by the New York based National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases – whose Director, the now high-profile Dr Fauci, has been advising the Trump Administration on the coronavirus and the wearing of masks – has led to frenetic speculation as to whether, in the words of the “Research Arizona Edu” official Emily Litvak on 2nd April, “Copper Could Disable the Virus Behind Covid-19?” Published in the New England Journal of Medicine on 17th March, it indicated that that although the virus can survive on stainless steel for up to three days and on cardboard for 24 hours, on copper this is reduced to just four hours.

The result, in the opinion of Reuter News Agency’s Melanie Burton on May 8th, is that the metal has been given a major boost. Scientists, as Dr Djoko pointed out to Katherine Wu, were already well aware of its capacity to limit the spread of E.Coli,salmonella and influenza and that many microbes don’t like it at all. Apparently, when copper physically contacts a germ like coronavirus, it can release reactive ions that puncture the bug’s exterior”. There are many precedents for this, such as the French physician Victor Burq discovering back in 1852 that workers employed at a copper smelter in Paris had been unaffected by the cholera outbreak that had occurred that year, in 1832 and in 1849.

The firm view of William Keevil, a senior microbiologist at the University of Southampton – published initially by the Times and then reiterated by the Daily Mail Health Correspondent, Connor Boyd on 30th May – is that all door handles, shopping trolleys, handrails on public transport, screens in fast-food restaurants, cash machines and even gym equipment should be coated in the metal and that the UK lags behind other countries in using it in communal areas.

An aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties (VTIP) has queried whether copper-infused face coverings could curtail the chances of the virus getting into the eyes, nose or mouth. The main problem with this, contends Dr Djoko, could be durability, especially if the masks are repeatedly washed or disinfected, as this “could strip the copper ions off the surface”.

That hasn’t deterred the Florida entrepreneur Phyllis Kuhn, whose 25-dollar“All Copper Masks” and “All Copper Mesh Inserts” are (states uk.syle.yahoo.com) “flying off the shelf”. Similarly, Myant Inc in Toronto, Canada, is manufacturing textile face masks that contain copper and silver yarn “ known to maximize protection against bacterial and viral threats”, at a price (for a pack of two) of $30.

The top five global copper producers are: Chile (latest accessible statistics: 3,405,100 metric tons pa), China (1,600,000), Peru (1,197,560), Australia (914,000), Russian Federation (883,000). Could the coronavirus change opinions about copper? According to Peter Krove of cleveland.com on 20th March, the Copper Development Association is convinced that’s already happening.

Filed under: Healthcare, Society | Posted on June 22nd, 2020 by Colin D Gordon

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